Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It May Not Be Real, But It Really Worries Me Anyway

Man, two new episodes of Glee this week! One after the Super Bowl on Sunday and another last night. I really enjoyed last night's Valentine episode, although I have got to say I am still trying to figure out how I feel about Sunday's big football entry.

Last night sealed two things for me.

First: I think Puck might just be my favorite character on the show. Yeah, he's kind of a sleazeball, but at the same time he really does have an interesting character arc going on. You can see him growing as a person, even if he doesn't necessarily go about it the best way most of the time. Also, he gets some of the best songs. This could be because he's more the "rocker" so I enjoy his songs more, because I've gotta be honest with you, I am not really all that on top of the current top 40. I know maybe about a third of it, I'd say. Puck gets a lot of classics, and I enjoy that.

Second: I find Kurt's story arc very intriguing. I love that his parents saw he was in a bad situation and took steps to give him a chance to get out of it. I love that he is really coming into his own, and while he is mostly doing well at his new school, he is also learning that he did have some good things going for him at McKinley, and doing what he can to keep those in his life. I really like that in Blaine he has found so much more than a potential romance (though there's that too). He has found an ally and a mentor, someone who truly understands him on a fundamental level that none of his family or friends from McKinley can grasp despite how hard they try.

You know what, make that three things. I need a pair of those footie sock-monkey pajamas that Mercedes was rocking last night. Holy cow can you say awesome?

But as much as I love Kurt's story arc, I find the underlying basis for it more than a little disturbing. As unreal as Glee is, I know there is no sensible reason I should take any of it seriously, and yet...

It's not the fact that Kurt has been bullied because he was gay and in Glee club and unashamed of either. I mean, that sucks, but it is believable, and Kurt always handled it with aplomb. What really concerns me here is that the bullying at McKinley High, fictional though it may be, is at such an extreme level and completely overlooked by everyone but the people getting bullied. There are abundantly clear patterns of behavior at this school that no one in authority is stopping.

For example, the slushies. The members of New Directions are constantly being bombarded face-first with slushies by the jocks at the school. I get that it's a visual gag and it is supposed to be funny. But oh my goodness is it ever not. The only teachers that seem to notice or care that this is going on are Mr. Shuester, occasionally the guidance counselor, Sue (who hates the glee club and so does nothing to stop the behavior) and now apparently Coach Beiste. But there is absolutely no disciplinary action as a result of these daily assaults. Even when the teachers who do notice take the matter to the principal, he does nothing.

The football players who are not also in New Directions constantly cause division in the ranks during practice and games due to their disdain for their musically inclined teammates--even though it is only with the addition of some of those teammates that they finally see a winning season for the first time in ever. That kind of behavior should result in suspension from playing or removal from the team at the very least. The fact that the bullying and worse carries over into the players' daily lives as well should result in detention, suspension, expulsion, and so on. They don't even have the excuse of being stellar athletes to keep them out of hot water, so what gives here?

Not one of these bullying teenagers seems to be concerned about the bigger picture, i.e., the future, either. Sunday's episode really surprised me in that these guys were willing to walk off the team and forfeit playing in a championship game--the kind of thing that leads to scholarships and talent scouts--rather than suck it up and play nice with teammates they didn't like, or to do a little team bonding.

Then there is the matter of Dave. The alpha-bully. The reason that Kurt left McKinley. I'll give Sue Sylvester credit--during her brief stint as principal, she tried to expel him when she learned about his assault on Kurt. Unfortunately, it didn't stick. Granted, yes, Kurt had been keeping quiet about how badly Dave had been tormenting him, but Dave had an established pattern of violent behavior toward Kurt that was witnessed by plenty of other students and teachers, not to mention similar (if slightly lesser) behavior directed at the other members of New Directions. Not to mention his numerous public homophobic slurs and threats. When the school board tried to say that Dave couldn't be expelled for an attack that had no witnesses, they had some solid ground to stand on. But when Shue and Sue and the other teachers didn't counter that decision with the amassed evidence of Dave's previously documented behavior, that was a major fail on the part of McKinley High.

I spent seventh and eighth grade at three different junior highs/middle schools in two different states. I hate to look back on that time because at only one of those schools (the one I was only at for about a month and a half) I was bullied like there was no tomorrow. I was the new kid (two years and three schools in a row). I had a weird fashion sense that never quite fit in at any of my schools. I was nerdy, and scrawny (wow, that I can remember a time when I was actually scrawny), and I was painfully shy. In other words, I was easy prey. Believe me when I say that I know bullying is real. I do not doubt that it is worse now than it was when I was in school. I was lucky (?) that the bullying inflicted upon me was all of the mental variety. I survived it, and I learned from it. But I was also lucky enough that I had teachers I could talk to who supported me, and family that loved me for who I was. I had already grasped the concept that school was a fleeting thing (helped along by how often I moved before the tenth grade, I am sure), and that it wouldn't last forever. It helped me endure. But not all kids who are bullied are that lucky. They don't all survive, and it seems like the odds against them these days are ridiculously high.

I know that this is all just a television show. I get that, I really do. But it is watched by a lot of kids, and I fear that it is giving off the wrong impression. Yes, the glee kids are doing their best to thrive and embrace their talents and passions despite what a harsh world thinks of them. They are not afraid to be themselves, and that is an important message. But. The writers need to start showing that there are real consequences for the bullies as well. For one thing, it might encourage young viewers being bullied to actually go to figures of authority for help--right now all they are seeing on the show is that the teachers can't or won't do anything about their problems. For another, if there are any kids watching who are inclined to grow up to be bullies themselves one day, this is only going to teach them that it is okay, because nothing bad is going to happen to them if they do. It is those kids who are afraid to tell their parents what is going on in their lives, or who have parents that don't bother explaining to them why something like bullying is wrong (or worse, encourage it) who take their lessons from television shows. Those poor kids are getting some bad answers from Glee, I fear.

I am not suggesting that television has a responsibility to depict the truth or teach our youth. I am really, really not. It's just that for such a silly little show, Glee seems to get it just right in a lot of areas that more serious shows totally miss. I just wish that it could get it right on this issue as well I guess.

Thus ends my rant on the changes that the writers would make to Glee if I ruled the world. Thanks for reading, enjoy your Wednesday.

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