Glee: Santana, Dave Karofsky and the naming and shaming of desire

While I continue to attempt to draft a post about what’s wrong withfor Blaine Anderson, this mini-hiatus really belongs to Santana.

To get the basics out of the way: Santana is cruel, and it’s no surprise someone snapped and outed her (Finn) admittedly poorly kept secret (her love for Brittany). But if Santana doesn’t deserve our sympathy (and I think whether she does depends on who you are and how you watch TV), she certainly deserves our notice.

Santana is, in part, the conclusion to the Dave Karofsky story we never got to see. She, like Dave, is a bully. That bullying, while not addressed to her object of desire, is often related to sexuality and gender and is designed to keep her safe, or at least throw up a good distraction. She beards for Dave at the end of Season 2, not just because they are both closeted gay kids, but because they are both closeted gay kids with the same defense mechanism.

While Dave’s been working his issues out largely in private – a conversation with Kurt here or there, a transfer to a new school, hiding out under a cap at the local gay bar – it’s been so private that it hasn’t even happened on our TV screens.

But Santana’s working her issues out in public. And even if that weren’t already clear by the way she baits Finn and moons over Brittany, she certainly doesn’t have a choice now; she’s about to be outed to the entire congressional district.

It’s a critical narrative choice about a character who looks nothing like many people’s stereotypes about gay women, because Santana is the exception to no rule when it comes to the intersection of her gender and her sexuality. Women often simply don’t get to resolve these matters in private the way Dave does.

Sure, Dave got lucky in the generosity that Kurt afforded him, but who women sleep with, how often, and whether they like it too much or not enough is pretty much always a matter for public discourse and opinion. Especially in places like William McKinley High School.

Had Dave’s journey from bully to self-accepting gay man been documented more on our television screens and transpired in the halls of William McKinley, gender-based insults, placing him as a woman, would have been central to the narrative. But that’s not the story Glee is telling about Dave.

It is, however, one that Glee is telling about Kurt.

So let’s predict what happens next, or at least discuss what we’re clearly supposed to expect to happen next: With Santana’s sexuality dragged into the congressional race by a third candidate, she has to attend to her now very public personal life. So does Sue Sylvester, who spoilers tell us will be on a quest to prove her heterosexuality, possibly at the expense of butch-appearing straight gal Sharon Bieste.

But if we’re talking about how homosexuality is used in American politics, especially in places like Lima (my partner, a third or fourth generation Buckeye, may throttle me if I cast aspersions on the entire state of Ohio), there’s no way that Kurt’s not going to get similarly dragged into the race, and it will be Burt’s job to, in an echo of Kurt’s speech for class president, try to rise above the mudslinging.

That it is women — or male characters “tainted” with femininity — that have to defend their identities in public, while people like Dave can grab a fresh start somewhere else is one of those moments of real-world nastiness that can make Glee seem like such an unkind show. For a fantasy, it sure is mean.

But predictions aside, we’re still early in season 3, and I’m still unsure where they are going with a lot of things including Blaine’s constantly shifting self; Kurt’s sudden return to more feminine attire around the events of 3.05; and Rachel and Finn’s struggles with gender role expectations around their relationship to each other and Lima.

But I am convinced that if we’re looking for clues to those sorts of questions, the answer unavoidably rests with Santana. Despite (or perhaps because) Glee‘s main narrative drivers outside of Rachel are male, the show is often overtly about people’s reactions to unusually-located femininity.

So if we want to know what happens next, who better to look at than Santana? She’s an archetype of femininity (a cheerleader) who’s broken the rules (not by being mean, but by being gay) and is about to undergo one particularly unpleasant ritual girls and women face — a big public discussion of the appropriateness of her desire.

It’s something we’ve gotten with Rachel (with Kurt and his gender non-conformance playing mirror) around ambition. Now we’re going to get it with Santana (with Kurt and his gender non-conformance playing mirror again, but he’s a magician, of course, and exists in that other world made up of shadows and the looking glass) around the public naming (and shaming) of desire.

In light of all of that, I bet Dave Karofsky’s glad he managed to get the hell out of dodge right about now. But part of me wishes he would come back in this particular arc and speak up with his masculine affect and relative safety for Santana, Kurt and the relentlessly flawed strength these two — the girl he pretended to want and the boy he actually did — have been forced to have by the way the world so often feels about girls.

13 thoughts on “Glee: Santana, Dave Karofsky and the naming and shaming of desire”

  1. For Dave — in all of his burly football player privilege — being closeted has certainly been a double-edged sword for him. It seems the writers at Glee very much are of the mind that the closet is a terrible place to be (self-destructive, allows people to abuse others, perpetuates stereotypes); I am pretty sure that it will not take many episodes for Santana to be “better” for being out of the closet — maybe she will be less cruel, or maybe she will be happier, but I think the point is ultimately going to be that it is “better” out in the light of day. Maybe I’m wrong; I’m just guessing.

    I do like that Glee isn’t playing the “girls with girls are hot!” card at the expense of reality. TV would often have us believe that we, as a society, are ALWAYS okay with girls kissing girls: what’s sexier than that? It is certainly a trope of straight men’s porn. But the truth is that it’s only okay when it’s FOR the entertainment of men — TV, movies, porn, clubs, etc. As soon as it makes real men feel emasculated or people in general uncomfortable, there is the understanding that hot girl on girl action is actually HOMOSEXUALITY and all bets are off.

    And, well, you know I’d like to see Dave show up again and flex his big gay muscles in the face of the stereotyping folks of McKinley/Lima/the World. Also, I want an out-Dave and Burt Hummel conversation in the worst way possible…

    And can I ask for a Christmas present right here, right now? I would love for you to put your big old brain to this question for me: “To what extent was the intense outcry over Karofsky’s treatment of Kurt last year, and current outrage over possible Kurtofsky storylines, a direct result of people reading Kurt as a girl?”

  2. I do feel sorry for Santana, and I think we’re meant to. I do not feel as violently towards Finn as I’m told I should.

    I’m downright fascinated by the framing of the next episode and the previews of Finn singing Girls just wanna have fun are freaking me out and intriguing me at the same time.

    It’s interesting with Santana being the archetype of femininity — and then the discussion (by dontturnitoff) of girl-on-girl for male titillation and then actual girl-on-girl for the sake of said girls — because the two cheerleaders is the archetype of one, but Glee is framing it in a story that is clearly about the other (although those two have been known to play it up for free food).

    That is the only thing that has ever interested me about Brittana.

    But Santana’s coming out is interesting to me. Because she’s already brought her parents into it “I haven’t even told my parents yet” — so I’m guessing there will be mention of them. I’m on the fence about how I want that to go. I mean, I don’t want to torture the gay for the sake of it, but after a while, seeing all the gays with happy parents sort of makes me want to spit.

  3. I’m telling you, RM, you put the name Karofsky somewhere without adding “asshole” and — if you’re lucky and folks like you — people slip into “if you don’t have anything nice to say” mode.

    I’m pretty sure if you’d posted about what a nasty piece of work Dave Karofsky was, you’d have all kinds of comments up in here! 😉

  4. Yes. Yes to all of this. Glee is the only show who could take something as ridiculous as those ads, and then use them to give a plot twist that only seems like it’s over the top. There’s a method to the madness!

    The ads hinting that Sue might be a lesbian keeps making me think of when Elena Kagan was the supreme court justice nominee, and suddenly there was a lot of brewhaha about a picture of her playing softball next to discussions about her being a lesbian. Please Glee..specifically make fun of this!

    As far as Santana goes I am preparing myself for the rest of her sexual history with boys to be dragged out, and used as ammo in my favorite “You’re just confused! You’re feelings aren’t real! They’re ephemeral,and will die in the shadow of the right guy!” argument. People will tell Santana she’s confused because she’s a woman. (Look at all those boys you were with! Look in a mirror! Look at all of those boys that want you! You have what all women are supposed to want, and you can’t just not want it. You can’t just change the rules like that!) Women are fickle, crazy, shifting, hysterical. Never strong, solid, dependable, trustworthy. When they’re with other women it’s not real. It’s not something that lasts. If people found out about Karofsky, and his interactions with Kurt it would be “You’re confused because that boy is so feminine. Listen to him talk. See how he moves. How he dresses. How he looks. He’s the problem. You need to stay away from that type of boy.” Which is what I actually think was running through his head all of last year. It’s…crazy unfair how much easier it is for Karofsky to move out of Mckinley and be able to start over. Still, whatever he’s doing right now I am 100% behind it. (If transferring out of Mckinley allows someone like Dave to have a kind of… calm…stillness (too soon to use “serenity” I think)…than that’s further proof to me that this school needs to burned to the ground, the earth salted and holy water spread everywhere). The kid in Scandals is doing a nice job of healing whatever used to make him ‘Bad magic, mad at the world, ticking time bomb Dave” and becoming “Baby steps, accepted at the gay bar, working on my issues Dave” instead.

    I REALLY want a Santana talks to her her parents scene, and a Karofsky comes out to his dad scene. Though, admittedly, I am obsessed with the GLBQ student’s and their parents on this show. (No, seriously. I have to know how Karofsky’s dad takes this because I have theories, and I’m curious to see if my read on his dad was correct.)

    1. Silverkit: just wondering if in your head cannon, Dave’s dad is gay?

      Because sometimes I think Dave’s dad is gay. And miserable.

      1. dontturnitoff:

        I didn’t pick up ‘possibly closeted’ just because that was the big twist when it came to Dave, and I don’t know if they’d repeat it again. I did see a very tired looking guy so I can see where that theory could come from, but my dad is a blue collar Midwesterner so the image of you dad looking exhausted is pretty normal for me. (Burt actually has this feel to him too, and I have no idea if I’m just throwing that in there or if it’s really good acting)

        It’s just that the more we saw this character (and maybe this is just the actor) the more I thought that if Karofsky came out to him it might be okay.

        Karofsky’s father obviously cares about him. He noticed that drastic changes in his son’s personality and school work were happening, and he’s involved enough in his life to come to the meetings with him and defend him to Burt. He doesn’t seem like he goes off about GLBTQ people in private (thought that doesn’t mean he didn’t say things down the line that could be questionable.) He had that little exchange with Burt about learning to accept “the gays” Still, the problem is there can be a Grand Canyon worth of difference between being “fine with gays existing” and “fine with my child being one.” I would really like it if Dave Karofsky had parent’s who are a little confused about what to do with this information, but are willing to try because they love him, and he’s their child. If a positive (if tentative) reaction from his parents was thrown into his already shifting take on his life then I think it would really speed up and strengthen the good trail he’s on now.

        This unfortunately means I’d like the other characters to have parents that take the news badly (They’ve hinted about it with Blaine which makes me concerned for Santana….and possibly Brittany). If all the parents on this show are just fine with their child coming out I’m going to start giving it the side eye.

        1. I think we have reason to believe that at least some of Santana’s family members will take the news badly.

          I think we have reason to believe that there is some, probably ongoing, issue between Blaine and his parents on his queerness. Blaine’s parents may be so absent though that this is a sidenote to bigger problems.

          I think Brittany’s parents are either supportive, oblivious, or not taking it seriously by viewing it as a tangent of whatever is going on with Brittany and her disability narrative.

          1. I tend to believe that Blaine got one of those:

            “We know you told us, but we’re going to forget the conversation happened. Please don’t tell anyone” reactions possibly coupled with a “Why must you continually bring it up! You draw so much attention to yourself!”

            1. I’m not even convinced he got anything that clear. I think that his parents expected him to know that he wasn’t to tell other family members and Blaine sort of went with that a little until some event or other where he asked his parents what was known or what was okay for them, and then they were like “How can you even ask us this; you know you can’t just go around telling people such things.” But I have a strong sense of Blaine’s general behavior being that of someone trying to predict reactions of those around him so as not to make “mistakes.” Hence oppressive silence from parents following by nasty closet requests.

              1. Rumor has it that Blaine mentions something about his parent’s next episode…which I am really hoping turns out to be true.

                1. Where did that rumour come from? I know that an old tweet from TPTB from back during SDCC re: Blaine’s parents has been circulating again, but is this a rumor _not_ connected to that? V. excited if so. Wow. And it would make sense t place it here, what with the Santana coming out narrative.

                  1. Arg! I cannot find it now (which makes me think the grain of salt I usually have with rumors might have to be upped to a spoonful). I was so sure I read a tweet about it somewhere with one of the I Kissed A Girl clips. Sorry! If I find it I’ll let you know.

                    It would be really cool though.

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