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Glee: what’s with all the death fics?

8 Apr

One of my preoccupations since discovering the world of Glee fandom, is how many death fics there are. At first they all seemed to kill Kurt (prettiest corpse!), but now I’ve read a mix of pretty much everyone dying. And I can’t stop reading them. Which is a little weird and morbid, but I do a lot of my scholarly work about death, and these fics do feel adjacent to that — if we read a sad fic about loss (and the magnitude of the loss is defined by the intra- and extradiegetic love that precedes it), we get to be all smitten with this fiction without having to be big dorks going on about our obsession in all caps.

More than that, though, I think the death fics are a response to the show being about high school. When folks kill off characters, they are mourning, if not innocence (it is Glee, after all), then at least the luminosity of youth. Although we rarely know it when we’re 16 ourselves, we’re often beautiful at that age in a way we will never be again, even if we go on to be stunning in other ways.

US TV is bad with endings. We put shows on and run them until no one cares anymore. British TV shows, by contrast, often have expiration dates when they start, and certainly no one expects the original cast to stay forever. Spooks (MI-5 in the US), is my eternal example of this. Is any of the original cast still there? It’s all death all the time and makes Torchwood look like happy fun times.

But Glee is a show where the cast is going to have to turn over. Sure, Puck can be a super-senior, but Kurt’s probably going to graduate on time and run for the coast the day after. So we’re losing these folks even now (I’m wondering what the powers that be are going to do around this — How many characters can they justify keeping at a local Lima community college? Who will fail to graduate? Are they thinking college spin-off? Will we see a return of stuff like the Acafellas?).

If we’re grownups about it, we also have to acknowledge that many of the things we love about these characters — which are often their relationships — are also temporary. Maybe Kurt and Blaine will get a happily ever after; I actually know quite a few high school sweetheart couples that have made it a couple of decades and counting. But they’ll probably hurt each other pretty terribly somewhere along the way even if they do make it (and I am so hoping they do). As the audience, it’s what we live for. But it’s also going to suck.

So I think that’s what the death fic is about. I think it’s about beating the show to the punch even more cruelly than the show will eventually and necessarily wound us (plot twists aside, it won’t run forever, even on US TV). It’s like how pessimism makes you ready. We’re ready, dammit. We’re ready.

But I also think, maybe just a little, we’re mourning our own luminosity. And not, so much, the luminosity of the teens we once were, but rather, the luminosity of the teens we weren’t. We’re mourning that our lives weren’t neat. That we weren’t beautiful while being outcasts. That our high school boyfriends or girlfriends were sort of assholes. That we never stood up to that bully. That we never got to be a cheerleader. Or sing the solo.

So the sadness, perhaps, isn’t for what we’ve lost, but for what we never got a chance to lose: our fictional pasts become objects of grief (as a way of delineating unmentioned/unacknowledged love), much in the same way that these fictional characters, with whom we do have these identificatory or receptive/responsive relationships, become objects of intra- and extradiegetic grief in these death fics.

Christian and I were talking briefly about Glee this morning, and he was saying how little work it is to watch the show compared to other programs we both favor. After all, Glee really telegraphs its plot points. But while the work is definitely optional, I do think the show gives us a lot to chew over. Admittedly, that, at times, is about its inconsistencies and flaws (or the really bizarre quirks of fandom. Google canniblaine, I’ll wait), but for me, who is sort of relentlessly Watsonian, it’s like candy. Beautiful, sad candy that leaves a nice corpse, but still, candy.

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2 Responses to “Glee: what’s with all the death fics?”

  1. sqwook April 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    >And not, so much, the luminosity of the teens we once were, but rather, the luminosity of the teens we weren’t.

    Okay, that’s … really close to home. It’s hard to explain why I identify w/Kurt, because it’s obv not any of the details. It’s just that… in the generalities, I wish I had been as fabulous. (And I don’t mean designer clothes. I mean doing what you want. Though I might also mean pretty, in addition to that. Hello, issues, I see you there.) I see something of myself in him, and something that I wanted (want) to be.

  2. Anne September 14, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    I disagree. Deathfics are mainly sloppy writing and exploitation (of the reader’s feelings).

    Sloppy, because while it is entirely possible to create tragedy, loss and drama by other means (which take some writing abilities), killing off a beloved character/person is kind of “insta-tragedy” and “insta-emotion.” What is even better (or worse, depending on point of view), it’s a guaranteed thing. Even an awfully written deathfic will have everyone in tears.

    It’s exploitation, because it directly plugs into essential, basic feelings of the person reading. Few will find the death of a cherished character to be something else than sad and a loss. It’s push-button and it doesn’t give the reader a choice, at all. “You have to be sad, you have to emote, now! And if I have to f**k you over it!”

    BTW – the worst kind come along without tags and warnings. Just what you need on a nice evening you wished to spend with some nice story.

    Old Yeller dies all over again.

    It doesn’t get better with repetition. And death loses all romantic aspects when the people around you actually start dying.

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