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.)