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Glee: Passing and the ongoing disappearance of Blaine Anderson

11 Oct

Over the last couple of days, I’ve dug through all the Glee related entries I’ve posted here for mentions of passing. There are a lot of them, and they’re mostly related to Blaine around sexuality, gender, and race. They’re also mostly about my hope that Glee would deliver an actual plot line around passing.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and in fandom’s mad and excellent scramble to figure out what Blaine’s choices in “The Break Up” were about, it’s become clear, of course, that Blaine’s passing wasn’t just a bit of seasoning or a tease at a story that could be told. Rather, the narrative was — intentionally or not — unfurling all along.

In a show that’s ostensibly about underdogs, Blaine Anderson has always been a bit of a conundrum. Doesn’t he have too much going for him for us to really care about his problems? Certainly he’s been easy for a lot of viewers to resent, whether it’s been the “too nice, too boring” charge of my friend Shanna over at Don’t Turn It Off or just a general distaste for his prep school manners and privilege.

Blaine’s not, as far as I can tell, a character people have ambivalence about, because if Glee is about the triumph of underdogs, why does this dude, who really seems to have fewer obstacles than most of his WMHS peers get, among other things, all the solos?

But the fact that Blaine seems to have so many fewer problems than most of the other WMHS kids, is something that’s embedded in the character not just in the Doylist sense, but in a Watsonian sense as well. Blaine’s fine. Why worry about Blaine?

But Blaine isn’t fine; he just passes for fine.

Just like he’s gay, but can pass for straight at WMHS. We can argue (as a few enthusiastic people in my Ask on Tumblr often do) that Blaine can’t possibly he choosing to pass with those ridiculously short trousers and the bowties. Yet the fact remains that his outfits are based on classic menswear style, and he is seen being accorded masculine status (usually in opposition to Kurt) on repeated occasions.

From Bieste’s reaction to Blaine during the auditions for West Side Story to the choir room guys (particularly Puck and Artie) treating him like a “bro,” to Sam’s inaccurate insistence that Blaine isn’t into “gay” things that, canonically, we’ve seen that he’s absolutely in to — Blaine is, whether he wants to be or not, viewed as at least an honorary straight guy. We even see it when Kitty and her bullying friends pick on a group of New Directions members and Blaine’s sexuality doesn’t even merit a remark. WMHS hasn’t become suddenly not-homophobic; rather, Blaine just doesn’t ping their anxieties because he doesn’t visibly step out of boxes regarding gender and desire that trigger their discomfort.

In short, when it comes to sexuality and gender concerns, Blaine passes whether he wants to or not, just as Kurt doesn’t, whether he wants to or not.

But the matter of not being seen for what he is doesn’t end there for Blaine. Racial passing is also a theme in his narrative, even if its one that’s been given markedly less attention. However, aside from establishing his background with Rachel’s offhand “vaguely Eurasian babies” remark in Season 2, matters of race (and skin tone) have popped up around Blaine repeatedly. After the topic not having appeared at all this season, it shows up twice in remarks from Brittany during the election process in “Makeover.” In hindsight, that placement seems a critical reminder just before the shock of 4.04 that no one ever seems to see Blaine for what he is.

He’s gay, and passes for straight.

He’s a person of color who passes for white.

He’s gotten seriously physically hurt in canon twice, but there are no visible scars or wounds that force anyone to remember or acknowledge it happened.

These three items, combined with his talent, means he’s offered opportunities to perform, given the benefit of the doubt in social situations, and pursued as a friend and lover in ways that characters who can’t pass — Kurt, Mercedes, Artie, Santana and Becky (just to name a few; I have no idea what the show is doing or intends to do with Unique and the passing issue) — often aren’t.

But the thing is, Blaine’s not straight. He’s not white. And he’s not scar-free.

And those aren’t the only things he passes for. He also passes for responsible, supported, accepted, and just fine. With everyone. Even his boyfriend.

But Blaine’s not, necessarily, responsible (see his relationships with alcohol and sexuality). He certainly seems to be lacking in family support. And he’s not accepted by his peers, because the guy they often give acceptance to isn’t really him.

And he’s not, at the end of the day, fine, and that was clear to a lot of us by the time he performed “Cough Syrup,” if not sooner.

Blaine’s not fine because the passing is killing him.

But the thing about passing is that it’s complicated. It is not innately good nor bad. It’s a thing that some people can choose and some people can’t avoid. It’s a thing that can help some people be safe in some circumstances. It’s also a thing that can put a person at risk or make them feel like they are disappearing.

And disappearing is exactly what Blaine Anderson has been doing. His very existence is (in a marvelous bit of rubbing up against the fourth wall commentary) an exercise in persona. And, despite the people around him seeming to sense that something is wrong, the things they have done to help have either reinforced the disappearing Blaine is experiencing or underscored the futility of outside intervention in the construction and deconstruction of his identity.

One scene I keep lingering on in the wake of 4.04 is the argument Kurt and Blaine have in Emma’s office during the debacle with Chandler at the end of Season 3. One of the weirder and funnier things Blaine snaps at Kurt about is Kurt sneaking bronzer into his hand lotion.

“It looks weird,” Blaine says, “if a person just has tan hands.” Blaine is disappearing, and Kurt senses this, but can’t truly identify it and hasn’t the faintest clue how to actually stop the process. All he can do is hold on by what little he can reach.

The disappearance metaphor is heartbreaking in part because of how it ties into Blaine’s passing problems.

It’s also intriguing, because it reminds us again of the question of how much of the passing story regarding Blaine in Glee is Watsonian (in this case, internal and intrinsic to the story) and how much of it is Doylist (specifically, how convenient is it to a commercial narrative to feature a character who can be perceived as both gay and/or straight as well as PoC and/or white as individual audience members desire based on their own biases and narrative needs)?

Being a cypher, and being able to pass, seems, quite clearly, to be killing Blaine Anderson in the Watsonian sense. But it’s arguably, and unsettlingly, something that may well be being considered as quite useful in the marketing of the character.

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11 Responses to “Glee: Passing and the ongoing disappearance of Blaine Anderson”

  1. The Raisin Girl October 11, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    Okay, wow. Incredible post. Definitely made me look at the character in ways I never have before.

  2. Sarah October 11, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Beautifully articulate.

  3. gin October 11, 2012 at 2:52 am #

    Gaargh! I had a whole nice comment written out but the website went randomly 404 on me in the MIDDLE OF IT. I guess I have to write out the crappy tl;dr version.

    While all of this is interesting and I agree for the most part, I think Blaine’s story of passing may actually be less than what you’re reading in the narrative. I think Blaine isn’t a POC. While I always assumed Blaine was a POC, based on Darren’s background and Rachel’s one-off vague comment, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t think the show is of the same mindset.

    1) Cooper. Yes, Blaine’s dad could have remarried (and around half the time my headcanon agrees with this), but I think they would have included a note about them being half-siblings. They went out of their way to mention the age difference, after all; Blaine’s plight would have been even more palpable with the admission that they’re not fully related. I think the audience sees Bomer’s fairly unmistakable whiteness, combines it with Blaine’s (ostensible) whiteness, and just assumes whiteness full stop. I think we’re supposed to because he is white. (Thanks, Glee.)

    2) The casting of the little!Blaine actor, who is of mixed race, was another point for the Blaine as POC, but I think that decision was made by someone who isn’t a writer on the show. I think it was a lucky strike for us, and it was good sense to boot; the kid could have been little!Blaine, that’s for sure. But notice his heritage doesn’t remotely match Darren’s — or, if Blaine is indeed half Filipino, Blaine’s. I don’t think the order for a POC kid actor came from on high.

    3) The nail in the coffin for me on this, aside from the show’s COMPLETE lack of mentioning it, was when Ryan said he wanted Blaine’s mom to be played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. She’s Welsh and Irish by birth but if you SQUINT I guess you can make a case for something else. But for something “vaguely Eurasian?” No.

    4) Speaking of Anderson parent casting, I think Darren said he wanted Peter Gallagher.

    I could be totally off the mark here, and viewing Glee’s creative team through the same cynical eyes. If they do something with this, I’d be super delighted; one, it’s a story they haven’t told, a story worth telling, and two, I AM SO TIRED OF WHITE-WASHING.

    But if I’m right, and Blaine isn’t passing as something because he actually is that something — how much does this take away from his pain? What does the shape of his burden look like? Does this addition of privilege feed into the downright vicious hatred that Blaine dissenters voice? Or does his story sound the same?

    Idk, I just think the fact that people are giving the writers the benefit of the doubt on the race thing is crappy. They don’t have TIME to sit around thinking about Blaine’s backstory quite the way we do, I don’t think. I think there’s a document somewhere with vague notes about his backstory that they refer to when they need to remind themselves of Blaine continuity at most. When they break a new story, how much time do they spend talking about Blaine’s quiet pain, and how much do they spend talking about which lines of a song to give him for maximum effect? While they’re juggling ten other scenes as well. This hasn’t been an acknowledged facet of Blaine yet. I doubt it ever will be.

    • so thinky October 11, 2012 at 4:18 am #

      Don’t worry–this post finally pulls together the myriad conversations about this character that have been going on for so long. Love all of this–just curious about how much of this will become explicit on the show as Blaine (and Kurt’s) story continues.

  4. Sam October 11, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I think there was a post a while back by someone in fandom (yes, how vague) about how Glee’s makeup was white-washing Blaine/Darren because they were using hues with pink undertones for him on the show. I don’t know if it’s a recent thing but they’ve been piling on the bronze makeup recently. It’s especially obvious during the press conference thing where he sang with Lea, and during the screening where he showed up in Blaine’s wardrobe. You can see it in the scene where he was Skypeing with Kurt and had the bowties conversation too. Darren himself passes as white, except on occasion when he seems a little more swarthy than usual.

    To be honest, I don’t think the makeup is a calculated move on their part, but the writers have borrowed indiscriminately from their actors’ lives in the past, and with the little side-references thrown in, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they decided to run with it.

    I’m always amused when people refer to Darren as half-Filipino though. Being Asian, I’d refer to him as half-white.

    • RM October 11, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      Oh, that post from from Biyuti. It’s here: http://www.biyuti.com/2011/12/15/the-white-washing-of-blaine-anderson/

      • binaohan October 11, 2012 at 10:10 am #

        I actually had noticed that they were using a more natural looking foundation for Blaine this season… which is interesting in light of the recent cannon comments made about his race. Like, the foundation from the beginning of the last season was… noticeable especially since it was the beginning of the season, after the summer months when DC was not as pale as he can get.

        @gin… yes and no. Because the way that Blaine’s story is handled/treated in the plot… the ‘boringness’ mentioned by dontturnitoff all point to Blaine occupying a poc role, in terms of narrative structure. I’ve been making this argument for a while. Even if DC might (or might not) have been white washed. Because, even if it becomes canon that Blaine is white, it won’t remove the racial bias that the creative has been operating with the entire show, which will still create the liminal space so thoroughly explored by this post.

  5. dontturnitoff October 11, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Okay, you can get me to care about Blaine on the “disappearing and it’s killing him” theme, if only because that has been the central fear/danger in my own life. We’ll see how it plays out, because — as usual — I believe the stories you write about Glee in your head (and here, and in ff) are more cogent and interesting than the Glee we get to watch on TV…

    Very hard-hitting post, though, to wake up to…

  6. neyronrose October 11, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    This is an interesting post. People generally assume that I’m straight, and there are situations where I don’t want to pass as straight, so I feel like I get that part. Something else I think is going on with Blaine are the psychological issues described in The Velvet Rage, by Alan Downs. (http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Rage-Overcoming-Growing-Straight/dp/0738215678/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349966932&sr=1-1) That’s another reason Blaine would feel such anger and try so hard to cover it up. He could well be in Downs’ stage two.

    As I’ve said to Biyuti and others, I would love to see Blaine established as a person of color. There have been little hints here and there, and then contradictions. I would also like to see him as an independent character. I believe that he will be an independent character sooner or later in the narrative, not just a character who is part of Kurt’s story. My speculation is that Blaine will spiral downward further over the season. I’m curious to see how it plays out. I’d like to see who would help him if he does spiral down.

  7. TJ October 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    While I find this exploration of Blaine fascinating, I think you are giving the writers and casting directors of this show far too much credit. I doubt any of this has, or ever will enter their minds. Which is really a shame because it is great material for an amazing story. Unfortunately, the writers of this show are not interested in great stories. Only easy plot devices.

    I tip my hat to your analysis. Well done.

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