A reminder that pop culture matters

Picture of kurt with words on top that say 'Each episode he helps me realize that it's okay to be me'

“Glee” is flawed in many ways. Its treatment of people with disabilities is less than ideal, it has a tendency to put white, skinny people front and center, tokenizing the talented non-white or non-skinny people, and its two main characters, Rachel and Mr. Shuester, are terribly unlikeable. And I recognize that Kurt’s storyline has flaws, too. But this submission at PostSecret reminded me that, flawed though it is, this show resonates with viewers who rarely see people like themselves represented on TV. Thanks for that, “Glee.” It completely makes up for the way you butchered Singin’ in the Rain.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/deafbrowntrash/ deafbrowntrash

    I saw that postcard a few days ago and was wondering who the guy was. I didnt know it was from “Glee.”

    Pop culture is very useful and a great way to connect people with society and with each other. The first time I saw “Ghost World” was in 2001, when I was freshly out of high school, feeling lost, angry and outcasted from society. When I saw the film– I was amazed, there it was, a movie about two alienated HS graduates who didn’t look like stereotypical beautiful Hollywood stars, two girls who had a lack of direction in their lives, two girls who hung out with other outcasts in their circle of friends.

    “Ghost World” made me feel so much less alone.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ejdoyle/ Emmett J Doyle

    Hold up, why is Kurt in football gear?

  • http://feministing.com/members/khayducka/ Kierstyn Hayducka

    Really?! I think Glee does such a great job. It’s often been recognized in my women’s studies classes for how well it depicts the issues of today’s young people and raises awareness. It’s about time a show finally broke down the barriers of the typical thin, white, pretty girls and muscular, tall, good-looking boys as main characters.

    The second season has done a better job on the issues you’re talking about. Rachel isn’t the only one singing the solos anymore. And they’re not tokenizing the “talented non-white or non-skinny people” as much as the first season. Either way, I really think it is one of the best shows that reaches out to young people on the issues they should be paying attention too. Hopefully it’ll get even better!

  • http://feministing.com/members/teenagemalefeminist/ Ryan

    Pop culture is also useful as a tool to turn our movement into a simple market for capital power to penetrate and strengthen the monopoly that the six not-so-benevolent media corporations hold on nearly all media outlets we know. When something speaks to us in a significant way, of course we shouldn’t toss its value out the window. If a television show changed our lives, then a television show changed our lives. It’s happened to me before. No matter the ethics, the effect on us is probably no less great.

    But we can’t use that as an excuse to throw our arms and embrace that fundamentally predatory system that bore it as an overall good thing, at least not when there’s still a chance to fight it. A love for chocolate milk really brought me out of my shell and helped me connect with several other children like me in elementary school, but I’ve still got to remember, now that I’ve become socially conscious, that those of chocolates came from child slave labor in Ivory Coast and that those fond memories were ultimately a product of a very deliberate effort put forth by the brand-loyalty agencies that first put that chocolate in my hand. (This example is not to suggest that this is on the same degree of being a lone ray of hope in a queer youth’s life, because it’s not. I’m just being tired and inarticulate.) I applaud this article for pointing out all the faults of this show along with its benefits. We can’t afford to sweep that under the rug.

  • davenj

    Visibility matters. Definitely.

    That said, Glee is extremely problematic in the way that it handles basically every minority character on the show, and I mean every single one. Kurt may get the best of it, or perhaps the new guy played by Darren Criss, but the way the show treats religious, ethnic, and racial minorities, as well as those with disabilities, is pretty sketchy.

    It seems that Glee can get away with this by being pretty decent with dealing with homosexuality, and on a major broadcast network show, but this is also a show that paired the two Asian characters it had because of their “special Asian bond”, pushed Mercedes to the background while tokenizing her as a diva, and treats its Jewish characters as either self-centered or lecherous.

    As for its disability issues, they’re basically innumerable.

    Glee is a fun show, but it has no qualms using the same old tactics of othering minorities for a laugh or to serve a plot point. It may be at its best with Kurt, but it can also get very, very nasty.

    It’s nice that Glee portrays people of different backgrounds, but it’s going to take a lot more development and a lot less hack writing before it starts representing them.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ciaraanna/ Ciara

    I have also continued to question their decisions to bring the skinny white kids to the front. If they aren’t super skinny, they are fat, there is no normal in between. Also, I swear none of the young men at my high school looked like Finn, Puck, or Sam.
    Also, god, what did they do to Singin’ in the Rain! How can any fan be okay with what happened there.