Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Glee

Yes, it gets better

I was bullied in high school. Because I figured out I was gay the summer before grade nine, even though I didn’t in any way ‘come out’, when you know yourself it becomes that much more obvious.

There was one young man in particular who harassed me in class, mostly by saying things under his breath. It was physchologically, if not physically, threatening. As it often is for us little queer boys, gym class was the hardest and I remember another guy stopping in the middle of a floor hockey game to matter-of-factly tell me I was a “gay faggot”. That day, as I was wont to do, I wandered out of gym class early. No one noticed.

I informed at least two teachers of the bullying. I remember one of them trying to do something about it, but it didn’t calm me down. One lunch hour I went home and my Dad couldn’t stop me from crying. He recently told me he feels guilty he didn’t do more.

I don’t think I ever felt I was in real danger, just that I would never feel comfortable at that school. My only recourse was to keep going and by grade 12 I had a healthy number of friends and the incidents basically stopped. And in university I was completely accepted, eventually making my first gay guy friends and meeting my first boyfriend.

Things got so much better, thanks to good friends and an accepting family, that I sort of forgot my bullying experience, which is why I took awhile to relate to the growing ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, spearheaded by gay sex columnist Dan Savage. Once you’re out of the situation, and years have past and it’s gotten better, you don’t want to think about it anymore. You survived and you’re happy.

But that’s wrong.

Not everyone survives their bullying , as a spat of recent queer suicides reminds us. We are winning the legal battles in North America, and are doing even better on the cultural front. But we can’t get complacent and think that TV shows and movies with queer characters are going to do all the work to make this world an accepting place. Watching Kurt on ‘Glee’ can help a gay teen only so much, especially as not all of us can burst out into cathartic show tunes.

I survived. It does get better.

But we have to remember where we came from.



I think I’m giving up on Glee. I know right. Like many people, I feel that I should be watching it. And it’s not even that I don’t like it. I caught up on the first half of the current season on DVD and thought that, while uneven, the show had much promise. I liked the idea of the glee club being a place for all the misfits (although I agree with the New York Times writer who said that the show betrayed its own premise by filling out the club with hot cheerleaders and jocks). I naturally fell in love with Jane Lynch’s Coach Sue Sylvester and think she’s one of the all-time great TV villains. And the fabulous image of football players getting their groove on to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ on the playing field is burned on my retinas for eternity.

But as anyone who has been following it knows, something went wrong with the second half of the first season, although there’s no agreement as to exactly what. Some critics and fans have placed the blame on cheesy celebrity cameos, on gimmicky theme episodes like the Madonna and Lady Gaga ones, or on the show’s obsession with schmaltzy 80’s power ballads. Others have criticized the writers, chiding them for ignoring formerly-important characters and storylines, continuity mistakes and, to borrow John Doyle’s word, “insane” plot twists. Even Coach Sylvester, reduced to a caricature, can’t save the day: she’s been given two musical numbers, both witless tributes to 80’s-early 90’s pop videos, but essentially no plots. If the character was real, she’d march into the writers’ room and shout, “I’m the strongest player you’ve got team, so unless you want to go back to writing cue cards for the brain-dead, cougar housewives of Minnesota, I would wipe that Cheetos dust off your fingers and get back to your keyboards!”

It wasn’t the revelation that Idina Menzel was Rachel’s Mom that sent me over the edge. I actually kind of liked that, as they look exactly alike, although, like the Mr. Shuster and Emma Pillsbury plot before it, I got frustrated at how quickly the writers nipped an interesting story line in the butt. With all the shit she’s going through, Rachel needs a parent of some kind, as her invisible gay Dads have yet to be seen.

Anyways, no, it was a seemingly small straw that broke the camel’s back. In the Lady Gaga episode (and seriously, wouldn’t it be much cooler if, instead of lamely plugging Gaga and Madge throughout the episode, they just used their  songs exclusively without mentioning then?) gothy former-stutterer Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) is told by the school principal to stop dressing like a vampire and start looking like everyone else. Mr. Shuster, who was called into the office as well (presumably his role as Spanish teacher and Glee club supervisor is to oversee his students’ appearance) defends Tina, explaining that she’s shy and that one of the way she expresses herself is through how she dresses.

Problem is, Tina is dressed in a completely different style! Normally, her look is a kind of alternative-tomboy-skater-girl thing with a hint of goth: toques, striped shirts, shorts, clunky boots. In the scene in the principal’s office she is dressed in what we shall call High Goth: a black lacey top-hat is involved. Later, instead of maybe using some of the less-shocking items from her previous Avril Lavigne-esque wardrobe to stay out of trouble, we see her in a baggy, grey sweat suit. But after she threatens the principal by bearing her ‘fangs’, cause he apparently believes in vampires (whatever), she’s back in a High Goth long black dress.

What I think must have happened is when the costumers got the script they were worried that Tina didn’t look goth enough so they had to goth-her-up, hence noticeably change her style in an episode which was all about expressing yourself through clothing. Great guys.

It doesn’t seem like the biggest deal, but you can’t just change elements like that about a character for one episode. Maybe I’m infused by years of Sex and the City and my WORN internship, but clothing matters. As does Mr. Shuster’s divorce and Quinn’s pregnancy.

I’m sorry Jane Lynch: I think you’re amazing and that it’s adorable you just got hitched, but I’m having trouble getting myself excited for the season ender. Which is sad, because Glee was the only new show I was following. Considering my arm’s length awareness of Lady Gaga, Twilight, Mad Men and formal shorts with spandex, I worry I will be even more divorced from contemporary pop culture.

And that’s my second post about TV shows and clothing in two days. Tomorrow, I shall blog about nuclear fission.

No I won’t.