Academic Writing

Friday, March 11, 2011


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We Like You Just The Way You Are

I am proud to admit that I was a full blown Gleek from the first episode back in the Spring of 2009.  I was drawn to the music, the characters, and the general camp that the show brought to television landscape.  High School shows are nothing new, but this narrative has been offering something different from the rest of them.  Glee is able to tell the stories of kids today, and all the issues they face, in a relatively realistic fashion (minus the whole breaking out into choreographed song and dance) while also being mainstream.  Historically, High School-based shows have not managed to be both commercially successful and positive messaging.  Consider the shows I grew up on that took place in high school like Saved by the Bell, where the very special episode was where Jesse was addicted to caffeine pills.  That show achieved huge commercial success, spawned multiple iterations from middle school to high school versions and eventually to the college years, and it still has legs today through reruns and a general presence in the zeitgeist.  Existing on the other end of the spectrum are shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life, which had decent cult followings but only existed for one or two seasons.  While they haven’t completely fallen off the pop cultural radar, are definitely not as pervasive as the more commercially successful shows.

Maybe it’s through its use of music, its realistic, relatable and ultimately positive characters, or true to life stories that Glee has emerged as a pop-culture phenomenon.  Whatever it is, audiences are drawn to Glee more than just Tuesday nights at nine.  In two short seasons it’s become an awards darling, spawned a concert series, 5 albums so far, and even a whole line of make-up and nail polish at Sephora.  People can’t get enough of this show about underdogs who stand up for themselves and create a world where they have value and aren’t picked on just because the greater society doesn’t have a place for them to neatly fit into.

The show offers a chance for underdog to have a voice.  It tells the stories that are relevant to today’s youth, and frankly, pretty much everyone.  But while watching this week’s show I started getting annoyed.  Now I know I shouldn’t let ultimately petty things get to me, but I couldn’t help it.  What was this offensive behavior you ask?  Well, 2 things.  First, I would just like to say, will Gwyneth Paltrow please go away.  We know you act, and now apparently you sing, but really a show about outsiders and underdogs is really not a place that you fit in.  And, if we’re being completely honest, you’re singing isn’t all that great to warrant a return to the show with three solo acts.  I get it that the version of Forget You that you sang with Cee Lo Green apparently gave you license to appear on the Grammys, record the song, and now get a music contract, but really, go away.  You should know that this musical moment you’re having is just our overhyped pop culture and marketing culture trying to squeeze any last dime out of you it can.  Ironically, Glee is about the outcasts trying to fit in with the cool kids and Gweny’s appearance made her seem like the cool kid trying to be nerdy to fit in with the cool crowd cuz she’s already alienated everyone else.  Over. It.

The second part of this commentary is a sort of open letter to Glee.  Consider this me, begging and a pleading with you to not jump the shark.  Glee, you have managed to provide just the right amount of camp, never going too far overboard (even when you did the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the movie that just about defined camp, you kept it on the level).  However, I fear that you feel like you need to keep pushing the envelope to see how far you can take the show.  Just like the kids on the show, you are great just the way you are.  Don’t feel like you need to attract big celebrity names to make the show better, you don’t.  And, for the record, I am not putting John Stamos in that category, he’s awesome.  Another suggestion, please don’t start going too nutty with the musical numbers (this week’s spontaneous foam dance got too close for comfort on that one).  We can get on board when the characters break into song, and even when they seem to instantly change costumes mid-performance.  Just don’t make things too crazy or you will alienate your viewers.

What’s reassuring is that Glee still does have all the heart and soul it always did – like the exchange Kurt and his dad had about sex and Santana’s honesty with herself and then with Brittany.  Glee manages to be both mainstream and subversive at the same time.  Challenging social taboos and bringing to light cultural issues that are relevant today is something Glee has always done, and always done well, and I just hope it stays the course.

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