Sunday 18 July 2010, by
Swept up in the recent scuffles over representation in parliament (PR/AV/FPTP…) I’ve been thinking about representation on my little tv. It’s clear that of all my machinery the tv is the one least likely to make me ‘think the world more radically’. I expect it to be disgusting, disappointing and particularly muffling- like stuffing a load of sponge in your ears (I’ll admit the muffling is especially desirable sometimes).
Glee facetiously claims to rupture the mind-numbing life-scheduling of most teen dramas. Despite it’s charade as a mocking assault on reductive stereotyping I wouldn’t fault Glee for essentialising every shiny marker of difference paraded by its cast of characters (race, gender, sexuality, disability etc etc) if that was all it pertained to. But what’s so awful is that the stereotyping is partial. Glee refuses to archetype certain characters- as if it’s impossible for a straight, white, sensitive guy to become a trite cliche . The white heteros are many, they’re complicated and interesting. The ‘others’ are others- that’s their ‘thing’.
Whilst being gay or black is enough of a hook to hang a whole character on, the able-bodied white characters are given contradictions, home lives, conflict and even storylines. Sue Sylvester is fascism with a human face and she’s one of the most nuanced and well developed character in the Glee universe, unlike ‘other Asian kid’ or ‘wheels’ who barely have a character trait between them. Sure, Sue’s tough- but she cares about her sister with Down Syndrome! Sue just knows that work makes us happy, that’s why she’s tough on everyone. Handouts only handicap and Sue’s sister is ‘handi-capable’. One workcamp fits all, kiddies- no excuses. Her multi-faceted nature is explored via various camp snapshots – drugging the school principal, dancing with Olovia Newton-John and reading bedtimes stories about teddy bears.
Compare this to African-American songstress Mercedes whose family we’ve never met. When at last she was given something more to do than act sassy and black her plotline was about her being fat. Luckily for her all it took to reassure her was two white blondes telling her she was beautiful (Quinn the ex-cheerleader and Christina Aguilera). We didn’t get to meet Mercedes’ mother in the episode where she was taken to the nurses’ office- but that was ok because Quinn the Aryan single mother stayed with her instead.
Atop of all this women are constantly deceiving men about pregnancies and paternity (how long is this troubling mysticism of the womb going to maintain such momentum?) and Quinn reveals that only by getting pregnant did she recover from her eating disorder (i.e. a woman’s hysteria is cured by motherhood- thank Sigmund!). Fox/Cameron family values abound alongside Young MC in a pseudo-subversive funfest that’s reminiscent of The Simpsons. As Mr Schuester explains in an episode all about the nuclear family huddled on the sofa “you can be the life of the party, get drunk til you can’t see straight- but you’re always gonna feel empty inside until you find a home”.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I had high hopes for Glee. I thought it was going to be a postcolonial musical that finally brought together Judy Garland and Frantz Fanon. Instead it’s just an even more offensive ode to the living room.