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Glee: We’re all monsters here

16 Feb

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.

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17 Responses to “Glee: We’re all monsters here”

  1. Nora February 16, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    love this.

  2. DeconstructingGlee February 16, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the unmasking of DK and what it means. I think it means less than it could. Maybe DK thinks it means more, like “LOOK I LOVE YOU” and hopes in some way that makes him less of a monster, but it doesn’t. Nick reminds him of that, of course.

    But I’m with you on how horrified I would be. I mean, there are plot holes here: Kurt wasn’t talking to Blaine for a whole week? Ok, so maybe he just didn’t say anything, too busy being in love, etc… but he doesn’t recognise Blaine’s handwriting? Hm.
    But yeah, Kurt was bragging (in a very feminised way, because that’s where Kurt is right now, and I think that plays into DK’s confession too) about the romance he was being showered with by his boyfriend.

    Kurt didn’t appreciate these tokens on their own. In fact, I think if Blaine had said, “Oh, no, that’s not me,” Kurt would have become massively uncomfortable and nervous. When you’ve been singled out and picked on as much as Kurt has been — and it all relating to romantic love and desire — a secret Valentine can seem very threatening indeed.

    All in all, I’m super confused where the mainstream recappers are getting their “Karofsky could totes happen soon” readings of this episode. The whole conversation between Kurt and DK really played out like a conversation between two very civil opposing shippers. Kurt had the Klainer lines and DK had the Kurtofsky lines.

    But yeah, bad things are ahead for Karofsky, and I don’t think Nick is the be all and end all of it. He may serve some teeny part in making DK so upset he panics, but I think the real monsters in DK’s story are his inner demons.

    • Beth February 16, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      The main stream recappers response to Karofsky (especially in those scenes…how they got “oh yep Kurtofsky is so coming soon” from “You don’t love me. You don’t know me. We had one nice conversation” is a little beyond me) has always confused me since a lot of the same recappers also cheered when Kurt was told he was close to being a rapist early in season 2 for actions that paled in comparision to what Karofsky did.

      I too don’t think Nick is the be all end all and Karofksy’s storyline will be wrapped up (yet again…seriously how many closure storylines does one character need?) by evil bad Nick! I had the feeling strongly last season that the intial playout of the bullying storyline might climax in Karofsky accidentally outing himself, convinced Kurt had told someone in glee club his secret and it was a matter of time before one of them told the entire school. (See all the vague statements of “what he did to Kurt” by Glee club members with immediate shots of Karofsky looking panicked in the episodes post Kurt’s transfer. We the audince knew they were referring to the death threats but at that point Karofsky knew Kurt had told Blaine) I think Karofsky’s paranoia will be his ultimate undoing more than anything external.

    • Flamingquill February 16, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Jumping in with my two cents about the “not talking” plothole: this doesn’t bother me so much. My personal canon about it is that Kurt, a very theatrical person by nature who’s had countless fantasies around the classic romantic tropes of courtship (“A prom proposal!”; his initial assumption that the Gap Attack was for him; the wedding planning; “why can’t I walk hand-in-hand down the hall with the person that I like? Why can’t I slow dance at my prom?”), has very specific ideas about how you respond when this finally does happen to you. In this instance, you luxuriate in it; you show off about it; you speculate with your friends about who you think it is, whether or not you have a very definite idea of who it is. And if you suspect it to be your significant other, you maintain the illusion– you play along. You do not mention it to them directly.

      I do think there were clues there for him to pick up on that he didn’t. The handwriting thing is easy enough to rationalize– he probably assumed that Blaine had someone else write the notes for him. But the messages themselves were very generic and didn’t quite sound like Blaine. They were not particularly clever or reflective of Kurt’s sensibilities, or Kurt and Blaine’s relationship. But Kurt was on cloud nine, and not all that inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth. Or in other words: Kurt had a pet theory, and he was tinhatting.

      Everything else you said I totally agree with.

      • RM February 16, 2012 at 11:31 am #

        I totally agree, and it tells us a lot about Kurt and Blaine that the penny drops for Kurt when the card says, “I think I love you.” Kurt knows where they stand. Even as this gesture he thought was from Blaine unraveled, he knew.

  3. Rachel February 16, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    This is all kinds of fantastic. Have you read Skin Shows, by Judith Halberstam? If not, I would definitely recommend it- I’m going back to all my thoughts about that work in reading this. It’s on monstrosity as queer- I used it as a major theoretical source in a paper that discussed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies– and her focus on the exterior, the skin, applies so well to your discussion of costumes.

    • RM February 16, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      I haven’t but thanks for the rec! I am totally putting that on my list, and high on my list!

  4. Gemmi999 February 16, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    The entire time I was reading this, I kept thinking about how obvious the show has been about everyone (in Glee) being fans of Lady Gaga. Because Lady Gaga fans? Are called little monsters. It’s a term of affection, meant to describe people who like her because a majority of people who like Lady Gaga, who get something from her music in a visceral way, tend to be thought of as people characterized as “other”. People who, for one reason or another, might have to walk around wearing a costume, performing for others instead of being themselves. That’s why her messages of self acceptance and love are so important, because liking Lady Gaga is, at least in part, about dropping the costume, dropping the front, and truly embracing the things that make you different.

    At the same time, I think it’s interesting to note that the last big Lady Gaga number that was performed on the show, Born This Way, involved characters shedding their everyday costumes to done a costume entirely based on that which makes them “other”. And Karofsky and Santana, the two bullies who were not ready to shed their costumes in front of other people, sat in the audience and watched, feeling envious.

    I know you’ve said Glee plays the long game, and that sometimes what seems like a lack of continuity is really the writers trying to express themes that are going to be important later on. This is the first time I’ve really seen a well thought-out theme emerge from a previous season, and it only confirms the idea that Glee, at its heart, is about the roles that people are assigned to play by society, and the roles that people themselves want to play and how often those two ideas differ.

    Blaine is going to be the biggest example of this, I think, because we have *never* seen him out of costume/out of the “role” he’s assigned himself. There have been moments–last season when he tells Kurt at The Lima Bean that he has no idea what he’s doing; when he confesses to have been bashed previously; but for the most part he’s been struggling with who his father wants him to be; who Dalton wanted him to be; who his classmates wanted him to be, and, at least in part, who Kurt needs/wants him to be. When Kurt/Rachel/Finn visit Blaine, and sing Ben to him, Blaine was still in a role. It’s not on accident that the pajamas he was wearing were so reminiscent of pajama’s Kurt has worn. Blaine had to have been terrified of what had happened to him, especially because it happened to him by people he had previously associated with as being a “safe space” because he’d figured out exactly how to act in order to ensure that it was a “safe space”.

    Kurt, for Blaine, represents strength and courage in the face of unspeakable hardships, and what he was going through definitely needed strength and courage. Even coming back, at the Sugar Shack, became a production that he needed to put on a specific costume for. Which makes it even more interesting that Kurt, for that one scene, was as dressed down as we’ve seen him. What had happened between him and Karofsky definitely shook Kurt up, and that, coupled with the realization that if all of the gifts from his Secret Admirer had been from Karofsky and not Blaine, probably put him through a tailspin. As another commenter said, that meant he hadn’t talked with Blaine in at least a week; didn’t recognize his hand writing, etc. I think that unsettled Kurt enough to drop his role, drop his ferocity, and allowed him to be seen in public as close to vulnerable as we’ve really seen him.

    Okay, I’m going to end this now because it’s huge, but thank you for this post! I have such thinky-thoughts now and am probably going to end up rewatching Glee with this in mind!

  5. Marly February 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    The idea that Dave Karofsky has transmuted Kurt from the symbol of all his problems to the solution to them really hits home with me. It also makes me wonder if Kurt is the best person to be helping Dave in the next episode.

    I agree with you that Dave’s violence will be internal. Back in the Superbowl episode in Season 2, Dave folded once he got hit with a slushie, the smallest taste of the bullying he dished out. I think he would be very sensitive to verbal bullying if the truth gets out at his school.

    • Adriana February 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      I like what you said about Kurt possibly not being the best person to help Dave, Marley. Dave “love” for Kurt could manifest itself in a way that isn’t helpful. I have no doubt that Kurt would help if asked as a friend. The issue is Dave wants more, or at least thinks he does. So it’s possible that in trying to help Dave, Kurt triggers stronger emotions. Or say if Kurt realizes the attachment is unhealthy and unhelpful to Dave, so he options not to help him. Dave already has deeper issues with his aggression so he lashes out and hurts Kurt or himself.

    • Deirdre February 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      It’s a textbook example of transference. It reminds me on a very superficial level of the relationship between Tony Soprano and Jennifer Melfi, which was characterized by danger, threats of violence, anger and obsession. I just hope for Kurt’s sake nothing happens to trigger the counter-transference Melfi experienced in later seasons.

  6. Nancy February 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I love your analysis, but I have to disagree with a certain point. When Kurt dresses in flannel and speaks in a deeper voice, that’s when he’s wearing a costume. He’s pretending to be something he’s not, trying to fool people, trying to gain the power that he perceives more masculine men to have. When he goes back to flamboyant clothing and high pitched music, that’s when he’s being himself. He’s no longer in costume, and in fact he loses power when he does that, in that he loses the safety he had had against the bullies.

    Also I think Kurt said in the Lady Gaga episode that he believes the jocks are revealing their true personalities by wearing their lettermen jackets. He doesn’t seem to think they’re costumes so much as an aspect of their inner selves.

    I also wanted to say I really enjoy your blog, particularly your analyses of Kurt’s clothing and gender identity. I could read that stuff all day long. 🙂

  7. Julia February 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    This is lovely, and we should talk about monsters and Ryan Murphy’s body of work and fixations sometime.

    Someone somewhere in the thread commented about the long game Glee plays, and how it revolves around the contrast between the roles people play and the roles they want to. I think that makes talking about the monstrous, both in the episode and in the larger series, natural.

    And I don’t know if this is the bets place for it, but, a note about Karofsky (and do you notice, the difference between David and Karofsky, and when the different names are used?)

    Karofsky has always been supposed to be about internalized homophobia. Self hatred, all that jazz. His dad is capital-T-Tolerant (gross, yes, but again, he’s supposed to be,) he can pass, no one is beating him up. And that doesn’t keep him safe. Karofsky is every toxic, hateful message about gay kids, held inside and against himself. He’s sick, because our world is. He does things that are wrong, and his thought patterns here aren’t any healthier than they were in NBK–>Furt, he’s unhinged, but it’s not about Kurt. It’s about himself, and the cultural war he embodies. And it’s disturbing, and it’s also sad.

    It would be nice if that story could be told without it being seen as a redemption or woobie-fication, because it’s important. Internalized violence, and perpetuating the same violence meant for you, and still counting.

    There are a lot of different ways to kill queer kids. The sneakiest way is to get them to kill each other, and then themselves. That’s Dave’s story.

    And now I want to talk about parallels between Dave and Quinn for some reason, so, stepping away from the keyboard.

    • Gemmi999 February 17, 2012 at 12:03 am #

      Parallels between Dave and Quinn! SO MANY I want to talk about! Also, just thinking about Quinn and how she might be one of the most visible examples of putting on a costume/becoming a monster with her behavior at the beginning of the season. But also about how she continued to be monster-like even without her costume.

      I also keep wanting to talk about the dangers of conformity, and using Dalton as an example. Because conformity at Dalton can be used to hide monstrous intentions behind a mask of calmness (ie: Sebastian). The idea that the most truly monstrous, the people who do horrible things for no reason at all, are hiding in plain site where nobody can even tell that there’s something different about them without specific interaction.

    • mabaneropepper February 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      I’m worried about what’s going to happen to DK. One of the things I like about Glee is the way it takes real world problems and shows us how they could be handled better. The best example is the relationship between Kurt and his father. I’d really like to see a delicate touch on DK; show him at his lowest for sure, but let him overcome it.

  8. Adriana February 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I agree about the creepy aspect of Dave’s behavior, which he clearly didn’t. I just find it unsettling that the same behavior towards Kurt when he hated him is the same as when he claims to love him. The obsessivness, the instance where you can see him sneaking about, which takes on a whole other context because of their history.

    The tokens, on their own, are nice but not with the complicated past that lies between them.

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