Glee: Marriage, public status, and private lives

There are a few things we know unequivocally about Kurt Hummel. He has an astounding voice; he has an uncanny ability to spot trends in men’s fashion; and he knows when it comes from a bottle. He also really, really likes weddings. Just look at his fixation with the royal event (who could forget his still unrealized musical about Pippa Middleton?), and, of course, his amazing wedding planning for his father and Carole.

So, in an episode all about planning weddings and proposals, where the hell was Kurt Hummel?

The fact is, I have no idea. Because in an episode that gave us amazing content around Artie and Becky, underscored the very real chemistry between Sam and Mercedes, and treated us to another round of Finn Has No Idea What To Do With His Life, there really wasn’t room for another great scene that had no tonal relevance to any other scene in what was an information-rich, but largely hideously structured episode.

But I do have a theory. Although it’s one built, largely, not on the presence of data, but the absence of it, which isn’t my favorite basis for constructing an argument. I suspect whatever was going on in this episode goes back to the ring box scene between Kurt and Blaine that was supposed to be in the Christmas episode, but got yanked for time because what the episode needed to say about Kurt and Blaine got said in other ways.

The ring box wasn’t necessary to the Christmas episode, no. But it was necessary to this one, and if it had been broadcast, it might help explain not only Kurt’s non-participation in the marriage narratives of “Yes/No”, but why Beiste’s elopement was also a critical detail when it comes to this season’s ongoing marriage theme.

That season three is all about marriage we learn right at the start of 3.01. Kurt and Rachel are being interviewed by Joseph ben Israel about their plans for the future and Kurt says, “Married by 30, legally!”

I squealed at that line when it aired because of the turning tide, because of the recent marriage equality decision in New York (which Colfer gave a shout-out to while that was in process during the Glee Live dates here), and because of the state of marriage equality in Ohio.

You need to know it’s bad. Like really, really bad. Like, should the state, its people and its government have the will, it will still be a hot mess to fix. Ohio has multiple laws and even an amendment in the state constitution banning marriage equality. It’s not that it’s not legal, as is the case in many states; it’s that it’s explicitly, constitutionally illegal. In fact, despite not being the worst place to be gay, at all (especially if you’re in the Columbus area), Ohio has some of the ugliest legal language out there on marriage equality.

At any rate, 3.01 is hardly the last time we hear about marriage. 3.05 and the ramp-up to it is littered with references to spiritual marriage (I’m working on something with someone on that theme for this blog; we’ll get it to you one day), and that theme continues in its immediate aftermath through everything from Kurt’s wardrobe to a number of interactions between Santana and Brittany.

The Christmas episode also underscores marriage themes — around Kurt and Blaine euphemistically, and around Finn and Rachel and all that fretting about jewelry purchases. We also, of course, lost a Santana scene in the Diamond Basement in that episode, as well.

And then we come to “Yes/No”, an episode centered around something Kurt adores, and yet he’s no where near it. Why? Or, as gets said on Tumblr (and surely other spaces): “Why is Klaine being left out of this incredibly romantic episode?”

But I don’t think that’s the right question, because I don’t think this episode is supposed to be about romance. Or even marriage, as an act or a state of being. I think “Yes/No” is about the public spectacle and status conferred by marriage (and relationships) and the toxicity excessive focus on that public spectacle can engender.

When Will wants to marry Emma everything is fine until he starts to engage with the expected rituals of marriage with others by asking her family’s permission to marry her. Things then promptly go (temporarily) to hell.

Meanwhile, Finn’s proposal to Rachel at the episode’s end is far more about trying to find an identity for himself than it is about loving her, despite the fact that he does love her. Not knowing what will mark the culmination of his high school career, he chooses to propose to her — again, the need for spectacle and status getting in the way of good choices and the actual relationship.

Additionally, the glee club worries about Artie’s reputation if he is romantically linked to Becky; they can say it’s because they don’t trust her, but people on Glee date unpleasant people all the time, and Artie is right to call them out on their discomfort with her Downs.

And let’s not forget Shane, pulling Mercedes away from Sam right after he gets slushied. It’s all about relationships and partners as status items and possessions.

Even the opening use of “Summer Nights” focuses on that. The currency in that song is gossip, cars, and sex, and in case you forgot about the sex, Rachel was back with an I’m-about-to-lose-my-virginity-oh-wait-I-already-did capelette in that number.

So were does that leave Kurt, a young man who loves the spectacle of weddings, but also recently, according to canon we haven’t actually seen, received an age-appropriate token of affection from his boyfriend in private? In a pretty awkward place, I’m guessing. Because Kurt, more than anyone else in this show, has had significant time and cause to consider the status impacts of relationships conducted both in public and in private. Remember, it’s dangerous to other people for him to be their friend too; I wonder if he and Becky ever talk about that.

That the status of how people relate to him is critical to Kurt is something we see in play at Burt’s wedding. We see it at Kurt’s prom. We see it in Kurt and Blaine agreeing to have sex with each other for the first time in a conversation on a stage in an empty theater.

There is no audience for Kurt an Blaine’s commitment to each other, whatever it may be. No matter how out they are, the audience cannot exist; they aren’t paying the right type of attention; the script and framework are absent. Because this is Lima, Ohio, and certain spectacles are barred to boys like Kurt and Blaine in this place and time. Really, it’s even written down.

For Kurt, that has to be profoundly challenging. Here is a boy who just wants to be both seen and valued for what he is, but is often misinterpreted and devalued. Now that he has something that elevates his own feelings about himself and seems to fit the model for public celebration and status, he still doesn’t quite get to have that. Remember how tainted the prom was?

And then, we hear, Blaine gives him a ring and a promise. The ring is too delicate to wear regularly. The promise would make no sense to those around them: not to Rachel, who is leaning harder and harder towards her career and doesn’t have a partner who can take that journey with her; and not to Finn who would just shrug and say, “Dude, sucks you can’t get married.”

In a world where the ring box scene had actually been broadcast in the Christmas episode, there would be a clear thru-line from Kurt’s marriage fantasies about New York through the spiritual marriage theme of “The First Time.” This would then journey on to the commitment of the gum-wrapper ring, followed by this episode that largely shames the ways status rituals around marriage can get in the way of love. Note, of course, the one angst free marriage/partnership situation in this entire episode was Cooter and Beiste, and they eloped.

These themes, currently elucidated murkily thanks to the absence of that critical piece of connective tissue from the Christmas episode, seem as if they will be further underscored based on the spoilers we have for the Michael Jackson episode, in which we apparently see Kurt comforting an injured and/or emotionally miserable Blaine. This is something very different from the demonstrations of affection we see in the other couples on the show, and will probably then be in play again (in a state of absence due to Blaine missing a few eps due to Darren Criss’s run on Broadway) as the Valentine’s Day episode likely once again focuses on the toxicity of status issues around love and romance.

Glee, increasingly, seems to be about the public/private divide, about what you keep close, and what you can feel belongs to you — your pride, your talent, your capacity to love, and what is beyond your control — other people’s reactions, your success, the people you love. This is unavoidable in a narrative in which kids learn about themselves by performing, and Kurt, for all his striving since the show began, has, unfairly, some of the hardest, cruelest lessons to learn in this regard, in part, because of inequalities that are underscored by his blessings: his voice, his fashion sense, and, yes, his boyfriend.

Would “Yes/No” still have been incoherent on the “where is Kurt?” issue if we’d had that ring-box scene in the Christmas episode? Probably. The structural flaws were pretty epic on multiple fronts. But with the connective tissue of that ring box scene, I’m fairly sure we would at least know what Glee was aiming for, not just tonight, but with its ongoing marriage theme, that keeps making me want to quote Leonard Cohen: Love is not a victory march — not for Kurt and Blaine, who don’t get a parade; and not for Finn and Rachel for whom marriage seems to be a plan B to bigger dreams.

Where this will all go in the end, I’m not sure, but I am certain we’re not done with this marriage theme, nor are we done with Kurt and Blaine being absent or ambivalent around public displays of romantic status. They’re getting a little older and the realities of the public spectacle fairytale are getting much clearer for them — both in terms of what they can and can’t have, but also in terms of whether that’s really a fantastic mode for building a life.

That’s one thing about being a gay kid. Fewer blueprints on hand. And sometimes, that’s the best thing in the world.

15 thoughts on “Glee: Marriage, public status, and private lives”

  1. I just can’t stop being horrified by the whole Will and Emma thing. That he shamed her for her mental illness because she chose to propose to him when he had been planning to propose to her–and then magnanimously proposed anyway to which she gratefully said yes–just served as a slap in the face to the very idea that women have any right to propose or to initiate conversations about commitment and reinforced the message that it’s the male prerogative to do those things and that they can only work when it happens that way. It doesn’t help that Shannon reports having stated her feelings and then her elopement just “happens in a whirlwind”–that’s a healthy relationship but one doesn’t get the feeling that she had a lot of control over it either.

    In this context I’m not loving Sam/Mercedes either, because in this episode that’s just ONE MORE example of a woman’s attempt to make her own decisions about her own life and love affairs and set her own boundaries being shown to be ultimately in the wrong whereas Sam clearly is going to get what he wants. Why is it not okay for a girl like Mercedes to have a fling?

    And Becky’s pursuit of Artie was also shown to be repulsive; admittedly she has the subtlety of a Mack truck and to be hit on that strongly would scare most teenagers, so I do think Artie wasn’t entirely lying when he said she was too intense for him. I just can’t help but take away a distinctly distasteful subtext from this whole ep to the effect that silly women don’t know what’s best for them and ought to sit back and wait for men to make the decisions 😦 😦 😦

    1. You know if you click “like” 10 times, it just unlikes it and likes it again, so it’s impossible to like this post as much as I do, apparently 🙂

      I think Will’s awful behaviour ties into what Racheline is saying — that engaging in these traditions/spectacles, like asking the parents, can be toxic. Why did he do that? He was ready to marry her. He was giddy at the prospect. He never really cared. But someone puts a worry in his head and now he’s all mixed up, and he’s not smart enough to figure it out on his own (he’s worried about triggering her, but at the same time, is worried their whole life together could be a trigger), so Emma gets the brunt of it. But they’re in love, and while we don’t want to, we often hurt each other in horrible, stupid ways when we’re figuring out “in love”. YMMV

      As far as Samcedes is concerned, I can’t imagine they’re not setting it up for a return of this ship. Shane being all “you’re mine, stop touching that friend, how dare you have friends with penises” was enough to cap off my initial dislike of him with a big lid of get off my telly now, jerk.

      The Becky/Artie thing was uncomfortable for everyone — including Becky/Artie/ like, everyone. It was super uncomfortable for Artie, who felt like he should give her a chance because what if someone wasn’t giving him a chance because of the way his body is? And I’m happy that it was meant to be that way and we were meant to keep wondering about that afterwards.

  2. I think one of my favorite things about this fandom is the diversity. You’ve consistently said that we’re all watching a different show and every time I read something of yours, I know that it’s true. I love the way you make me THINK about Glee … you pulled stuff from Yes/No that I never would have even considered (mainly because I’m coming from a perspective where I married my college sweetheart at age 22 and wore a big poofy white dress and walked down an aisle in a church.) Thank you for making me stop and think and consider other people and other experiences time and time again. This fandom is crazy and silly and it overreacts over EVERYTHING but it has also, I think, made me a better, more aware person.

  3. As I noted in my LJ, this left me furious, more along disability lines than heteronormative marriage lines.

    I’ve made Emma’s speech. The “I’m not perfect. I have good and bad days. And if you don’t want to deal, don’t let the door hit you in the ass” speech. And yet Will treated her like a naive child with no agency to understand *her own disability*.

    Emma has lived with it far longer than Will has. And his feeling a need to mansplain the problems that might arise takes away from her obvious understanding that yes, it will be difficult, but she still wants to have that. Ultimately, Will made his issue with her disability into HER issue.

    And I have…problems…with that.

  4. Thank you, as always, for sharing your insight. I think that the lack of Klaine is this episode was very telling, again, about the fact that what Glee is actually highlighting right now is the failboat that some of these other relationships are (wrong reasons, wrong way to go about things, etc). We can’t include Klaine because, right at this moment, they ARE more mature and healthy. And we ALSO can’t include them because of the legal, social, very real reasons you’ve discussed. It’s both. Theirs is a much more private relationship, out of necessity as much as personal preference.

    I continue to be horrified by Emma’s parents, and was ready to punch Will when he listened and let them put doubt in his head. No, screw you, you were ready to marry her, don’t you dare throw her illness at her now. I think…possibly…watching with/in the context of having a partner with (much more controlled/minor) OCD has just made me even more twitchy about how he responds to her OCD.

    Also, Finn – he just continues to be clueless and have no idea what he’s doing. Though I think it says a lot that he IS this lost and yet WILL, the ADULT, asks him to be his best man because Finn has taught him how to be a man???? REALLY, Will?

  5. This is an interesting look at the ep, and actually takes the whole Becky internal monologue thing from uncomfortable to interesting. To draw on your ideas of the themes here, it makes it seem like Becky’s disability is more about not having access to her private self in public … and that the focus people put on the public self is the cause of her disability. I don’t know enough about Down’s to know if that’s true, but that seems to be the way it was painted. Thus her inability to couple is due to her performative self not being accessed by others.

    And, looked at that way, all the main couples have one partner with a performative disability.

    1. Butting in for a pedantic moment–

      What they’re doing with Becky, and what you describe in your comment, is called the “social model of disability” and it’s the foundation of the disability rights movement since, gosh, I think the seventies? It holds that raw ability or impairment is neutral, but it isn’t lived or embodied in a vacuum. ‘Disability’ is the interaction between a body and its environment and social context, usually taking the form of systematic disenfranchisement and disempowerment.

      Disability (including developmental and/or intellectual/development disabilities like Downs) is as performative as sexuality or gender. As a disabled person, I think one of the most interesting (and important) things about this episode has been seeing a few viewers realize that.

      It’s interesting that you connect performative disability with the other performances this episode explores–I hadn’t thought of it that way, any more than I’d thought of Becky’s monologue as uncomfortable. Which brings us full circle–even her internal voice can put people off.

      1. It wasn’t so much that I found her inner voice uncomfortable, it was more like… it seemed like they were playing her disability for laughs, which, I should have known better, what with the way disability has been played in this show elsewhere. But the quick read, without thinking too much felt like they were all, hah hah, the disabled girl thinks she’s the queen of England. Or something.

        Does that make sense?

        Anyway, in light of R’s assessment of the rest of the ep (which I think has a lot of merit), I’ve reevaluated to consider the possibility that what was really meant was what I wrote above.

        I appreciate the context you’ve given. As I said, I don’t know much about disability rights, or theories about disability.

    2. I love this comment so hard. Because it also brings us back to passing and the ability to pass and suggests that the world of Glee (i.e., WMHS, Lima, Dalton, etc.) views not having the tools to pass is a disability. Which in a way means that every glee club member is arguably disabled in this framework. They don’t know how to be the normal kid, because they are too ambitious or awkward or couldn’t hide a pregnancy or an insecurity or whatever. Which really, particularly makes me think of the story of Quinn’s fall, which seems to imply the worst thing in their world to be is simply real. That, of course, leads to meta about the 4th wall “problems” and the fandom and it’s all so yummy, I just want to roll around on the floor at work, but I’m probably not supposed to do that.

      1. ^^ THIS. “Not having the tools to pass is a disability…The worst thing in their world is simply to be real.”
        This this this.
        As another flailing theatre kid who knows how hard it is to be flailing and falling in a culture without any place for you, to discover what a relief (and someday, finally, joy) it is when you find actual community, a tribe who loves all the same.

        Please do roll around on the floor in all that yummy when you get a chance. You nail it—your meta leaves me fucking breathless.

  6. I like this, and oh, I don’t know if you were planning on talking about Kurt’s wedding obsession in the spiritual marriage discussion bit or not, but there’s so much to say.

    (The Leonard Cohen quote is exactly right.)

    I do want to add that there’s an additional reason for Kurt’s absence that actually, I think, has very little to do with structural failings. Kurt, as you pointed out last May, gets things done. He’s a magician. Putting him in charge of a Wemma proposal at the beginning of the episode is….not something I would have wanted to happen. Which then raises the question: is Kurt keeping *himself* away? Because Kurt makes weddings happen in a week, as in Furt, but before Furt there was Theatricality, and maybe Kurt’s learned.

    I don’t know if that makes sense.

    (I think Kurt is much too much of an elitist to ever talk to Becky, but they could have some wonderful conversations.)

    1. Yes yes yes (and I have to get back to that thread with you — it’s just been such a rough month here), maybe when I’m at the airport later. And I think of that Leonard Cohen song ALL THE TIME when it comes to Glee, which is often about love being too much or not enough or not relevant.

      And yeah, I am relieved no one tries to give Kurt this task. But why? Does Schue think he’s not enough of a man to know what a man would need to do in this moment? (possibly). Is Kurt no longer viewed as the spinster aunt or baby sister who takes on these sorts of tasks now that he has Blaine? Does Schue know that he hasn’t done right by Kurt and it’s wrong to ask? Are people respecting Kurt’s stress levels about college? Are they being sensitive to the idea that it’s wrong to ask him to plan something he can’t have, and now that he has Blaine, may want in a concrete way? Are they afraid of how vicious Kurt will be when he says no?

      1. I’m terrible with emails, I so understand.

        I was thinking, above, that Kurt may simply have deliberately avoided being asked at all. Which doesn’t mean that we didn’t need to see that in order to make several of the components of this episode come together–we really did, as the explosion on tumblr shows–but it doesn’t necessarily require any of the other characters to think of Kurt. And thinking outside of themselves is not something many of these characters really do.

        Either way, lots of reasons for him to have not been involved, but we never got to see. I’m not complaining at all about the things we DID get to see, but…

  7. Why is Klaine being left out of this incredibly romantic episode?

    Maybe because Darren was on Broadway?????????????????????????

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