Glee: A pause and a brief note about warning cards

One of the things I try not to do here is write too many posts about what I’m going to write about, as opposed to just writing the posts. And wow, what a terrible sentence that is to untangle.

But so much of what I want to write about regarding tonight’s episode of Glee is material that was in the smallest of details.

I want to talk about how the broadness of the show’s borrowed musical form means that much of the writing is done not by the writers but by the costumers and set dressers.

I want to talk about Blaine’s gender identity, again.

And I want to talk about, as I suspected I would have the opportunity to a few weeks ago when tonight’s narrative seemed to be coming down the pike, Kurt’s relationship with Death.

But it’s really hard to do any of those things without first acknowledging that tonight’s episode contained some very powerful and surprisingly visceral content regarding teen suicide. If you haven’t watched it yet, be aware that what is shown is more intense, and arguably graphic, than what I think we’re generally inclined to expect out of Glee.

I’m glad the show made the choices it made around the topic, even when the results of those choices sent messages (if stories send messages at all) that can be considered murky. I happen to like murky stories and while this was what we call “A Very Special Episode,” it still wasn’t an after-school special, so it worked for me. But quite understandably, everyone’s mileage may vary extremely widely on this one.

Because I want this to be a conversation somewhere other than Tumblr, it’s worth noting that the episode in which the show’s two main couples — Rachel and Finn, and Kurt and Blaine — lose their virginities received a warning card about its content that was displayed before the episode began.

The losing of said virginities in that episode, for the record, included a few conversations about the obvious topic, one instance of the word masturbation, some fully-clothed reclining on a bed, a bit of hand-holding, and Darren Criss’s eyelashes.

It was the least graphic thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was barely a metaphor for sex, no matter how well executed; and it certainly didn’t portray sex, even soft-focus TV-style fake sex.

But tonight’s episode, which contained one of the most shocking representations of suicide I’ve ever seen on screen? No warning card for strong content or suggestion that this might be an episode that parents want to watch with their kids.

I don’t love a lot of the restrictions that exist around television content. I also don’t love a lot of the discussions around the topic, although they are necessary ones; they’re just ones that I find hard to do while also trying to deal with stories largely from their internals, and this is a moment to admit that weakness.

But this lack of a warning card tonight, especially when compared with “The First Time”? Is jarring. What happens in the first ten minutes of the episode is the type of material I am used to seeing warning cards for before episodes of other programs. So why wasn’t it there? And why was it there in the least sexy episode faintly about sex ever? Because I’m used to sex-related warning cards too, but not for content like that presented in “The First Time.”

Obviously, those questions are rhetorical, and we can all guess the answers (or discuss them in comments). But for now, I wanted to acknowledge this before taking some time to sit with the episode, because it brought home the thing that haunts me the most about the struggle for any sort of equality — not everyone gets to see the battle won, and that’s so agonizingly unfair.

In the next couple of days, I’ll write a few posts about some of the gorgeous detail work in “On My Way” that speaks to the themes I’ve been writing about here all season. But tonight, I need to pause, and I kind of need to say that I’m doing so aloud.

7 thoughts on “Glee: A pause and a brief note about warning cards”

  1. It does seem really weird that there was no warning, simply because so many kids have dealt with this before and something like this could be a trigger that could either bring back those feelings or just be so real that the episode is overwhelming. It was a good episode though and i think it is so good that Glee tackled this issue. More and more they are leaving the comedy genre and becoming a drama. They have tackled several other big issues in the past and this is one that needed to be shown. So many kids struggle with this.

  2. Gosh–I didn’t notice the lack of warning card, and that seems now such a glaring contrast between the two episodes you cite. I found the episode engaging in the end, and since I was spoiled about most of it, I’ve been dwelling so far on the parts that I didn’t expect (some little Blaine moments that I’ve been writing about myself because they’re just fascinating, and the brief moment between Sebastian and David). But it was a powerful episode–just surprising in the end that acts of violence against oneself don’t need a warning, but acts of love between two people do.

  3. I can say there has never been a viewer discretion or content warning on any episode of Glee . It might be because the channel I watch it on is a Canadian one.

  4. Was re-reading this to my wife and we agreed – The reason this didn’t get the card is because of the problem that America has with sex and violence. Sex bad – violence good in short. I know that this is not always true, but it is certainly a solid possibility here.

    1. Yes, generally violent content is more acceptable than sexual content, but both types exist in our media and receive different ratings depending on the amount. But you would never see the level of sexuality present in many European commercials on US TV at all, and there is generally a double standard where female nudity is more acceptable than male nudity or any homosexual interaction at all. Levels of violence are high in US content and often surprising to those from elsewhere.

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