"Glee" takes on a heavy load. It has the apparent mission to embrace and empower society's underdogs.
"Coach Bieste is like us. Like Glee club. She's an outsider at this school. No one appreciates her or her talent because they've decided that she's too different and for you to abuse that, even in private, is the opposite of everything we're trying to achieve here."
- Will Schuester, Never Been Kissed
I think this line delivered by Mr. Schuester during the 'Bieste' fiasco is a good encompassment of the entire shows overall message. It has dealt with issues of stereotypes and prejudice ranging from homophobia, religion, disabilities, teen pregnancy, and class issues, just to name a few. It has been praised for many of its individual episodes. However, I feel many of its plot lines, dialogue, and characters are based on the stereotypes they are ultimately trying to fight against.
"We're all lucky enough to have boyfriends on the football team, so I say we band together and demand that they confront Karofsky."
- Rachel Berry, Furt
Gender comes into play throughout the series, and is set up immediately in the Pilot episode. Finn, the first football player to join Glee, is teased and punished for joining because it is not the masculine thing to do. Throughout the show, even though it battles these stereotypes on the surface, they stay steadily in place. Finn (and eventually the other males) simply work on staying 'popular' to balance on the un-masculine past time. Yet, Finn especially is plagued by the need to remain popular and on top as a way of survival. Even after his regret at not helping Kurt, he continues to manipulate and control the society of McKinley High to stay as popular as possible. This is directly connected to the very prevalent class struggles. "Glee" is not breaking the idea of 'cliques' in high school, as it's members are simply set on becoming the top of the social ladder. Both the males and females of the show discuss the need to pair off and become romantically involved in the most popularity boosting way possible - Quinn the Cheerleader talks multiple times of becoming Prom Queen through her pairing off with Sam the Quarterback.
The show is very heterosexually geared. Every dating plotline irks me a little. As stated above, it all seems to be fueled by the need to be popular and very rarely love - even Finn and Rachel's relationship, where Finn says he loves her in Furt, originated from Rachel's need to be popular. Many times, the females are treated as solely sex objects. The characters of Santana and Brittany especially play the roles of sex symbols. Though the roles could be a powerful new take on female sexuality, the treatment and remarks about them from other characters undermine them - in Never Been Kissed, Puck advises Artie on Brittany: "You don't need any cash for her, she's free." The standard beauty images and issues stand - beauty is an important standard, as suggested by many statements: "They screened potential surrogates based on beauty and IQ." "He's losing weight, and not in a good way." "Tell you what, you two show up at Breadsticks around 7, and if we don't find hotter chicks to date tonight, maybe we'll show up." and most importantly the Coach Bieste plot line. The plot line had the opportunity to be empowering, yet lost much of that when Bieste seems to base her entire self-worth based on male attention, or lack there of.
"Or, you can refuse to be the victim. Prejudice is just ignorance, Kurt, and you have a chance right now to teach him."
- Blaine, Never Been Kissed
Further, "Glee" has been praised for its handling of the Kurt-Karofsky plot lines, and I agree it is well deserved - sort of. The episode's handling this issue are powerful, moving, and eye-opening... and also disheartening. No one really helps Kurt. Sue Sylvester's hands are tied, Mr. Schuester is clueless (as he always has been - flashback to the opening scene of the series, where he blindly walks by Kurt being bullied by the football team), people in the hallways walk by their physical altercations, and the Glee club, well, resorts to violence based on assigned gender roles. Ultimately, it seemed that Kurt was forced to change his life and leave instead of there being consequences for Karofsky. The entire conclusion seemed very victim-blaming to me.
"Glee" reminds me of Grinner's discussion of "Save the Last Dance" and Christiansen's exploration of cartoons. Like "Save the Last Dance" and Disney cartoons, I think the creator of Glee has set out to empower and fight society's negative stereotypes. So much of prejudice has been accepted simply as part of society and the way things are.
I can't help but wonder if these instituted stereotypes continue to be repeated, will they ultimately undermine what steps society and the media have taken from the sexism, homophobia, racism, and over all discrimination of the past? However, I want to have faith in "Glee"'s ability to explore and handle issues in society. I do find it encouraging that it continues to get people talking about the issues. In a recent Vanity Fair review, a writer referred to Kurt and Blaine as a homophobic slur - due to the response, an apology from the writer and from the editors were printed.