Glee and the victory moment

Before we get started, this post contains spoilers about a very recently aired episode of a major TV show. This blog, as a rule, contains lots of spoilers. I’ll use cut tags in the community that is LiveJournal, but it doesn’t suit my purposes or technology here. So Snape killed Dumbledore; Tara got shot; and Ianto Jones was killed by a vomiting, drug-addicted, three-headed turkey alien. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to talk about Glee.

I’m not a Glee fan. I’m not really anti-Glee either, it’s just that I’ve watched parts of a few episodes here and there and it hasn’t grabbed me. It should grab me for all sorts of reasons, but I find myself profoundly resistant to how much they don’t utilize the movie tv musical form to its full advantage.

By making sure the presence of the songs is relatively naturalistic — which isn’t to say they aren’t bizarre and unlikely, but do people announce they are going to sing and have relatively legitimate plot reasons for singing — the show is never quite a heightened reality as far as I can tell. Songs do not substitute for months of relationship development; they illustrate, rather than embody, change. So to me, the bits I’ve watched always seem to hover endlessly on the cusp of the moments I’m actually looking for. It’s a bit like when you can’t sneeze, and we all know what that’s like.

But I did just watch “Original Song,” because I was so profoundly taken with a particular moment in it I caught on YouTube. The surprise may be that, that moment wasn’t the Blaine and Kurt kiss (which was admittedly pretty remarkable and nuanced). The moment was the Warblers’ performance of “Raise Your Glass.”

I love Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” For me it’s brilliant and real and relevant, and the video (which contains a lot of confrontational stuff and so engenders lots of interpretations and reactions, not all of them positive) makes me cry pretty much every time I see it. But it’s about, at its heart, being different, and never ever being able to hide it.

So when the Warblers get up at that competition in their grey trousers and smart blazers with the red piping and Blaine — perfect, pretty Blaine — bursts into that song, it’s astounding to me, especially after that duet with Kurt, especially when he’s walking backwards across the stage and, grinning, beckons the rest of the Warblers towards him. There are so many implications there at once — is it a gesture of asking people to follow him towards something awesome? or of calling someone into a fight? or of seduction? It’s hugely powerful to me in its ambiguity.

It’s also hugely powerful to me because it’s a reminder that looking for signifiers in people — are they my tribe? are they safe? will they understand? — is a useful mechanism, but it’s not remotely the whole truth. It’s not always accurate. And for people who aren’t necessarily assumed to be what they are, to see all those uniformed boys saying we’re all freaks, obvious categories or signifiers aside, is huge. It implies a world of which I don’t have to be afraid.

One of the videos going around the Internet today is of a group of Glee fans of indeterminate age reacting to the Blaine and Kurt kiss. It’s a dark, grainy video and hard to see, but it seems like a mix of genders and, I’ll go out on a limb and assume, orientations. It’s pretty fantastic to watch them cheer so madly, because I never got that.

There were no gay kisses on network TV when I was a teenager. Or when I was in college. It was a long time after when there finally were. And that was after a great deal of ridiculous debate and really pathetic news articles about the whole thing first. I know that Tara and Willow were huge for a lot of people, but watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer as late as I did, it was actually just sort of weird and sad for me the way they couldn’t have them kiss for ages and how that was somehow supposed to be enough.

I consume a lot of media. And these days it has a lot of queer content in it. Some of it speaks to me, some of it doesn’t. But the stuff that speaks to me, no matter how much I talk about it because that’s what I do, speaks to me in a pretty personal way. I’ll watch an episode of something and walk around with a little secret smile about it for days (I just rewatched the first two seasons of Torchwood and had forgotten some of the interpersonal loveliness in it). I don’t, as a rule, want to stand up and cheer no matter how much I’m enjoying myself. For me, it mostly feels too late to have the moment those fans in the Glee-viewing video are having.

But when Blaine starts knocking “Raise Your Glass” out of the park, I had that moment. And the reason was because he was absolutely up there performing for both the intradiegetic and extradiegetic audiences as a gay teen who is happy and smitten and confident and sexy and none of that is why he’s up there singing about being a freak. He’s singing about being a freak, because everyone is a freak, and because life is awesome.

Glee, I’ve heard, gets a lot of stuff wrong, especially when it comes to people with disabilities (remember, other than this one episode, I’ve seen about 20% of a handful of different episodes, so I am, in fact, relaying other people’s insights to you that I am absolutely not qualified to comment on). But the show really does seem to get something remarkably right with its gay teens. Just the fact that the show has multiple queer characters whose queernesses read so differently is fantastic; we are not a monolith.

But what I really love? Is that Blaine is a leader. And readily followed. And deeply insecure. And struggling with the consequences of talent and attention. And maybe it’s the blazer and my sense that I can understand the world of his part of the show more than I can understand the world of the other parts of the show (entertaining side note: Dalton is also the name of a notorious New York City private school at which I attended summer camp as a kid). But he knows he’s lucky. And he just grabs for things. It’s all there in “Raise Your Glass,” which is his victory moment after doing something he adores (singing) with someone he adores (Kurt, who is complex and remarkable in his own right). It’s glorious.

Most of us don’t get victory moments like Blaine’s on that stage. Not in front of a cheering crowd, not spurring every one of your friends on to more joy and awesomeness. But somehow we get let into that moment in “Original Song,” and it’s startling. It’s why musicals matter. Hell, it’s why music matters.

I don’t often wish I were younger than I am. But wow, jump to my feet cheering during all that in my parents’ living room? Someone was somewhere. A lot of someones. What a thing!

But here’s another thing I want, that I believe we can, and must, have. I want queer female characters on TV that are also get to your feet and cheer moments like Blaine’s “Raise Your Glass.” For me, Blaine is kinda sorta enough, but then I look at Blaine and think I need to try my hair like that; he’s seriously a look that could work for me. But he’s absolutely not enough for a lot queer female teens out there; and he’s not enough for all the people who have a lot more lessons to learn about queer folks than “Oh hey, they’re actual individual humans.”

I know better than to hold my breath. But I also know, that like this instant on Glee, that moment just might sneak up on me, on all of us, at any time. I hope there’s some crowd of kids in a living room somewhere cheering when it happens.

And I also hope, to quote the song, they are never anything but loud. I am struck, always, that the most central message and lesson of my own queer experience has always been, simply, speak.

I don’t imagine any of this is going to make me start watching Glee, unless I succumb for scholarly reasons. The show still gives me that feeling like when you need to sneeze but can’t. To me, the “Raise Your Glass” moment is just proof that, that feeling is real and makes sense. Because when Glee delivers? Apparently it really delivers.

(ETA, 5/12/2011: And that was then and this is now. I’m completely hooked on this ridiculous show.)

27 thoughts on “Glee and the victory moment”

  1. First, I LOVE that you love “Raise Your Glass” that much. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do, too! It’s a great song, and I loved The Warblers’ rendition. I love the Warblers in general (and want them to win every competition) BECAUSE they’re all so accepting. Here’s a mix of straight and gay guys, and neither side is threatened by the other. They work together, and they’re friends no matter what. We should all be so unified.

    I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but in the episode BEFORE “Original Song”, Santana confessed her love of Brittany. Ie: the reason why she’s such a “bitch” to everyone is because she has to hide what she feels. I haven’t watched the ep yet, but my lesbian roommate was going on about it saying similar things to what you’re saying – that she wishes shows like this were around when she was a teenager. So I think that, with Santana, you’ll be seeing more of Glee getting lesbians right. Or, at least trying to.

    Lastly, one of the things Glee’s gotten wrong for me is their treatment of their overweight characters. Every time Mercedes talks about food, I want to throw things. It’s one thing to believe that you are worth something no matter what you look like. It’s another thing to willfully ignore health issues. And I’m speaking as someone who’s overweight and has diabetes in her family. I love my junk food, I’m not gonna lie. But watching Mercedes protest the school because they TOOK AWAY HER TATER TOTS?! Oh. My. God. They’re trying with Lauren (the overweight female wrestler), having Puck be into her, and having her find him singing her “Fat-Bottomed Girls” insulting. But she’s also been paid to do things in Mallomars. They have these fat girls lusting after food instead of lusting after boys, and its just humiliating to watch, because it DOESN’T HAPPEN. So, yeah. Glee could use some work there, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I agree with you about both Santana’s coming out and the Mercedes/Lauren thing. I’m guessing Amber and Ashley are secure in their bodies (they seem to be from everything I’ve read), but so much of the dialogue they have or surrounding them centers on food, and it honestly reminds me of Tracey Gold, in part having her anorexia amplified by all the fat jokes Mike directed at Carol, even though the writers didn’t really think she was fat, that was an affliction she already had (although they didn’t know at the time), and she lapsed back into it in part because of Growing Pains. I don’t want to find out that either of these girls does the same thing because of the writing in Glee. The tater tots thing, plus Kurt telling her that she was substituting a) food and b) him for a boyfriend really, really pissed me off (moreso his saying HE was a substitute for a boyfriend because what happened to being friends?).

      1. I’m REALLY excited about Santana – one, because of the interesting direction that storyline can go in; two, because she has one of the best voices on the show; and three, because I’m excited that the Latina character is getting so much attention and care (I’m Puerto Rican, so this makes me squeeful!). I hope they don’t waste her at this point, because there’s a lot of potential there.

        Yes, both actresses who play Mercedes and Lauren DO seem comfortable with their bodies in real life, which is great, and I’m glad that they’ve both had successful acting careers despite – and because of – their size. Television should be representative, and these two are going a long way in broadening what people are “allowed” to look like on television.

        That said, “fat acceptance” is a slippery slope. People shouldn’t be judged for being fat, and it should be realized that people find all SORTS of people attractive and there’s no ONE standard of beauty, nor should there be. However, a lot of the time fat people use “fat acceptance” to ignore the fact that losing weight is important because TOO MUCH JUNK FOOD AND NOT TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF CAN KILL YOU. I’m overweight, and I have a history of diabetes in my family. I’m at risk for so many things, and I’m 31 years old. So, I’ve decided to start really focusing on my weight – because I’ve spent my whole life up until now justifying my weight for any number of reasons. “People should like me no matter what I look like!” “I’m attractive no matter what!” It’s like, yes, both those things are true. That doesn’t mean I should willfully stay fat when I know it’s a problem, you know? And it’s SO hard. People act like “all” you have to do is “stop eating and exercise.” Would you tell a drug addict to “just stop taking drugs” or a depressed person to “just stop being sad?” No.

        And here’s where representation on television could be helpful. We never see struggle with weight loss as a serious health problem, or as a food addiction on television. Fat people are either comic relief, or poster children for acceptance “no matter what your size,” and I don’t think either is particularly helpful. Losing weight isn’t about adhering to the standards in magazines, or getting a date, or whatever. It’s about not getting winded when you go up a flight of stairs. It’s about not being embarrassed by the seatbelt on an airplane seat JUST making it around you. It’s about NOT DYING. We don’t get that message nearly enough. It’s always been interesting to me that, even when it comes to eating disorders, skinny people get preferential treatment. If there were an anorexic on Glee, there’d be episode after episode about how much help they need and how dramatic their situation is. Fat people either get made fun of and don’t get sympathized with, or they’re supposed to enjoy being fat. Mercedes and Lauren could go a long way in changing that if the writers at Glee wised up. Overweight teenagers could use all the encouragement they can get.

        All the more reason I’m upset that ABC Family canceled the show “Huge.” If you’ve never seen it, you should. It was a great show that dealt with teens and weight loss really honestly.

        1. I’m overweight too (also trying to drop the pounds), and I agree about the health risk factor involved, but what I mean is, if they do start dropping weight, I don’t want it to be because of the show, or to be in an unhealthy way.

    2. Mercedes bothers me way more than Lauren… if only because Lauren seems much more selfaware. Yes, she has people pay her in Mallomars–but I’m not certain if it’s for her own amusement, and the joke is really kinda on them.

      I did find it both untrue to the character and stupid that she’d be offended by “Fat Bottom Girls” though. … unless, again, she’s just screwing with him.

      1. I think the fact that Lauren is self aware makes the stuff like being paid in Mallomars all the more troubling. Getting paid in food is not a joke that someone who is self-aware and overweight would ever make at their own expense.

        As for “Fat Bottomed Girls”, I completely get why she was insulted. Instead of Puck singing her a love song about how great she is, or how badass (which he told her was the real reason he liked her), he sang a song emphasizing what she looks like. I mean, would it be a romantic gesture to sing a song called “Big-Titted Girls?” In front of the whole class? She was cheated out of a really nice moment, because all Puck can do is focus on the fact that he’s “so great” and “so accepting” for deigning to date a fat girl when he’s so popular and cool. And he KEEPS focusing on that! EVERY time he tells her how cool she is, he then goes on to say “and sure you’re….big. But I like you anyway!” The fact that he keeps having to make qualifiers like that is really annoying and makes it clear that he still has an issue about it.

        What I thought was out of character was Lauren bopping along to Puck’s song in the “Original Songs” episode called “Big-Ass Heart.” He was trying…but again, all the focus is on how big she is, even if he’s now using it as a metaphor for something else. And she, like anyone else, deserves to be fascinating because of more than just what she looks like. I was waiting for her to storm out of the room during the song, but she’s bopping along and I was like “What?!” Didn’t make sense to me – especially for a character who’s so strong-willed and self-aware.

  2. I loved that moment, too, and for some of the same reasons, though it’s Kurt who grabs me and not Blaine. I’m not queer, but oh my God, I’ve been Kurt, caught in someone’s wake and trying to figure out where I stand — and Kurt doesn’t just get that with/from Blaine, he got it with Finn and Rachel too. He mostly got out from under their shadows when he switched schools, only to find himself on the sidelines watching Blaine. And the moment where the clouds part and the moment’s perfect, even if you haven’t quite got it all sorted yet? That moment’s worth it. To watch the chronic over-thinker shrug and fall into the fun and audacity of it all made me sigh, and cry a little.

    As for the queer female characters — I’m hoping. Santana’s going to be a real powerhouse if she ever finds her feet; she and Brittany deserve more screen time than they’ve been getting.

    1. This is super interesting to me, because I think, watching the little of the show I have, I think I tend to feel far more like Kurt, than Blaine in a lot of my friendships, but I also know that in a lot of those very same friendships, those friends would say, no, no, no, they’re Kurt. I think there’s a real universality in that feeling of not having the light.

      1. Hrm. I don’t know, honestly, though that may be a failure of imagination on my part. I know that it seems to be more common (or maybe just more openly admitted) among my female friends, which … doesn’t surprise me. Asking my fiance got me a wry and heartfelt “all the time” — but that brand of openness and sensitivity is part of why we’re together. But maybe we do all feel that way. Plants and trees push for the light as a survival trait; why shouldn’t there be something in us that works the same way?

      2. I think the other thing that really hit me about the Santana/Brittany storyline is that while Santana is a Lesbian who is afraid of the fallout if she makes it public, Brittany is clearly bisexual and refuses to dump the boyfriend she loves for the girl who wanted her as long as it was in private. So it’s not just gay men and lesbian women, but a truly bisexual female as well. I can’t remember seeing a bisexual on TV represented as anything other than ‘on the fence’ or a slut, and damn is it a nice change as someone who’s bi.

        But the definitely have problems too; Artie, Mercedes/Lauren, and Emma are three of them. Plus the characterization of the principal is infuriating, and I find it really weird that 2/3rds of the glee club are jocks – somewhere along the way that just feels impossible to me.

        Still, I find it worth watching most of the time (although the Beiber episode is one of several that made me want to kill people).

  3. I’m a little younger but not that much in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I envy people younger than me so much it hurts like a toothache when I see these things. I never used to understand how people could have such envy and anger about things being better or easier for a younger generation but I sort of get it now. I wish I had grown up in a time where there were people like me on television in these glorious sorts of moments. I’ll see it one day probably, but it won’t be quite the same.

    1. Well, think of it like this – the reason moments like this exist now is because when Ryan Murphy was younger, these moments didn’t exist on television. So he grew up and decided to create them. It’s wonderful that “kids these days” have it so easy. It’s also wonderful that, rather than be cowed by lack of representation, gay/lesbian creators have been stepping up in order to make that possible. There’s reason for all generations to celebrate! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Ianto Jones was killed by a vomiting, drug-addicted, three-headed turkey alien
    Whoa, I’m like the last person in this dimension to be spoiled for the manner of Ianto’s death!

    More topically: I am glad that this moment in the show gave you an oasis of joy. It doesn’t speak to me, but I know that Kurt and Blaine are very dear to the hearts of a lot of young teens out there right now (including some I know). I am glad, too, that my extended family is in love with this show to the degree that my (61 year old, Italian, New Yorker) uncle put the Glee soundtrack on when I was home this summer and danced around the living room to it. I want everyone to have dancing queer joy in their living rooms, even when I’m not around. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. v interesting post! i thought the Raise Your Glass cover was one of the highlights of the episode as well, particularly considering the original music video.

    aaaaand now i know what intradiegetic means, so thank you and thank google!

  6. Really, the Kurt story arc exists at a level above the rest of the show. A character who could go wrong in so so many ways gets a level of dignity and grace that I sometimes wish could be extended to some of the other characters.

    Curiously, the only other one who gets near that level of treatment is the female football coach (who presents as very masculine). It would have been easy to make her a one-joke-wonder, but she has turned into a very complex and compelling character in her own right.

  7. OMG — I just Had A Moment inside my head. I find myself very protective of Kurt and Blaine, particularly in light of the “ZOMGBOYKISSING” fan reaction that seems to be plastered everywhere.

    As in: “Hey, step off! Let them have their moment!”

    Me, who is NEVER that protective of characters find herself a MamaHen over this. I’m laughing at myself, really (and you of all people will get this, I’m sure). I mean, the only other character who ever came the closest to engendering this reaction was Radar in M*A*S*H, whom I so desperately wanted to be that innocent Iowa farmboy, even though I knew it was too late for him to ever be that.

    Heh…wow…there’s an insight.

  8. In the historical context of gay visibility in media, Glee is certainly not a step back, but as others have said, the Kurt arc really is written on a whole different level than the rest of the show with a whole lot of sensitivity and empathy – it’s not surprising that it speaks to a whole lot of teens, it helps that Chris Colfer is just out of his teens and looks Kurt’s age.

    That moment of victory you speak of is eluding me…

  9. “Itโ€™s also hugely powerful to me because itโ€™s a reminder that looking for signifiers in people โ€” are they my tribe? are they safe? will they understand? โ€” is a useful mechanism, but itโ€™s not remotely the whole truth. Itโ€™s not always accurate. And for people who arenโ€™t necessarily assumed to be what they are, to see all those uniformed boys saying weโ€™re all freaks, obvious categories or signifiers aside, is huge. It implies a world of which I donโ€™t have to be afraid.”

    *nods* I keep reading this paragraph over and over again – there’s so much truth in it that & this truth is often difficult to remember.

    “One of the videos going around the Internet today is of a group of Glee fans of indeterminate age reacting to the Blaine and Kurt kiss”

    I’ve never watched Glee – it never seemed like my sort of thing, but seeing this video definitely made me feel good. I’ve been part of similar (if usually smaller) scenes while watching Babylon 5, Buffy, and New Who, but seeing other people do the same thing is good and powerful.

  10. No real comment on Glee — I’m finding that as I get older, I’m watching these LGBT kids with a kind of amazement at their ability to come out and be out and supported by family and friends. It’s fabulous and wonderful and I’m glad they can do it.

    What this reminded me of was spring of 1986: I’d heard about the scary lesbian kiss that was going to be in “My Two Loves”, and in order to watch it, I snuck into the guest bedroom while my parents were in the living room, watching… something else, I don’t even remember. I flipped stations hopelessly, waiting for the kiss. Finally, it happened: Lynn Redgrave kissed Mariette Hartley. I very nearly couldn’t watch because I was so horrified at what I was becoming, but I watched it, then turned the TV off and fled to my room.

    I wasn’t out yet, but I was just completing my frosh year of college, and during the first part (at my first college), I had roamed around the edges of the opening gay and lesbian group meeting of the year, but couldn’t bring myself to go inside. By August, though, I’d met and worked with a gay man who was out, an activist, and a few years older than me. Quietly, one afternoon, I told him that I thought I might be gay too.

    I’ve been very fond of Mariette Hartley and Lynn Redgrave ever since. And Goddess bless Rita Mae Brown for SOMEHOW getting that story on television.

  11. Given everything that the show gets wrong, I consistently find it astonishing what a good job Glee does at addressing the lives of GLB (not yet T) teens. The show consistently angers me to the point of almost deciding not to watch it again with its sheer stupidity, and then does something so mind-numbingly awesome that I am forced to give it another chance. Last week that was Kurt’s dad’s sex talk and Santana coming out to Brittany (a moment that I found very true.) This week it was the combination of Kurt and Blaine singing that duet and Blaine bursting into Raise Your Glass – which also made me jump out and shout for similar reasons to your own.

    The only thing that I sometimes worry about is what it says to less-than-gay-friendly audiences that Glee takes GLB(!T) issues so seriously when it makes everything else a joke . Does the general lack of common sense and accuracy in the show make sensitivity to gay characters a joke as well?

    1. It could also be a “see how marginalized you feel right now? LGBT folks feel this marginalized ALL THE TIME.” Not the best stance ever, and I would be very insulted on many levels if I were to find that was actually true, but I wouldn’t necessarily put it past Ryan Murphy.

    2. I don’t think Glee is *uniquely* serious in the way it treats LGBT issues . It’s always been a mix of OTT humor and pathos for all of the topics it tries to tackle–bullying is a serious issue, except it’s also funny; we’re supposed to empathize with Rachel’s pathos and loneliness except for the times when we’re supposed to laugh with the people making fun of her; Quinn gives Mercedes a serious talk about dieting and food issues in the same episode where hunger makes Mercedes hallucinate her friends in hilarious food costumes. (Not to mention, Artie’s issues with disability have always had Tinkly Music of Heartstring-Tugging playing behind them, at least in a metaphorical sense.) Even Kurt and queerness are played for humor quite a lot (although not necessarily recently)–Kurt’s suggestions for full feathered headpieces for a all-boys performance, for example, and the “gay gay gay gay oh look a tiny purse fell out of my mouth” conversation that Mercedes imagined.

  12. I *literally* had not seen an episode of glee before Original Song. I watched because my sister knew I like P!nk and she said I needed to to see it. So I watched and it literally blew me away. I had no clue what the backstory was, who Kurt or Blaine or any of the characters were. I’d seen Kurt and Blaine kiss earlier in the episode and then seeing them get on stage and sing made me cry. I didn’t know enough about the characters yet to understand anything else that was happening, but that one moment made me go back and watch all the previous episodes.

    And okay, yes, Glee definitely has problems. But they get the LGB(T) story lines *so* right, and that’s something I really haven’t seen on television before. Seeing Burt Hummel loving his son so much, and seeing what his son is willing to do to protect his dad; seeing Finn being uncomfortable because of Kurt’s crush (I had a crush on a friend of mine for two years in high school and she reacted similarly because sometimes you *don’t* take the hint and keep pushing); seeing the taunting and the bullying and noticing how most teachers *ignore* it, even the ones that are supposed to you on your side.

    It’s realistic and it hurts and is good and beautiful at the same time, which leads me to believe that the writers have experienced a lot of that same pain. And they haven’t necessarily dealt with some of the issues they’ve gotten wrong (don’t even get me started on Mercedes and Lauren) because maybe they don’t have that same level of personal experience.

    All of that being said, I think Blaine is one of the most interesting characters on the series (him and Santana) and I *really* want the author’s do so something more with him. Between him serenading a boy at the Gap and having the boy reject him (and get fired); and the hints we’ve had about his family and their beliefs…just–he is insecure and trying *so* desperately to be strong for Kurt and everyone else because if he’s strong for them he doesn’t have to look at what’s going on in his own life.

    So yeah. Gotta love Raise Your Glass.

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