Glee: Queerness, danger, and desire

While pondering the latest entry in the decline and fall of the Warblers, which is something I don’t think I’m going to comment on until after I see what “Whistle” looks like in 4.08 and how it intersects with Hunter’s introduction as “not even a little bit bi-curious” (which may not mean what you think it means), I started thinking about danger and desire on Glee, and how that linkage isn’t universal, but instead centered on the queer characters both as givers and receivers of risk, threat, and damage.

That’s not to say that desire doesn’t have big scary consequences for everyone on Glee. Even without being anything resembling the teen morality play the show often seems to be mistaken for, heterosexual sex and desire does have some admittedly serious consequences. After all, Quinn does get pregnant, and it’s worth remembering that Will and Terri Schuester were terrifyingly toxic together; Puck has arguably experienced statutory rape; Jesse’s a creep; Bieste had that domestic violence story, and a whole lot of friendships have been upended over and over again thanks to the heterosexual musical chairs at WMHS.

But all of that — from the realistic plotlines to the ones that would earn a side-eye from a soap opera — has nothing on the rather consistent darkness that seems to come with and from desire for Glee‘s queer characters. Where the straight characters risk heartbreak and being laughed at, queer characters face injury and violation as the result of desire, including desire from queer peers. This association is present from early on in the form of “predatory gay” Sandy Ryerson.

However, the link between danger and queer desire on Glee is present around far more than one unfortunate and fairly misleading stereotype. Kurt, for example, knows that being queer makes him seem dangerous to those who feel threatened by his desire, as when he and Finn have a showdown over his crush when the Hudsons first move in with the Hummels. Kurt also receives danger through desire in his interactions with Karofsky. And, of course, Karfosky’s not just a potential danger to Kurt, but to himself.

Closeted classmates aren’t the only way in which this link between queer desire and danger is present on Glee. Blaine, for example, identifies the desire of others as a threat to Kurt if he remains uneducated about sex in his chat with Burt. Additionally, Blaine is also injured by Sebastian, who aggressively indicates his sexual interest in Blaine in the episodes that lead up that event. Blaine also links danger and desire in his own interactions with Kurt when he gets drunk and sexually pushy with him after their visit to Scandals. And, of course, there is his Sadie Hawkins backstory.

Meanwhile, queer women on Glee aren’t exempted from this desire and danger link. Certainly, it’s hard to look away from the fact that when sexual assault clearly enters the Glee narrative it is through the queer female characters. Brittany, who is bisexual, frequently references events that seem to point to a history of non-consensual sex, while Santana deals with a threat of corrective rape once she can no longer avoid being out at WMHS. Additionally, she winds up in a disturbingly sexual confrontation with Sebastian in response to Blaine’s injury.

These events are not only different from the consequences of heterosexual desire on Glee mentioned previously, but also stand in stark contrast to events, such as Sam’s work as a stripper, that could be part of a narrative on the danger of desire, but aren’t, seemingly because they involve non-queer characters. In fact, when it comes to Sam being a stripper, it’s takes one of the queer kids (Blaine) to perceive and name the at least hypothetical danger present in that situation. Similarly, Puck’s interest in casual sex and sex work is played for laughs in a way that it’s not around Blaine’s random hookup and Santana’s promiscuity prior to coming out.

That this pattern seems to exist around characters and couples (Kurt and Blaine, Brittany and Santana) that have also received criticism for the chasteness of the on-screen portrayal of their romances and desires (Kurt even gets a narrative about finding sex scary, off-putting, and at odds with romance), despite the fact that both couples are canonically known to be sexually active as fairly significant plot points, is notable. It underscores how queer desire, or at least the portrayal of it, has not thus far seemed possible in the world of Glee without the presence of danger.

This association of queer desire and danger reflects, I think, not just the reality of some of the risks many queer teens experience when they express desire or are desired (and here we should all be keeping an eye on Unique when it comes to the next installment of this type of danger on Glee), but an older queer narrative as well. The presence of this particular narrative reinforces the ongoing discussion that Glee in general, and Glee‘s queerness in particular, is targeted not at current teen audiences but at 30- and 40-somethings who of course wanted a boyfriend who loved Bryan Ferry or Vivienne Westwood or a girlfriend who was just like all those cheerleaders on the cover of Sweet Valley High books.

This older queer narrative is, of coruse, one where queerness is identified as a mode of transmitting danger and can be considered to reference both historical, non-assimilationist queer culture and the way in which that non-assimilationism was both reinforced through and broken down by the specter of AIDS. Arguably, for someone who came out in the ’80s the links between queerness, danger, and desire were not only obvious then, but remain clear now, in a highly specific and and largely unvaried mode.

For a show that’s been rich in passing-related narratives that have often, but not exclusively, been centered around queerness, this link between queer desire and danger on Glee suggests a passing story taking place out beyond the fourth wall. In a world we often like to pretend is post-AIDS, and post-Matthew Sheppard, Glee shows us beautiful, young queer couples being publicly happy through America’s most public transmission-based medium. Yet, a the same time, Glee is also unable, or unwilling, to avoid the link between queer desire and the transmission of danger that too many of us watching (and presumably creating) the show grew up on.

Pitch Perfect: Fannish fixations as film structure

Last night I finally caught up with Pitch Perfect, which was obscenely enjoyable and ridiculously tightly scripted for what’s really just another entrant in that somewhat weird genre of arts competition movies (see: the Step Up franchise; Bring It On, if you’re willing to call cheerleading an art; and the pretty fabulous Drumline). Formulas work for a reason, and Pitch Perfect might as well be the textbook on why.

That said, the film does have a few surprises, and I don’t mean vomit as a key and startling plot point (really, you have been warned). Aside from lacking any real villain — obstacles are largely just the complexities of individuals trying to decide how to prioritize their own happiness in response to the expectations of others — Pitch Perfect somehow manages to bring the world of lesbian subtext in a way that doesn’t, actually, feel like it’s for the male eye or irrelevant to actual women gay or straight.

Now, I’m not a big fan of subtext as the reason to watch something. We no longer live in a world where we have to do that, and I find myself increasingly exhausted by narrative subtexts that don’t go anywhere — it’s one of the reasons White Collar and its associated fandom has exhausted me; despite containing a canonically gay female character, everyone fixates on the subtext in the relationship between what the show pretty clearly presents as two straight men. It’s a fun show, but it’s not quite my thing and subtext is not enough to keep me hooked. Quite the opposite, really; mostly, I find the insistence that it should be tiring.

But Pitch Perfect delivers both at least one gay woman, as well as some subtext between a range of characters that read at various points along whatever arbitrary queerness spectrum exists in my head. Seeing the film in a movie theater filled mostly with women, who, statistically, I tend to assume were mostly straight, and watching them laugh with (not at) that innuendo, applaud one character’s particularly awesome breasts, and cheer for a host of awesome women being hot, was really cool, if a bit strange.

On one hand, there’s probably stuff to say about what women have learned from the male gaze and objectification and how that may or may not be toxic. But, not my department, at least today.

What fascinated me was how profoundly this was a film that seemed structured to appeal to the narrative preoccupations of fandom (homosocial content with a sexual charge; narratives that are more slice of life than obstacle-driven; in-jokes and low impulse control as defining character traits; obsession as a driver of connection and excellence). The film felt like everything fandom always wants, but (as is often not the case) about women.

The boys were an afterthought both on the screen and in the audience; the women in the film frequently used deeply masculine terminology to talk about their bodies and sexual desires; and yet no one — on screen or off — seemed to get squirmy in the bad way or feel the need to use words that relegated the films queerness or homosocialness to the safe zones of bromances and girl crushes.

Someone finally wrote a movie for fandom and somehow it’s female-focused, atmospherically deeply queer, and yet recognizes its ability to be completely maintrstream.

It’s also ridiculously funny. Glee fans who read this blog will appreciate the many pointed and deserved digs at the show. Fans of the arts competition genre will feel satisfied for the tradition of campy absurdity this continues as well as possibly recognize a few nods to films as strangely diverse as Zoolander and Strictly Ballroom. And really weird people like Patty and I will leave the theater whispering “I ate my twin in the womb” at each other.

Glee: Passing and the ongoing disappearance of Blaine Anderson

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.

Glee: Welcome to the land of the dead

One of the things I, and pretty much everyone else who analyzes Glee a lot, talks about is the idea of WMHS and/or Lima, Ohio as hell, the underworld, the afterlife, or purgatory. It’s not a nice place, and we don’t want to live there. And it must be a physical landscape, a place to be escaped, or else we wouldn’t have just had three seasons about a bunch of kids struggling to be something other than “Lima Losers” and I wouldn’t spend so much time talking about the Ferryman or crossing the river.

But glee is also a feeling you carry with you. Brittany, perhaps, knows this most clearly. Yes, earlier in the season, she draws Rachel and Kurt “in Heaven,” but she’s also a member of the Left Behind club, carrying a portable, practice run at The Rapture (and let’s pause to take in all the meanings of the world “rapture”) in her backpack. You can’t escape hell without carrying things from there with you — that’s like the most basic premise of any horror movie.

And a horror movie is, on some level, explicitly what the show becomes in “The Breakup,” not because the episode was filled with so many things we didn’t want to have happen (the anguish on Tumblr is palpable, heartrending in its own way, and also at times frustrating), but because it was, like a horror film, filled with so many inevitabilities. You can shout at the screen all you want for people to not ignore the warnings (Kurt), go into the basement (Finn), open a door (Rachel), or have sex (Blaine), but they’re still going to do those things with their expected consequences.

Death, the little and the large, is all over the episode — in the song lyrics (Rachel has a particularly memorable moment on this, and the eternal youth discussed in “Teenage Dream” is a death too in a live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse sort of way); in the story of Finn’s gun; in the profound and constant way Blaine is untouched; and in Kurt’s remark, delivered almost casually over a cup of coffee, that he feels like he’s dying. That is what it feels like, of course, when these things happen, but it was eerie for me to see the boy so narratively associated with death say that so casually.

There’s a lot to untangle in the wake of “The Breakup,” from the many possible implications of the name “Eli” to the obvious necessity to revisit “What’s wrong with Blaine Anderson?” to speculation about what happens next. Even without trying to figure that out, confirmed spoilers for future episodes hint at some deeply rich symbolism.

Blaine as “Teen Angel” in Grease is just one amazing detail when reflected against his role as Tony in “West Side Story” and the function sexual activity has played in the narrative around both casting and performance moments. While likely (and appropriately) exiled to permanent subtext, the metaphors embedded here around a young gay male about sex as life and sex as death are significant, harrowing, and appropriate, at least if you are in the part of the Glee viewership that recognizes and remembers Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson as having the preoccupations and fashion sense of gay teens circa 1987.

Also potentially on the table? Kurt finally getting that gay mentor that Blaine turned out not to be once the writers realized what they had on their hands with Darren Criss and “Teenage Dream.” Chase Madison, who Tumblr is already considering as having a possible interest in Kurt, I’m looking at you.

Glee: One sweater-vest, five tons of conjecture

Yesterday, FashionofGlee.com updated with a post on the sweater-vest Blaine is wearing in “It’s Time.” Of note? While it’s, as usual, Brooks Brothers, but it’s from the women’s department. I chortled; fandom, quoting Kurt Hummel, said in unison, “fashion has no gender”; and then everyone went back to gawping over the price of the thing.

But, while hardly a significant data point (we’ll get to why in a second) in some of the arguments I’ve advanced about Blaine, it’s a really, really fun one to discuss, and I might as well do it here.

First, why it doesn’t matter: Extradiegetically, it’s irrelevant. As clever and sneaky as Glee‘s costume department often is narratively (see: Kurt and the hanky code), I’m pretty sure this was a case of wardrobe grabbing something that would fit an actor and was consistent with the character’s look. End of discussion.

On the other hand, if we want to be Watsonian about it, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Kurt, of course, has not only said “fashion has no gender,” but often wears items from the women’s department or items that are not feminine but likely to be perceived as such in Lima, such as the kilt he wore to prom. Kurt does not choose these pieces in order to be perceived as a female, but he makes little effort to hide the femininity of them. Sure, a sweater dress becomes a “form-fitting knee-length sweater,” but clingy and curvy remains clingy and curvy.

Need an example? Think back to the outfit he’s wearing during the masturbation conversation in 3.05 — with that leopard print sweater and the shy, breathy, and deliberate questions about whether Blaine wants to rip his clothes off, Kurt is actually dressed like a sex kitten. And when it’s not about clingy and curvy, there’s the wardrobe phase that seems explicitly built around feminine modesty.

Blaine, on the other hand, wears traditionally masculine clothes. He may wear them with a wink, or a queer twist, but much like the decor of his bedroom, his clothes are all about classic masculinity, even if the current modern reception of them, and his body language and sense of self aren’t necessarily. And Kurt’s feminine clothes, or perceived as feminine clothes, aren’t something Blaine’s naturally comfortable with. Remember prom? That, however, very probably had less to do with gender and more to do with concern over attracting attention that may be hostile.

But all of this leads us to: How did Blaine, who is concerned with fitting in and displaying a masculine sensibility, wind up with that women’s sweater-vest?

Because my gut says that if Kurt was going to buy him a piece from the women’s department as a gift (and I don’t think Kurt would, I think he knows that might be uncomfortable for Blaine), I think he’d probably go for something outrageous. If he’s going to cross that line, which is a more challenging one for his boyfriend, I feel like he’s going to make that worth it, as opposed to another sweater-vest just like so many of Blaine’s other sweater-vests. Which means Blaine bought that thing for himself.

Now, this is where I have to digress and say I shop in Not My Department all the time. And I’m an adult, queer woman in NYC, and it often makes me super tense that I’ll get called out on it or be told I am doing something that is inappropriate in some way, even though I know better. I know this is not everyone’s experience who shops out of their department, but it’s some people’s, mine included. Now, Blaine is a teenager, in Lima, perceived as male (and I do think men are viewed as suspect more for breaking gender boundaries in this way than women are), and may have some gender issues. Leaving aside whether there is a Brooks Brothers in Lima (there is certainly one in proximity to Westerville), I’m pretty sure Blaine didn’t just walk into the store and decide to browse all the sweater-vests regardless of gender.

So maybe it was mis-shelved and Blaine didn’t notice? And no one at the register said anything snide when they noticed? Or if they did say something, perhaps Blaine just blurted about shopping for a sister that doesn’t exist? Or maybe it was mail order and Blaine browses the women’s sweaters because, like stuff in the boys department, he knows he’s slight enough for them to fit? Or maybe Blaine does have some gender identity stuff going on and likes to browse female clothes in relation to that? That sweater would be quite the find for someone trying to serve two sets of gender expectations — one external and one internal — that don’t overlap comfortably at all.

Much like what I had to say about 4.01 as a whole, the matter of this clothing item could mean any one of a dozen things, all of them fairly irrelevant outside of a Watsonian perspective and fanfiction plot bunnies.

That said, as much as I’ve already noted that I don’t think there’s a single, clear, easily supportable theory on just what Blaine’s feelings about Wade/Unique are right now, the fact that Blaine was policing this person’s gender, and telling them not to rock the boat, while wearing a woman’s sweater is deeply interesting and harks back to the many passing themes that always seem to come up around Blaine Anderson, and underscore why, I think, so many fans find him so irksome.

Blaine gets away with a lot, often by, as Kurt would say, just being “handsome and good.” For people that can’t, or don’t wish to pass, regardless of the categories in question, it can be galling.

Glee: Setting up the board

Well, Glee is back, which theoretically means this blog is back even though it remains, I swear, not just a Glee blog (I’m waiting for the okay to announce several non-Glee related publications, so really, this is true!). As much as I do write a post after each Glee episode, one of the things I really want to stay away from here is doing a weekly recap vs. a weekly reaction. Recaps are dime a dozen on the Internet, and several of my friends get paid to write then, so there’s no reason to dive into that particular competition.

But, sometimes, there isn’t always a thematic essay that emerges out of each episode. Because while 4.01 is part of patterns established in the previous seasons of Glee, it is also a (re)introduction, meaning it’s also the start of a new data set, and a single point does not a trend make. Which leaves me at a little bit of a loss tonight.

I did, however, enjoy this first episode immensely, and thought it captured the reality of New York and competitive performing arts environments in a way that was truthful while also being completely fanciful and not at all how it actually works. Television is rarely deft about New York, because it’s mostly not for people who live in New York, and it was nice to see Glee selling a fantasy that felt relevant to me as a resident, even when the bulk of it was shot in L.A.

What was particularly of note, however, and feels like the best place to start blogging about the new season is just how much this episode can be used to explicate the “we’re all watching a different show” view of television.

I could, after all, easily write a long piece about Blaine and gender here tonight: about how he gets proclaimed the new Rachel, only feels threatened by Wade/Unique for the role, is repeatedly clearly uncomfortable with Wade/Unique’s gender expression, and clearly values his ability to pass as, if not straight, masculine and “normal” at McKinley, especially now that glee club is sort of accepted. Note, for example, how Blaine falls under the radar of all the cruelty and mocking in this episode — his queerness never comes up, and, to a given extent, that’s a product of how Blaine plays his queerness; it’s conspicuous in how it deviates from the expectations of heteronormativity, but is also expressed through a playful reenactment of a hyper-conservative very good boy look. Blaine’s gay, but beyond that, any queerness falls squarely into the category of plausible deniability. He’s gay, but he’s just like you. Kurt on the other hand….

Of course, there’s a whole argument about Blaine’s interactions with Wade/Unique that completely skips over gender and queerness: Wade/Unique is Blaine’s only real competition to be the new Rachel as the only other current New Directions member that has led a show choir before. That said, while that reading removes the matter of Blaine’s queerness and gender performance as a narrative device, it does once again raise the issue of Rachel “man hands” Berry, her gender presentation, ambition, and her location in the queer world as someone with two dads, a soul-mate in her gay best friend, and her desire to grow up to be, among other things, a queer icon.

But back to Blaine and Wade/Unique. Which story is the true story? Is Blaine uncomfortable with Wade/Unique because of his own queerness and gender identity? Or is Blaine uncomfortable with Wade/Unique because there’s real competition there? Well, that depends on what show you’re watching.

For me, and this blog, we’ll how the rest of the season unfolds — although gender identity and queerness is always on the table in my readings, with the uncertainty not on its presence, but on where those themes are being located by the show. Obviously, I’m tantalized by the possibilities regarding Blaine in light of previous essays I’ve written here, but I also don’t feel like I can jump on it, not quite yet.

Similarly, there were a few other morsels tonight that also felt fun in a following a trail of breadcrumbs way, including a Tumblr-favorite, Artie’s crush on Blaine, and a funny flip on the infamous “not for sale” moment from last season, when Blaine’s first line in “Call Me Maybe” includes “I’d trade my soul for a wish, Pennies and dimes for a kiss.” Someone’s changed his tune!

But right now, these moments are all merely pieces on the board of the pattern recognition game; I can’t wait until we all get to start playing it again in earnest.

The New Normal: Who are these adorable characters and why won’t they stop crying?

When it comes to television viewing, one of the only things harder than watching a beloved character cry is watching a bunch of characters you don’t know yet cry. It’s awkward. You don’t know how you’re supposed to feel, even as you’re being bonked over the head with the message to have a heart-warming moment.

Luckily, Ryan Murphy’s new sitcom, The New Normal, is apparently all about the awkward, or else being asked to watch three different characters cry at least once (there are a lot of misty eyes and bitten lips at various other moments as well) in our twenty-five minute first meeting would be even more uncomfortable than it already is.

Honestly, the pilot is charming, and far more cogent than I expected based on the early previews (hint: some of the weakest material is in those ads, so I strongly suggest giving the show a chance, where it shines is largely stuff you haven’t seen in the teasers). It’s also so sentimental, even in the face of Bryan’s hopefully soon-to-be-explained shallowness and our heroine’s grandmother’s epic bigotry, that it’s almost immediately a pleasure of an entirely guilty and preferably private sort.

Like most of Murphy’s work, The New Normal (a phrase I still associate the most strongly with bond firm PIMCO, so I certainly hope they’re amused), telegraphs almost immediately that it is a faerie tale when Goldie (yes, really) has a very bad no good day while dressed in a cap-sleeved and aproned work uniform that just screams a budget version of any number of storybook princesses.

She’s sleeping, of course, and not following her dreams until she gets a wake-up call in the form of her cheating partner, her vicious grandmother, and her cleverer-than-all-of-them-daughter. One stolen car and several thousand miles from Ohio later, Goldie meets her fairy god princes who are going to help her become a lawyer since she’s going to help them have a baby! Sure, it’s not a neat allegory, but the show is about how nothing’s neat when it comes to family; it’ll do for now.

Meanwhile, even in the first episode we can already start checking off items from The Tropes of Ryan Murphy and that’s before we even get to the Sudden-Onset Bisexuality episode that’s so clearly looming in the future I’m forced to confess that I like television because it’s predictable.

The New Normal isn’t a great show, yet, but it could be, especially once the people we’re forced to watch cry no longer feel like strangers to us. In the meantime, it’s weirdly sweet, gratifyingly mundane, has a really cute dog, and led to a hilarious round of “Wait, which one is Klaine and which one is Blair?” from Patty (who doesn’t watch Glee but is often forced to follow along vicariously with results like that, that, in their own way, speak to the degree to which the Bryan and David resemblance to Kurt and Blaine is almost entirely superficial, Ryan Murphy’s ever increasingly hilarious Twitter presence aside).

While the show itself premiers on September 11th, you can catch it early on the NBC website or Hulu or, as usual, just catch the .gif highlights via Tumblr.

True Blood: This use of “Teenage Dream” feels oddly familiar

While we wait for the fall TV season to begin, and I wonder how many shows I’m actually going to manage to keep up with, one of the things I’m also watching right now is True Blood. It’s not intentional, it’s just that Patty is a fan, so it’s on, on Sunday evenings, and I keep up on it for the sake of household conversation — much the way she really can’t stand Glee but knows everything about Kurt and Blaine and insists she actually cares when I tell her about it (what can I say, she’s a generous soul).

Last night, however, as Tumblr was melting down from spoilers from the Glee filming in NYC, True Blood gave us a moment I can’t really help but share with you all, despite offering a lack of analysis, because it’s a darkly delightful use of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” that’s actively funnier if you read this blog.

The scene features Russell Edgington (take a minute with that name, would you?), recently returned from the nearly permanently dead to undead vitality and epic bad behavior, dancing to the strains of “Teenage Dream” with the Reverend Steve Newland, former anti-vampire hate preacher, who’s now a vampire himself. And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, for bonus gay allegory, they’re now an item — Newland having left his perfect blonde wife, and Edgington’s former partner being brutally dispatched in the midst of an ugly vampire feud a couple of seasons ago.

The “Teenage Dream” lyrics, of course, are perfect — two vampires dancing amongst blood and gore as Katy Perry sings about staying young forever is a great way to remind us that pop-culture and bubble gum songs aren’t always so innocent. But the construction of the scene also made me cackle loudly, not just because I watch Glee, which also used the song in its own rather unforgettable way, but because of the degree to which the themes and visuals remain oddly the same from one show to the other.

Maybe it’s the wood-paneled room. Maybe it’s that I’m pretty sure the sea of corpses Edgington and Newland are dancing amongst is entirely made of men (frat house, all boys school — what’s the difference?). Maybe it’s that everything is so new and magical to Newland. Or maybe it’s, if you’ve been watching True Blood faithfully (even in the not exactly intentional way I have been), the degree to which a major plot point currently revolves around the faerie kingdom, and how Edgington wants to enslave it for his own in order to enable himself and Newland, and their kind, to come out of the shadows and walk in the day.

The degree to which it felt like a corruption of the Glee scene (and while True Blood often plays hard with other pop-culture, I wouldn’t trust myself to hazard a guess on the intentionality of this) — from the dead men to the alcohol to something that is anything but the glorious romance of children — was not insignificant.

Regardless of why this scene exists, it gave me a good and disturbing laugh last night, and I imagine it’ll merit an odd chuckle from many regular readers of this blog as well. Enjoy!

Glee: Eating some hats

While there were a lot of amazing details in “Prom-asaurus,” — the predatory theme of the prom; Brittany’s run for king; the Faberry fan-service; the references to both Medusa and Icarus (we’ll definitely be coming back to Medusa and the snakes in the toilet here at this blog); some important stuff regarding Kurt and Puck and the faerie court (which we’ll also be spending some time with soon); the heavily foreshadowed implosion of Tina and Mike; and pretty much everything involving Becky and Puck — because of one tiny little thing, this episode has me eating my hat (or, probably actually Brittany’s and Kurt’s) about something.

Kind of.

One of the big debates around Glee is whether the lack of physical affection shown by the gay couples is a concession to the realities of Lima, WMHS, and personal history, or a concession to a squeamish network. For me, historically, the distances have worked consistently and plausibly on an intradiegetic level, especially considering Kurt and Blaine’s experiences with violence, and I’ve got a pretty decent track record of pissing people off for defending what I’ve seen on screen because it makes sense to me.

Plus, Glee usually reserves physical and sexual affection for couples about to be broken apart or who are busy being publicly dysfunctional while trying to derive status from theie relationship. It’s generally a narrative tool (with the exception of Mike and Tina, who, in exchange, don’t really get a narrative), and in the face of smooth and steady Klaine, there hasn’t been much cause to use it.

Last night’s episode was largely consistent in this for me. The boys continued not to touch, even in a relatively safe-space of the anti-prom. Considering the overall social awkwardness of that room, I actually still on board with the state of things, in part because there was such a comfort and tug between them even in that distance.

But then there was the prom itself.

Or, more specifically, the closing montage of prom, where each couple got their little closeness moment and the closing prom photo. And Kurt and Blaine just had less time. That’s all. And I can’t do anything with that intradiegetically, because it’s an editing choice; and I can’t do anything with that structurally, because it actually runs counter to the law of prom episode structure on Glee, and yeah, it just didn’t feel right.

Now, this is where the “sort of” comes in on eating my hat. It doesn’t matter.

Why?

Because in one scenario I was just having an on-point emotional night last night (which I was, thanks to the passage of an anti-gay amendment into North Carolina’s constitution — North Carolina has a long history of breaking my political heart), and the problem I feel was there in terms of visibility and affection wasn’t.

In that case, the intradiegetic truths I’ve always highlighted remain, that Kurt and Blaine have to be so conscious of their safety so constantly, that they can’t even stand to be closer than two feet from each other in a hotel room with a small group of people they at least know won’t physically hurt them, lest they get out of the habit of constant vigilance.

But in the other scenario, Fox has a hit TV show it hates filled with gay content and involving many gay people in the creation process and at every single moment the show’s powers that be are having to bargain with the network’s powers that be for what we see.

Both of those scenarios suck.

No matter how much what I’ve viewed as consistency and plausibility within the narrative has allowed me to side-step the question of network drama about all of this (because it’s so much more than the shows I grew up with — although with everything I have to say about Kurt and magic, maybe Kurt and Blaine just like Buffy‘s Willow and Tara and also perform magic instead of actually having sex), last night just felt like I really, really couldn’t, even if, I believe that given free-reign by the network, the content the show would give us between those characters would remain almost identical to what we’re getting now.

But either way you slice it, Glee remains what it’s always been: a show about terrible people in a terrible place, that somehow suggests we all deserve a little bit better than we’re getting.

Sadly, that includes the audience too.

Glee: Gender, performativity and neediness

If you’ve been following the spoilers for Glee‘s upcoming prom episode “Prom-asaurus” and spend any time on this blog at all, you can probably guess that I’m having a pretty great time with the gendered stuff that seems to be coming up around Blaine in this episode.

It’s not a plot line, probably because it’s never going to be a plot line, except for how it intersections with the history of Kurt’s bullying and the way gender is always central to status at William McKinley High School. But what may read (and be intended) as nothing more than a running joke for most audiences, not only continues to say some very interesting things about Blaine, but reinforces the criteria by which gender is determined at WMHS and its surrounding environs. Delightfully, despite my comments on Kurt’s trousers in “Choke” this tends to have almost nothing to do with what’s in your pants.

Currently, there’s a bit of a Tumblr frenzy around Kurt, Blaine and Rachel singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” While the song is likely intended to focus on Rachel’s circumstances after the events of her audition in “Choke” there’s some lovely, bittersweet content in it between Kurt and Blaine, and Tumblr has noted that according to song lyrics, last year Blaine was a little girl at prom, and this year he’s a big girl.

While Glee often doesn’t use song lyrics in ways that are necessarily plot-relevant (and Darren Criss singing too many songs not originally intended for a female vocalist would probably seem weird to long-term fans at this point), there’s been a persistent link between Blaine and songs that identify the singer as female not through an assumption based on a male object of attraction, but through explicitly female words.

In “Prom-asaurus” we also see Blaine positioned as female in another way, and not for the first time: other people feel that there’s nothing abnormal about telling him how he should look. From Brittany’s Blaine-directed hair gel ban, to Kurt’s bronzing moisturizer stunt, to Cooper’s complaint about Blaine’s outfits and Santana’s crack earlier in the season that puts Blaine off wearing bow ties for a while — people feel perfectly at ease directing Blaine’s appearance. If you’ve ever been female in public, you probably know exactly what I mean; I’m just waiting for the moment someone tells Blaine to smile.

Of course, two of those items — the stuff about Blaine’s hair and the stuff about the bronzer, also have clear racial implications, which brings us back to biyuti’s remarks that Blaine is bakla. Now that the race and gender stuff around Blaine is intersecting so vividly that a lot of discussion is going “I don’t know if this is about this or this,” the answer, increasingly the answer seems to be about and not or.

But Blaine’s feminine positioning in the show is about more than what songs he sings or about how neither he nor Kurt are quite what they seem to the untrained imaginations of WMHS. Rather, an inclination towards performativity is what positions characters as female on Glee, and Blaine is nothing if not a consummate performer.

I know, you’re saying, “But everyone on Glee sings!” And that’s true, but not everyone on Glee performs the same way. When Blaine performs, he’s playing a character; when Kurt performs, most times, he’s just playing himself. Authenticity on Glee is positioned as masculine (something we’ve explicitly seen Kurt move towards over his arc) and performativity is explicitly seen as female (which is why Kurt’s stint with Mellencamp fails, and why he regains his masculinity when it does).

This is partially why the boys of the football team freak out when they are required to join Glee and Dave Karofsky’s plotline so effectively highlights a frequently present common root in homophobia and misogyny.

Girls wear makeup, boys don’t and this dichotomy around the construction of appearance is constantly underscored in the structure and staging of of performances on Glee, and is really only subverted and complicated (and thankfully so, because the world is more nuance than the limited number of boxes presented at WMHS) thanks to Wade/Unique, wherein the authentic, feminine self is also introduced as a performative self.

The other central tool of gendering on Glee is about neediness. Narratively needy characters are feminine; self-suficient characters are masculine. This is why Blaine’s a girl in Glee‘s lexicon, but Kurt hasn’t been for a long time. This is why Rachel is “man hands” Berry; Santana is more traditionally-femininely portrayed than Brittany; and why Quinn never seems to stop being punished for her gender. It’s why Puck was fantastic with Lauren; Finn struggles constantly with ideas of leadership and being a man; Sam’s sex-work stint actually earns him the respect of the other dudes; and Artie is often the Glee club’s most clearly masculine member and Sugar Motta is its most feminine (because, what isn’t she performing?).

Ultimately, as much as Glee‘s structure and unsettling humor relies on clear gender dichotomies, accusations and misunderstandings, and as much as Glee is often about terrible people who say terrible things in a terrible place, the show is, on a subtextual level, deeply generous about gender in the degree to which it actually rejects the stereotypes that drive its setting. Glee lets us know people are complex mixtures of things, not just boys or girls, and not just combinations with stark lines drawn down their centers (as Kurt is in “Le Jazz Hot”).

But for all that subtle progressiveness, Glee is still sure of one thing: that being a girl, regardless of the gender you were assigned at birth, is a terrible thing. It will get you beat up, bullied, pregnant, uncertain about your future, and nursing a wounded heart.

People on Glee talk about becoming men, because that’s a positive goal, but never about becoming women, because that isn’t — at least not in Lima, OH.

Season 4, however, isn’t just going to be set in Lima, though. It’s also going to be set in New York, and possibly New Haven, which means Glee‘s going to have to make a critical decision about whether the world hates women, or just the small pond that originated its characters.

One choice will necessitate a radical tonal shift for the show, giving it a second act that celebrates femininity and places dread and misery around masculine identities. However, if Glee takes the other choice available, we’ll be confronted with a show that’s position on misogyny may be indistinguishable from actually being misogynist itself.

Glee has to decide whether it can get better — not just for queer kids (here, it seems to be optimistic), but for girls — and the decision it makes will largely tell us whether we’ve spent the last three years watching the beginnings of a victory march or a tragedy.

For me personally, as someone who lives in New York City and feels like I’ve seen more progress in my lifetime in terms of safety and respect as a queer person than as a woman, I’m not sure which path I want the show to follow. Because both will hurt and feel like betrayals of the realities I know. But maybe that’s always been the point of Glee: all the moments where you can’t tell if you’re laughing or crying.

After all, in fiction, that’s when we’re usually we’re most alive.