Glee: Sex, death, the Anubis archetype, and Kurt Hummel

22 Feb

I’ve written before about the ways in which Kurt Hummel from Glee and Severus Snape from the Harry Potter books may be similar, with the critical difference being age and circumstance. We hope that Snape is the guy Kurt won’t have to turn into, because Kurt has, unlike the professor, family support and requited love.

But after an episode in which Kurt has once again has served as William McKinley High School’s chief functionary around death, I can’t help but want to bring up one of my favorite pieces of pop-culture analysis ever, Clunycat’s “Severus Snape and the Anubis Archetype: Smoke and Mirrors.”

It essentially offers us a checklist of items that allow us to see that Kurt also largely fits this Anubis archetype, although he is not so much yet a master of the underworld as Snape is, but a magician with the power (and need) to visit that underworld, and, eventually, leave it not entirely behind.

Traits that Clunycat points out as part of the Anubis archetype that would also apply to Kurt in her well-sourced piece include: intense introversion, being clearly marked out as other, a significant childhood incident, crying easily, and a collection of other traits that the paper notes could be viewed as commonly present amongst those on the autism spectrum.

This last detail I note specifically because there is a significant degree of speculation in Glee fandom that Kurt may be non-neurotypical in this or some other way because of his avoidance of touch, obsession around texture, tendency to fake eye-contact, use of finger spelling, habit of rocking, and several background interactions with Brittany that indicate they may each have a particularly clear sense of how the other processes the world.

Other traits that Kurt possesses that serve the Anubis archetype include his specific functions around death. Kurt, marked by his mother’s death, plans funerals from that of a pet bird (whose death leads to his own relationship blossoming) to that of Sue’s sister Jean. Both situations are striking because of how they hark back to the living. There is the visceral awakening sexuality of the kiss Kurt and Blaine share over Pavarotti’s casket; and there is also that chocolate fountain as a centerpiece at Jean’s funeral.

It’s food for the living that Kurt seems to bring in times of death, and that too is of the Anubis archetype, who serves as a messenger between worlds and a healer; in fact, Clunycat notes that the Anubis archetype heals by “charms and songs,” although that is a particular reference to Odin, another god of death referenced in the piece.

Kurt is also our public gateway between genders, sexualities and physical locations in the world of Glee. He is many types of messenger and he understands chaos, patterns, and intuition. Really, I can’t urge you to read Clunycat’s piece enough, because I’m leaving out literally dozens of connections I can draw between Kurt’s role and nature in the Glee narrative and the themes of this Snape-related article.

But, of course, to talk about Kurt’s role regarding death, we must talk about Kurt in relation to Dave Karofsky in episode 3.14. It’s a difficult episode, and I know there is a great deal of discussion around many aspects of it, including the idea of victim-blaming and whether it was appropriate or not to show Kurt having guilt regarding Dave’s actions and his own non-responsiveness to Dave’s calls, because Dave is not now, nor has he ever been, Kurt’s responsibility.

Without addressing at too much length what I think was a realistic response on Kurt’s part, even if understandably painful, triggering and murky for some viewers, I do want to talk about how this related to Kurt’s role in Glee as magician, as messenger, and as the boy who secretly rules a kingdom in hell and yet will also ultimately escape that place.

Kurt been kind and generous and sort of unable to let go of the Dave situation as he’s tried to make it into a pattern of events that makes sense and isn’t about his own personal worth, and so it makes sense that when Dave tries to kill himself, Kurt will be present for him, not only out of kindness, but also out of a desire to understand.

Kurt is also consistently drawn to death-related situations in Glee and volunteers his way into them when he doesn’t have to: Pavarotti didn’t need a bedazzled casket or funeral, and Jean was someone he essentially didn’t know, but when death shows up, so does Kurt. Sometimes he’s the person who helps us relate to the death that has transpired, and sometimes he’s the person who holds the door as Death exits the room having taken less than he came for (see: Burt’s heart attack; Dave’s survival; even arguably Blaine’s eye).

That Kurt doesn’t visit Dave until 72 hours have passed should be because of the psychiatric hold, but it’s Glee and we do know Dave has had earlier, prior visitors, at least based on what the God Squad tells us it plans to do and all the flowers in the room. So Kurt shows up appropriately late, after a symbolic three-day interval, to usher Dave back into the world of the living through a guided vision of the future. In the presence of death, Kurt once again provides sustenance to the living.

Kurt holds the door between life and death often in Glee, and it’s a door that swings both ways. At least it is for this boy who likes to open the drawers of his dead mother’s dresser to remember her perfume and who covers himself in oils and unguents as if they are the embalming fluids of Anubis’s trade to stave off age when he is still seemingly a child himself.

As Kurt continues to be a master around Death (because he is not a master of death; death can have no master and Kurt is still learning his powers besides), I think he gets an increasingly clear sense of control over Hell (life at William McKinley High School and in Lima). Look at how Kurt and Blaine sometimes express affection in public now; look at how his outfits have begun to reveal flesh; look at how much less rigid physically he is — this is a boy who is coming to life through the act of mediating around death. And with that control over his hell comes a knowledge for Kurt that he does have power in him, that he can get out, and abandon these realms that will also, always, be his home.

The real question for me is the one that Glee will probably never answer, unless its final episode of its final season is drawn like that of Six Feet Under: Who does Kurt grow up to be?

And I don’t mean to ask whether he becomes a fashion designer or a performer (both are roles that emphasize a chameleon-like nature, another essential part of the Anubis archetype) or whether he and Blaine stay together (I believe they do for narrative structure reasons as much as anything else, but that’s another post for another day).

What I mean to ask is this: How does a boy whose childhood has been defined by matters of sex(uality) and death, who has been a guardian of some terribly feared gates, learn to live in the world? And I think part of the beautiful answer, and part of why many of us love Kurt, is that he doesn’t, but that he’ll do it anyway.

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9 Responses to “Glee: Sex, death, the Anubis archetype, and Kurt Hummel”

  1. killintheblues February 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    How does he learn to live in the world…? He doesnt but he’ll do it anyway…

    I love the concept of this. This is what I love about Kurt. His “other” that is for me the sadness and great joy of the queer world in which I inhabit. I did not choose to be gay, lesbian, bisexual (take your pick, I like the word queer) but I do choose to live and sadly for some gay people that is a choice they must make as predjudice and discrimination battles are fought daily and in some countries with no legal protection at all. That said I must admit a guilty secret… I would not like to learn to live in the world and in a way I dont think Kurt would either as that would suggest a conformity that would never be him. I myself have this ongoing battle with wanting rights and respect, challenging the heteronormative status quo whilst actually enjoying that I am different, pleased to have something to push against. I have a picture of my wife and I on my desk in the primary school where I work and when I open the school door in the morning I hold my head high and say welcome everyone…i do this because I am strong and feel that I will not hide, that many people fought and died for my rights so I will take them up and I want to be a positive role model for the future because if homophobia is not challenged in our schools where can it be? But likewise in the queer community I enjoy putting down my playstation or my guitar and going to gay bars in the most feminine outfit I have ( and I have never owned a pair of jeans in my life) after spending the day on my bike at the moto GP just because I will not be a stereotype in any environment. I love Kurts difference and strength in glee. It reafirms my belief that I am gender born and bound striving to be gender free, queer, confusing and contrary but why would I want to be anyone else? The world can learn to live with me.

    Love your blog. I have followed it from over the pond where I live for some time, really thought provoking essays. Living in the UK your ideas etc also give an insight into American gender/queer politics and issues which are sometimes different I think to those over here.

  2. dontturnitoff February 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I, too, loved the way Kurt showed up and lured Karofsky away from death with his little spell and visions. And makeup made sure that Kurt looked the part, too: as though bringing David back was literally draining him (cue vampire judge reference), Kurt was as pale as we’ve ever seen him. His face was not the luminous lit-from-within beauty it so often is, but chalky white. PALLOR is the word that comes to mind.

    There’s also the moment — when Dave opens his eyes and says “I’m so happy right now” — when Kurt’s eyes flutter open a little wider in recognition. He gives the tiniest start, just a flare of his nostrils, and then an even smaller nod, as if to say, “I did it!” And Kurt looks SO HAPPY in that moment.

    I’m also interested in Kurt’s body language in this scene. He is so often seen with his arms crossed protectively over his chest, but here, he is leaning towards David, his body facing him, open, arm on David’s bed. It makes for a fascinating study, how unguarded he is in those moments.

    There are WEIRD similarities between this scene and As If We Never Said Goodbye in BTW: in the hospital scene, Kurt looked absurdly similar to how he looked during AIWNSG — particularly “gelfling” and ethereal. Also, he’s holding his hands in the same interlocking thumb-forefinger, open palm, almost figure 8 kind of position when he tells David he’s glad he’s alive and when he’s singing AIWNSG in front of the glee club.

    I don’t know why, but all of these things catch my attention and I could close-read this scene into the ground, so to speak. So yes, interested in this post a bit…

    • RM February 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

      I was so interested in Kurt’s reaction to the vampire host dude. Because it makes sense in terms of what we’re talking about that someone like Kurt would be really put off by someone play acting at immortality, when Kurt’s always dealing with and communing with and fighting off real death. I know the vampire thing has people pissed because it’s so fucking tasteless (that’s Lima, OH!) with what’s going on with Karofsky, but it was a stroke of brilliance for me.

  3. aep67 February 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Love reading your thoughts, as usual. Your analyses always get me thinking and looking deeper into the characters, writing, costumes, – the whole production (my degree is in TV/film production – can’t help it ;-) ). I’d like to know what your thoughts are from an actor standpoint (being an amateur actress myself and totally into learning as much as I can about the process…) — How much do you think of this is done on a conscious level by Chris Colfer? Do you think these connections could be deliberate by the writers and he takes them and runs with it or do you think he adds to the concept with his own ideas? I know you can’t answer for him but I’d love to know what your thoughts are on the matter.

    (sorry if this takes the discussion too far from your intended direction but I’ve been curious about this since I started reading your blog).

    Oh, and I was going to ask about his reaction to the vampire too! Glad to see it’s been brought up.

  4. Cal February 22, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    This is beautiful. I agree with it a lot.

    Did you notice, by the way, the tie Kurt was wearing in the ‘one thing you’re looking forward to’ scene? Loose, dark, under his shirt collar? It looked like a noose. It both ties into exactly what you’re saying here and, combined with the camerawork and his wearily sceptical response to Will’s self-disclosure really made me sure that Kurt has been suicidal in the past and that that secret was informing his reactions this whole episode.

    • bellaaurora February 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      I don’t often comment here (more of an LJ gal), but I love rm’s analyses of Kurt and his role in the series in this post.

      I would also agree that Kurt’s reaction to Will’s self-disclosure (which I found frankly offensive as a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts) shows his familiarity both with death and with suicidal ideation. I’m not sure if you’re reading rm’s fantastic Klaine futurefic, but all I could think about the whole episode is a moment when Kurt’s response to national marriage equality is to confess to Blaine that he never thought he’d live to see it because he didn’t think he’d make it long enough.

      • Cal February 23, 2012 at 8:14 am #

        That moment definitely did spring to mind, yes…

  5. melaniemenardarts March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Hey!

    I read your fics on LJ and sometimes your blog, and I was quite blown away by this particular post, it’s as though you put into critical language a lot of unconscious reasons why I’m obssessed with Kurt.

    It seems you do various projects in various media apart from this blog?

    Here’s my real (non fanfic ;) website in case you’re interested in getting in touch:

    http://www.melaniemenard.com/

    Some stuff on it is commercial so I suggest you might be more interested in these projects:

    http://www.melaniemenard.com/projects/art-projects/ghost-house/

    http://www.melaniemenard.com/projects/art-projects/disciplinary-institutions/

    all the best to you!

    Mel.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Glee 5.03, “The Quarterback” | I Speak With the Tongue of A Thousand White-Hot Lies! - October 12, 2013

    […] has been a lot written on various Glee-focused blogs about Kurt and Death imagery (notably, Racheline Maltese, at Letters From Titan has written quite a lot about it); Kurt knows about death–he’s dealt with it, he […]

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