Glee: Let’s talk about “Glitter Bombing”

Glitter bombing is not a Glee-ism. It’s actually a recent but recurring political act, with real world history, usually carried out by activists against anti-gay politicians. In fact, the only instance of glitter bombing not related to LGBTQ issues on the Wikipedia page is in its “in fiction” category — and that is Schuester’s use of the tactic in “The Purple Piano Project.”

I wanted to point this out, because most of the discussion I’ve seen of Schuester doing this revolves around either his immaturity or the wackiness of Glee, but without the non-fiction political context, I don’t think that’s a meaningful conversation.

The thing is, I can’t quite figure out what Glee was trying to do with this. Was this another case of Schuester thinking he’s doing the right thing and not? Let’s face it, Sue may say all sorts of appalling things to Kurt, but she also gave him solos, stuck up for him on the atheism thing, and doesn’t seem to hold his queerness against him any more than she holds anything against anyone.

Schuester, on the other hand, spends a huge amount of time being exasperated by Kurt’s queerness (something which previews for next week’s episode suggest will be back), trying to be supportive, and basically just doing things (when he does anything at all) that aren’t about Kurt but are about himself.

So one easy argument is that Schuester is being incredibly appropriative in an incredibly inappropriate way.

The other possibility is one about how Glee defines queerness. By using Glitter Bombing to defend the arts, Schuester suggests that the arts are inherently queer, that his glee club is inherently queer. And not just because it’s more filled with LGBTQ people than he knows.

Certainly, there are a lot of people on Glee besides Kurt, Blaine, Santana, Brittany and Karofsky, with arguably queered sexuality. Tina and Rachel are both othered at various points for liking sexual activity. Artie, through both words and deed, points out that his wheelchair doesn’t getting in the way of his sexual abilities. The women Puck desires are not an expected or necessarily accepted part of his sexuality in the WMHS environment. The intersection of Emma’s OCD and her demi-sexuality has been a near constant topic. And I certainly know more about Schuester’s sex life than I ever wanted to (remember his ex-wife?).

Glee is very insistent that everyone is not just the underdog, but really weird and possibly revolting to someone out there. Sometimes the show is awkward about it; sometimes it’s hilarious. Often it’s both. And, when we look at the ways in which it uses songs (stretch those lyrics, stretch them!), it’s easy to assume they’re just stretching the meaning of Glitter Bombing here to this larger underdog story. On some level, everything on Glee is a metaphor about LGBTQ-ness, and all the LGBTQ content on Glee is also just a subset of a larger story about a broader sense of queerness.

But, at the end of the day I don’t think that’s what is actually happening around this particular act. I do think this is one of our first hints that Schuester is going to remain ineffective, boggled and cruel through obliviousness when it comes to Kurt (and the other LGBTQ kids he’s aware of), because he, like pretty much all the characters on the show, is too wrapped up in his own drama to engage other people in a useful way. Schuester taking Glitter Bombing, screwing it up on behalf of the arts, and then finding a way to mess up the equilibrium of any number of the LGBTQ characters? It seems like a given at this point, and last night’s episode warned us that that’s coming loud and clear.

12 thoughts on “Glee: Let’s talk about “Glitter Bombing””

  1. Heh. As usual, when there’s something that happens in Glee that I have no idea what to do with, you write about it.

    The glitter bombing unsettled me, and I was glad to see that it only helped her because — what was he thinking? Ridiculously ineffective, silly and a huge overreaction – and yeah, it’s a freaking gay thing. Of course, Sue is being kind of anti-gay in her blackmailing of Santana. But It’s not really that Sue is anti-gay. She’s just willing to use any weakness (ie being closeted) to her advantage (not unlike Santana herself).

  2. I think it’s important to remember that Will’s very first act was to frame a kid for drug use and blackmail him. While he is sometimes sympathetic, Will is not actually a good person. And even his best intentions are often horribly executed.

  3. I think the equation is simpler than that in the show writers’ minds: New Directions is the one support network open to Kurt and other queer kids. Hence a threat to ND is an attack on the queer kids at McKinley. QED, glitterbombing.

    That said, you’re obvs right that the whole underdog theme is a thinly disguised metaphor about queerness, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that the show is getting away with it. 🙂

  4. Yeah, it was a bit strange. It could have been a relatively proactive moment, but the fact that the glitter-bombing was done without reference to its political context and without any audience beyond Santana, Becky and a camera, plus *with* a self-congratulatory, petty, schoolyard tone on Will and Emma’s part – not to mention the fact that it was explicitly stated to have fed Sue’s popularity in the polls – makes me read it as an intentionally negatove one. An appropriatory gesture stripped of context by a bad teacher whose actions are always more about his ego/ambition than about the reality of teaching…

    It’s going to be up to Kurt/Blaine and eventually Santana and Brittany to do things right, I suspect….

  5. Yes. I was hoping you would write about the glitter bomb. The downside for you is that now what should probably have been a LJ post will instead be a really long comment on your blog. Sorry.

    I feel like it could have been done in a decent way, because I think a certain amount of appropriation makes sense. The main reason the Glee kids are tortured about being in glee? “It’s gay”. in high school (and middle school)…if you’re weird in any way, no matter how straight you are, yes, there will be homophobic slurs coming your way. “Gay” and “fag” and “homo” are thrown around *a lot* in real life.

    (digression: I used to substitute teach 7th to 10th grade. God. I couldn’t let it pass, and wow did I spend a lot of time having kids roll their eyes at me that it didn’t /mean/ anything. Only, I’ve been that queer kid sitting quietly on the side pretending that it’s no more personal to me than to anyone else, and just no.)

    They’re just not acknowledging that there is a huge difference between being a straight target of homophobic bullying (yes, it sucks) and being actually queer. I certainly don’t think Schue is aware of it. A slushie for “being gay” does not mean the same thing to Kurt as it does to Finn.

    I don’t think Schuester gets that, so it felt like bad appropriation. The man’s trying, but he’s got some serious issues. It’s hinted in season 1 that Will’s parents were alcoholics, and that may go some way towards explaining how far he will go to please crazy people and the things he will turn a blind eye to. Terri, Emma, April Rhodes and Holly Holiday? There’s a pattern here. He can stand up to Sue and Figgins sometimes, but generally I think he’s conflict averse. Will made sure he wasn’t a target. He didn’t rock the boat. It worked for him, he survived his childhood that way, and I think he has a very hard time understanding why someone like Kurt can’t do the same. Second digression: I don’t get the fangirls who HATE Will and LOVE Blaine. Because come on, the worst case scenario Blaine in 15 years? It’s Will. Right down to the hair and sweater vests.

    1. “Because come on, the worst case scenario Blaine in 15 years? It’s Will. Right down to the hair and sweater vests.”

      Huh, that’s really interesting especially since I’ve heard people say that Sue is worst case scenario Kurt. You could say, if Glee was being clever, that they’re giving some of the students “warning adults” .

      (Rachel has Shelby. Kurt has Sue. Blaine and Finn sharing Will, Quinn has Terri (well last season Quinn.)

      But..I’m not sure they did that on purpose….because it’s Glee and it’s really hard to tell sometimes.

      Now I feel like the Sue/Will shippers out there have more ground that I gave them credit for.

      …and I’d like them to do a Christmas Carol themed episode where Blaine’s Ghost of Christmas Future is Will.

  6. This may be a bit of an aside, but when I was in high school (I’m 22 now, so maybe 5-7 years ago) I swear I had acquired a sense via the Internet of “glitterbombing” as a synonym for “glamourbombing” [] this sort of pagan/faery aesthetic that was heavy on the street art and, yes, heavy on the glitter as representative of magic and art. Can’t find much now to back this up other than an UrbanDictionary definition from 2004, but that connection to “the arts” makes it a little more interesting.

    Though this is probably one of those associations which pop up completely unintentionally; it’s obviously modeling itself on the LGBT protest act above anything else, and somehow the writers don’t seem like the types to have been poking around on the sort of 2004 Myspace-y webpages with lavender text on a starry background and five rotating pentacle GIFs.

    And, y’know, either way it’s weirdly exploitative.

  7. Thank you for this post. I could not figure out what was bothering me so much about this damn glitter bombing and I think you nailed it.

    “By using Glitter Bombing to defend the arts, Schuester suggests that the arts are inherently queer, that his glee club is inherently queer. And not just because it’s more filled with LGBTQ people than he knows.”

    There’s an opinion article (I think it’s off AfterElton) that wants Glee to stop acting like New Direction’s aren’t popular, but all I can think when I read that opinion is “That’s not going to happen any time soon. What are you talking about?” It doesn’t matter how much time they spend winning football games. Glee club is “gay” to the students at that school (at a lot of schools). Gay is not good in small town Ohio. Gay=bad, uncool, creepy and a whole host of other horrible words. This is like saying that people who win Tony’s are now cool. They are cool to a section of the population, but to most people a Tony is not an award that cool people win. “Theater people*” win those things…..see also gay.

  8. Glitterbombing in the pagan and otherkin comunities predate any queer use of which I am aware. In those communities, it was usually referred to as an act which would increase the beauty, magic, wonder, etc. of a person finding the results – such as leaving a trail of rainbow glitter down a sidewalk, fairy graffiti, hanging carved wooden faces on trees, and so on. Somewhere between unsigned art, pranks, and the sorts of acts the Discordians someimes perpetrated. It went from there to sometimes being used as an “anti-greyface” tool, that is, “I’m gonna glitterbomb the office when I go in to see that horrible authority figure who thinks I’m crazy because I like rainbows and elves. I also filled out all my forms in blue glitter ink – they said blue or black, right?”

  9. In fact, the only instance of glitter bombing not related to LGBTQ issues on the Wikipedia page is in its “in fiction” category — and that is Schuester’s use of the tactic in “The Purple Piano Project.”

    Back in 2006 in Seattle some neo-Nazis tried to stage a rally but were glitterbombed by a counter-protestor, and more recently Lindsay Lohan was glitterbombed on the day she reported to prison last year, so those are unrelated to LGBTQ issues. Will’s doing it seems more in line with these examples, where it’s done less as a political act and more as passive-aggressive attention-getting, short of punching someone in the nose.

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