Like most everyone else watching Glee, for me the big discussion topic in the aftermath of this week’s episode is Dave Karofsky, not that I was particularly surprised by his appearance. I called him as the secret admirer a while ago but wasn’t sure if he would actually be the guy in the gorilla suit. Since he was, this is a great time to talk about how Glee uses costume to define the monstrous.
In regard to Dave’s appearance in 3.13, it’s obvious; I mean, come on, he was dressed like a gorilla. But it’s also notable that we see the moment he takes the mask off. Partly, this is to shock us with the reveal (although from the first scene where Kurt cooed about Blaine being the secret admirer, we all should have seen this coming), but partly this is to show us that Dave is not what he once was. After all, he sheds the monster costume right in front of us, and Kurt, to declare his love.
There’s just one problem. It’s that Kurt’s right; Dave Karofsky is not in love with him. He’s merely transmuted Kurt from the symbol of all his problems to the theoretical solution to them. And so, while Dave is relatively non-threatening at this point (Kurt’s appalled, incredulous, and also saddened on Dave’s behalf, but what he’s not is afraid), the monster isn’t entirely gone. After all, we only see Dave remove the mask, not the rest of the suit, and Dave’s still bogged down in his self-hatred and fear, the resolution of which we’ll be seeing in next week’s episode.
But Dave and his gorilla costume (and seriously, how did he hatch that idea? Kurt likes grand gestures and theatricality, yes, but was this the best Dave could do? Or was it a knowing moment of self-deprecating humor meant as a nod to their history?), are hardly the only monsters in the world of Glee. Because on Glee, nearly everyone wears a costume, and nearly everyone is a monster.
The cheerleaders are monsters. So are the boys in their lettermen jackets. Sue and her track suits are another incidence of costumes as a sign of monstrosity. So are Will and his sweater vests. Tina and her days of terrorizing the rich fantasy life of Figgins with her faintly goth look is yet another fine, and hilarious, example.
And let’s not forget about the Warblers. Lots of people thought they were creepy when they were first introduced; I didn’t get it at the time, but I see it now. Uniforms and costumes worn off-stage are a bad sign on this show, and while I’ve speculated that Dalton has been corrupted from its role as refuge and faerieland since Blaine and Kurt’s departure, perhaps really their brief tenure there was the actual aberration.
Because Blaine’s no less monstrous now that he’s out of Dalton. Look at those ridiculous bow ties — he’s still wearing costumes and performing an identity that is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as threatening by others. He’s just a different type of monster now, and busy finding out what tools come with that role.
But, of course, it’s Kurt who wears some of the most costume-y attire off-stage, and he certainly has been framed as a monster at various times — for being gay, for expressing desire, for wanting friends. And in case you’re worried, this isn’t where I’m going to argue that Kurt is different, that he somehow isn’t a monster, because he totally is.
Because the issue on Glee is rarely whether someone is a monster, but what type. There are greater and lesser demons not only in Hell, but in William McKinley High School and in Lima, OH. Some monsters have great tasks and strange powers; some monsters are cruel, some chaotic, and some necessary; some are just negligible.
Monstrosity in the world of Glee is, essentially, about power. While the show’s overt message is that the kids who are branded losers are actually awesome, the covert message isn’t just that being Other is good, it’s that what scares other people about us is what gives us power, even if we don’t necessarily know how to recognize or harness that power.
It’s there in Figgins’s reaction to Tina; it’s there in the very scary play and threat between Santana and Sebastian; and it’s there particularly in Kurt’s interactions with Dave, because they are both boys who, at various points, have attempted to shed their monstrousness and in doing so, have ceded their power on at least temporary bases.
Kurt attempts to leave his monstrousness behind in “Laryngitis” when he drops the pitch of his voice, wears flannel, sings Mellencamp. But the song is terrible, and only when Kurt reclaims the voice, appearance, and interests that make him so conspicuously Other, so conspicuously monstrous, at WMHS, does he regain his power. While it’s not power he knows how to use, nor power that keeps him safe at that juncture, his ferocity is undeniable when he reclaims it.
Which is why I just can’t get worked about Dave showing up to declare his love for Kurt in 3.13. Yes, it’s inappropriate, and not just because of the past history between Dave and Kurt. The current actions are creepy in and of themselves; Dave’s gestures here are deeply unsettling when you remember that Kurt is being so trusting regarding the secret admirer only because he assumes the messages and gifts are from Blaine. I mean, does Kurt go to sleep with that little plush monkey (an avatar of Dave, we later realize) in his bed because he thinks it’s from Blaine? I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Dave Karofsky, but if I were in Kurt’s shoes, I’d freak out massively when that penny dropped for me.
But even so, in taking off the gorilla mask, Dave cedes his power to Kurt. He is no longer monstrous, and Kurt can hurt him far more than Dave can ever hurt him now. Love makes you vulnerable; in a place like Lima, OH, so does being anything but a monster; Glee draws a sharp line under this when Dave and Kurt’s conversation is overheard by Nick, a bully at Dave’s new school, and Dave runs out of Breadstix.
General speculation is that we’ll see Dave be the victim of anti-gay violence in the next episode. My own feeling is that that violence will be internal (self-harm) and not external (gay bashing committed by Nick) in nature, because of the stories Glee has already told, or at least mentioned, and because there’s been a lot of foreshadowing about gay teen-suicide particularly around queer characters that have committed acts of bullying themselves (Santana and Dave) in previous episodes.
But while I keep trying to figure out what happens next, I also keep coming back to this idea of monstrousness. As hard as the narratives that tell this story are, it’s an idea makes me smile. It says a lot about Ryan Murphy’s body of work (I have got to get back to American Horror Story), and it also says a lot to me about the stories I love; I once remarked, only half-jokingly, that in Harry Potter fandom, Severus Snape taught me everything I thought was horrible and unlovable about myself actually made me hot.
Not all monsters are evil. It’s an important message buried under a tangle of other stuff (there goes Glee and its consent-related narratives, again). Sometimes we’re all monsters, and, yes, that may not be good. But it can be okay, and knowing ourselves is, apparently, always the first step in that journey to own the power of monstrosity and to use it, if not for good, then not for evil either.
For some people and characters, it’s harder than for others; and Dave Karofsky is still at sea.