Glee: tokens of affection, public approval, and the lives of stories

While I feel like discussions about Glee often focus on what was missing, it’s unusual for that focus to actually be about something that was originally meant to be there. In the case of episode 3.09, which had a delightfully weird send-up of classic B&W Christmas specials, the big discussion on Tumblr, Twitter and LiveJournal has largely been about what’s in the box?

Except the scene where Blaine gives Kurt what looks like a ring box got cut (along with some other, unrelated scenes) from the final show. Rumor on Tumblr that seems to be coming from someone with a friend who works on the show is that the box contained a ring made out of gum wrappers, to serve as counterpoint to the Rachel and Finn narrative involving expensive gift-giving and proof of love. It may or may not have also been meant to be a promise ring. (Since the initial writing of this piece, the gum-wrapper ring has been confirmed by TV Line, but context speculation remains. The scene will, however, be included on the season 3 DVDs).

Narratively, the cut makes sense. The broad middle of the episode and the decisions that set it up are extremely focused on Kurt and Blaine imagining an adult future together and their friends presuming one. Therefore, we didn’t actually need further narrative development around their commitment, and really, the Finn and Rachel storyline was completely resolvable without it (and filled with its own bucket of problems that I’ll perhaps address in another post).

Other than the rumored possibility that it was a promise ring used in its original sense, not as a placeholder amongst children with grownup dreams, but as a placeholder from someone who doesn’t yet have the means to purchase an engagement ring (there’s more than one story in my own family about gum wrappers and paper bands from cigars, including my parents), what’s been super interesting to me has been one of the key phrases going around Tumblr about the whole affair: My OTP doesn’t need a box or a ring. (OTP, for those not in the know, means “one true pairing” and is what fans refer to their favorite couples, on-screen or fantasy only, as).

I don’t think it was said with the queer culture discussion it evokes in mind, but it’s a powerful and confusing statement at a time when queer identity and the public reception of queer identities is deeply in flux.

Because right now, so much of queer identity is a discussion about equal marriage rights, and equal marriage rights are complicated, not just because of the obvious stuff like queer families needing equal protection under the law and keeping other people’s religious beliefs out of our lives. But because marriage equality is having, and will continue to have, a huge impact on queer culture.

Because suddenly, we have to talk about, in far more practical ways than in the past (the past on display in the black and white portion of tonight’s episode) about marriage, and if it’s for us, and what its impact on queer culture is. Do we need and want rings and rituals that to many of us feel are borrowed from a straight culture we don’t get? And if we do need or want those things are we allowed to talk about how incredibly conflicted we do or do not feel about them?

I’m such a fierce proponent of marriage equality, and am very happy for friends who have or will be marrying same-sex partners. I’m also a huge romantic, and, unfortunately, am also someone who was raised to believe that marriage is the only possible marker of success and adulthood I could ever have (oh, being a girl in the world I was a girl in).

But I also love — loved — the perhaps vanishing queer culture that raised me as a queer person, and it was a land of not needing boxes or rings. It was a land of massive pride in keeping it together day after day after day, because it was a choice every day, because there was no glue that was easy to show off or receive approval for. There was no paperwork.

In the land of Glee, we know, at least somewhat, where Kurt and Blaine stand on marriage. Kurt’s already told us about his fantasy life in New York, “married by 30, legally” (3.01), and Blaine may have given him a promise ring made of gum wrappers for Christmas. (For the record, I remember making those in summer camp on rainy days as all of us girls — all presumed straight — sat around wearing them and imaging futures full of shiny bragging).

That the Kurt and Blaine gifting scene got cut tonight was pure narrative common-sense; the most important part of storytelling is always editing, and what we needed to know about them got told elsewhere in the episode.

But I have to say I love that the fannish discourse, which has gone from outraged to trying to get comfortable with the cut, brings up this issue and the idea that commitment doesn’t need a ring, or, perhaps more importantly any public display or approval. This is especially critical considering the frequent concerns many fans express about the level of physical contact between Kurt and Blaine on screen, often with little awareness of safety concerns gay teens in their environment would face.

While I can’t wait to get a look at the cut scene because I am endlessly charmed by Kurt and Blaine, I am also thankful for the cut, because it really reminds me of why I love fan culture. Because fan culture always promotes, explicitly or implicitly, the idea that stories continue and live full lives, whether we’re looking at them or not.

11 thoughts on “Glee: tokens of affection, public approval, and the lives of stories”

  1. I’ll admit I had my moment of “noooooo” when the episode ended without letting us in on the secret. But there was so much else that was absolutely perfect for me as a die-hard Klaine fan that about two minutes later, I was over it.

    And now we have information from a generally credible media source (TV Line) that it was, in fact, the gum wrapper ring (and that the scene will be included on the Season 3 DVD!). So in the end, we’ll get to see the scene after all!

    I am one seriously happy Klainer tonight.

    And yes, I am shamelessly being as cheesy as a Klaine roll.

    1. I just saw and am about to adjust the post. I do think their guess about the tonality is wrong, as it doesn’t make a lot of structural sense to me, but time will tell.

  2. One of my dearest friends actually used a Ring Pop _at the courthouse_ when she got married, some dozen years ago now. (The Justice of the Peace was delighted by this.)

  3. You wrote: Narratively, the cut makes sense. The broad middle of the episode and the decisions that set it up are extremely focused on Kurt and Blaine imagining an adult future together and their friends presuming one.

    I had the exact opposite reaction to their relationship in the special. Those two men didn’t seem at all like Kurt and Blaine. They, and the women portrayed by Rachel and Mercedes, were some kind of alt-verse characters played by the same actors. I know a lot of people saw that as major Klaine interaction, but they didn’t seem like Kurt and Blaine at all. For me, they were barely in this episode.

    1. I agree with you. I loved it, it was fun, but it was not a Kurt and Blaine interaction for me. Even though it was “Kurt and Blaine playing together like they were in Judy Garland Christmas Show”.

  4. I, personnally, wasn’t super excited that Blaine get a ring for Kurt because… a ring is a ring. There is no meaning in a ring. It’s if you put a meaning in the ring that gives it one.

    I was actually very surprised when I enter the queer community about all those debates about marriage. I was jjust like “hey, if you don’t want to be married you don’t have to, but if this couple wants to get married they should have the right. But still, nobody is forcing straight couples to get married, I’m just fighting with you guys so you could have the choice to get married or not”.

    For me, it has nothing to do with sexuality. I’m a straight woman, and I don’t want to be married. If a man offers me a ring, I don’t jump thinking he is proposing to me. It’s not the ring which is important but his words. I don’t care what meaning society is putting on object, the important meaning is the one the person who offers it put behind it (and in the case of Kurt and Blaine,a pparently, it’s not Blaine tying Kurt to him but more Blaine offering himself to Kurt whatever he could do to him. And I’m more upset that they cut that from the episode more than they cut “Blaine offering a ring to Kurt”.)

    1. This makes me want to count Tumblr posts that emphasize the ring vs. those that emphasize the promise, now that we have finally seen the “box scene”…

      And yes, it’s all about the words!

  5. “Because suddenly, we have to talk about, in far more practical ways than in the past (the past on display in the black and white portion of tonight’s episode) about marriage, and if it’s for us, and what its impact on queer culture is.”

    Pretty much an aside, but I’m curious if there are any good online forums for real discussion on this point? I feel like there is a dearth of discussion on it in my life, despite being a married queer with a kind of radical youth. There was a huge discussion/arguement over this issue when I was in college, and it seemed to become largely silent with the early marriage equality successes. It’s interesting how it is becoming more dominant in the last couple years — as people are nostalgic for a radical past? As people who have grown more normative as they get older (e.g., almost a necessity of parenthood) reflect on the past?


  6. I suppose I am sad that they cut the ring because I am a hopeless romantic and, though I am no kind of Klaine fan at all, I do love who Blaine and Kurt represent on television for queer youth (and old people like me).

    I want people to be able to marry anybody they want to marry, within the bounds of consensuality, and it’s always frustrating when I see inequities between straight screen time (Will and Emma! Finn and Rachel!) and queer screen time (marginalized gay boys, and nothing from Britt and Santana).

    My first marriage was to a woman, and my second to a man, and my third largely for health insurance reasons… so you can imagine I am somewhat disillusioned about how good marriage is for relationships.

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