Fighting with the Sky

Glee: Acafellas

Posted on: September 17, 2009

Before I get started with my post about last nights episode of Glee, I wanted to clear up some points on my view of the show.  I think that I wanted to like Glee so much that I was unable to truly critique it in last week’s post.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do like the show.  But I think I wanted to like it so much that I focused on all the good parts instead of recognizing some of the problematic ones.

For instance, I think the show tries to be more progressive that it acutally is.  The minority characters in the show are really just there for show.  Mercedes is kind of the stereotypical black girl.  Tina, the Asian girl, is primarily silent.  The guy in the wheelchair is pretty much there to just be pushed around the stage.  And all these characters seem to do is stand off to the side and get locked in port-a-potties.

Sure it talks about abstinence-only education and attempts to talk about eating disorders, and sure the characters on the show say things that a lot of people think but would never say out loud.  This exposes what people in high school are really like and encourages people to do what they love, but looking past that, Glee just reinforces some stereotypes that it might think it’s discouraging.

102Glee-ep102_Sc44_2514Now to last nights episode: “Acafellas.”  In this episode, Will pulls back from the glee club after Rachel criticizes his dance routines and he ends up starting an a capella group, Acafellas, with four other guys.  In the end, Acafellas consists of Will, Sandy (the ex-glee club coach), Ken (the gym teacher now dating Emma), Finn, and Finn’s football buddy Puck.  The group is a big hit.

After Will pulls back from glee club, the cheerleaders on the team (led by Quinn) decide that it is a good idea to hire a professional choreographer, Dakota Stanley.  They want to hire him because they think that his tough attitude will make a bunch of people quit.  But the problem, Dakota Stanley’s services cost $8,000.  The solution: a car wash with cheerleaders in skimpy outfits, of course.  Once they hire Dakota, he criticizes everyone’s appearance except for the cheerleaders.  Everyone decides to quit, but Rachel gives a speech about how all of their “differences” is what makes them special and what will make them win nationals.  How inspiring.  So, in the end, glee is reunited.  Will is back coaching them, they are having fun again, and there is still sexual tension between Finn and Rachel because Finn doesn’t have the guts to admit that he likes her.

The side story: Mercedes is lonely.  She wants a boyfriend.  She starts spending a lot of time with Kurt, the stereotypical gay guy in glee.  She thinks they’re dating (and is encouraged by the cheerleaders who are trying to get her to quit the team), but everyone else can see that he’s gay, even though he hasn’t told anyone.  They try to tell her, but she thinks they are just jealous.  Mercedes asks Kurt if they are dating and he says he’s in love with someone else, Rachel.  But by the end of the episode, he finally tells her that he’s gay and that he’s never told anyone before.  He doesn’t have the guts to tell anyone, even the people in glee.

This episode was all about confidence.  Will’s worried about becoming a father and his dad tells him that being a father or a man is all about one thing – guts.  Will finds his confidence again through Acafellas.  Rachel gets confidence from Dakota attacking everyone.  She realizes that what makes everyone special is their differences.  Finn doesn’t have the confidence to admit that he likes Rachel, but he does gain some confidence in himself through working with Will in Acafellas.  Kurt doesn’t have the confidence to tell anyone that he’s gay.  Quinn came to the realization at the end of the episode (speaking to Sue) that when you really believe in yourself, you don’t have to bring other people down.  We’ll see how that one turns out.  If it’s true, I’m sure we’ll see Quinn not really believing in herself by next episode.

The storyline between Mercedes and Kurt really bothered me.  Mercedes was so desperate for attention that she saw the attention she was getting from Kurt (who is stereotypically gay) as romantic interest.  I really don’t like when this storyline comes up on any show.  It just makes the girl look stupid.  Everyone can see that he’s gay except for her.  She’s just so desperate that she can’t see what’s really there, no matter what other people tell her.  It’s not the guys fault, he’s just being who he is.  It’s just the girl being desperate and stupid.

I can’t figure out is Glee is using stereotypes to be ironic, or if they are just falling into the trap of perpetuating stereotypes.  Kurt is the stereotypical gay guy.  I was actually kind of surprised when we found out that he had never told anyone that he was gay.  He seems quite comfortable with who he is.  But that just goes to show that you can look comfortable in your own skin when you really aren’t.  Sue, I think, is supposed to be a lesbian.  She is also the stereotypical domineering cheer leading coach who is only concerned about winning.  Will’s wife is the stereotypical controlling wife.  She wants what she wants and Will has to get it for her.  Granted, in this episode, she did seem supportive of Acafellas towards the end.  Emma falls into a stereotype about OCD.  But I am glad that (in passing) they called it what it is in this episode, a mental illness.  We’ll just have to see how all of there characters play out.

I do like that the show is pushing messages about being confident in yourself for who you are.  Mercedes talks about how glee is about expressing what is really inside you.  These ideas of confidence in the episode do fall into some gender norms though.  For example, Will’s father talks about how being a man is about having guts.  I think it’s good to have a show that is unique in that it is musical, which grabs people’s attention, and that spreads the message that it’s ok to be who you are and to be confident in that.  As for now, I’m still getting over my “I want to like this show so much that I miss some of the problematic things” phase and will hopefully have some more deep analysis of the show in the upcoming weeks.

Also make sure to check out meloukhia’s analysis of Glee at this ain’t livin’.

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3 Responses to "Glee: Acafellas"

I think I’m in the same boat as you: I really, really want to like the show, and there are some things I really, really like about it, but… then there’s the other stuff.

In the pilot episode, they showed the other glee club they have to beat at regionals, and there were girls in that group who were not stick-thin: they were heftier, and they were out there dancing. I really liked that. However, in this episode, the girls in Dakota’s glee club were all stick-thin, standard-pretty girls (and I’m not sure what to make of the girl throwing up. Bulemic? Pregnant? How did she get heatstroke when they’re rehearsing inside an auditorium??)

I liked that Mercedes is a big girl, but then again that’s just the large-black-girl/woman-with-awesome-pipes-just-like-Aretha-get-it? stereotype (they even had her sing an Aretha Franklin song at her audition, just in case we missed it). And Kurt… get it, he’s gay, because he takes care of his physical appearance and he likes fashion and expensive clothes. Oh, and he’s prissy.

I’m also not too keen on the Finn love-fest. Ooh… quarterback, HE MUST BE A GOD which is why now THREE characters on the show are in love with him.

And while I loved Acafellas, that kind of came out of nowhere. Why would Will dump his glee club for this other group? And since when do you find four guys in the same school who 1) are great singers, 2) WANT to sing in front of people? (And while we’re at it — “I Wanna Sex You Up” at a PTA meeting?? With two underage students in the group??? When just last week parents threw a major hissy fit because of “Push It”???? Come on, writers! Have some consistency! How dumb do you think we are?)

Speaking of the teacher’s lounge… 93.7% of public school teachers in the US are female.* Yet, at this school, we have not met ONE FEMALE TEACHER. Emma is a counselor, not a teacher, and Sue is the cheerleading coach; given her diety-status I doubt she teacher any classes. Where are the women???

Okay, this kind of came out a little more bitter and negative than I meant it to… but I feel let down by the show. It had such promise! It has such shining moments! Why can’t the rest of it be better?

*sigh*

*This statistic may be partially taken out of the vicinity of my rear end, but it’s fairly accurate. Proportions are a little better in secondary schools, but if you count elementary schools, my numbers must be close to the truth.

I’m struggling with Glee’s use of stereotypes too. I think that the show has a hipster -ism mentality, in that it thinks it is being all ironic and hip and loaded with social commentary by using these painful, tired tropes because of course we are supposed to recognize that they are tropes and find them funny. I’m not a fan of hipster -ism, myself, because I think it’s just a thinly veiled way to express your own prejudicial beliefs.

That said, I’m starting to have a little hope for the show. There were little glimmers here and there this week which suggested that the show might be trying to set up for a big payoff. The question for me, if that’s the case, is: will the payoff be worth it?

Criss, great point about the women; it is really weird that the only women are the guidance counselor and the cheerleading coach, and that no other female teachers have shown up yet. I haven’t even noticed that, but now it’s going to bug me!

Also, Laura, I think you brought up some really great points about confidence. In a way, it seems like the theme of the show as a whole; building up confidence and courage to do what you love. But, as you say, what kind of confidence is being projected to viewers as the right kind of confidence?

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