Glee is popular. You only have to look at its domination of TV schedules, music charts and live performances to see its reach. In contrast to High School Musical (sometimes compared for its representation of high school through song), Glee deals with all the common issues found in schools worldwide including bullying, pregnancy, disability and sexuality. Whilst still handling these storylines sensibly and responsibly, the show still manages to retain it’s comedy and feel-good nature that has taken it to the top. But how much is Glee influencing the world, especially when it comes to homosexuality?
Kurt (played by Chris Colfer) is a flamboyant, openly gay student at McKinley High who is forced to transfer from the school in season two due to homophobic bullying. Described as a ‘diva’, he quite easily falls within a stereotypical view of gay men. One person commented on this to me and questioned if this was productive. Wouldn’t it have been better, they asked, if Glee’s gay character had been someone that might not automatically fit some people’s perception of ‘gay’ as easily?
Glee is about stereotypes; it has them all from the jocks to the nerds, from the ditsy blonde cheerleader to the geeky school reporter. I think the characters, as unrealistic as they may be, help the audience identify with certain aspects of school life. This enables the writers to put across different points of view far more effectively than if the characters were perhaps more realistic but less identifiable. What is important is the messages these characters give to the audience, and it is here that I think Glee is proving powerful.
In the episode ‘Born This Way’ in season two, the glee club pay tribute to Lady GaGa. In the title song, they wear t-shirts describing something about themselves with the principle of accepting who they are. Finn “Can’t Dance”, Mike “Can’t Sing” and Kurt “Likes Boys”. The message this episode sends to the entire audience is similar to the message in the original Lady GaGa track; accept yourself for who you are.
Of course for me and my flatmate at Glee Live in Manchester, the ‘Likes Boys’ t-shirts were a necessity. In a room full of 15,000 Glee fans you don’t really expect much of a reaction to this, so it was a surprise when we were pointed out by a ten year old girl to her Dad. The girl commented to her Dad about the t-shirts and they both smiled reassuringly at us. This is a young girl who knows that it’s ok to be gay. Hopefully she also knows that she is unique herself and as she grows up she will be proud of things about her that she might find hard to accept. This kind of message is one that will literally change the world. Contrast this story with the life of a different young girl.
Eastenders provoked complaints recently when resident gay couple Christian and Syed were shown holding each other in bed. The scene has reportedly been described by one person as being confusing to his young daughter who was watching it. The BBC press release regarding the complaints stated:
We approach our portrayal of homosexual relationships in exactly the same way as we do heterosexual relationships… The BBC cannot discriminate by treating gay characters differently to heterosexual characters.
What is worrying about this situation is that there are people that are watching Eastenders with their children and feel that homosexual relationships should be treated differently to heterosexual relationships. How are the children of these people going to cope if they find themselves in the position of questioning their sexuality? Gay rights have come a long way over the last forty years, but there is a long way to go before equality is reached. The people that need this equality the most are the teenagers who fear they’re gay. Nobody should fear who they are. Unfortunately some gay teens do, as witnessed by the world when several comitted suicide over the last year because of who they were.
Luckily, organisations like the It Gets Better Project are there to help. It Gets Better is not massively well known in the UK, but for any gay youth thinking they are alone, it is invaluable. It is a project to tell every person that is afraid of being gay that it gets better, with videos from Barack Obama, celebrities, and ordinary gay people who know it does get better. If you have the time, I urge you to take a quick look and make the pledge to stand up against hate and intolerance in your community.
My flatmate said to me at the concert that he is constantly surprised by both the level of acceptance and the level of homophobia he sees. Contrast the teen suicides with the fact that New York has just passed the marriage equality bill legalising same-sex marriage in the state. There are so many different people with different opinions on what it means to be gay and what it means to be yourself, and I think the message of acceptance that Glee brings can only do good for the world of tomorrow.
After all, we were born this way, baby!