I think I have mentioned it before that I find Glee unwatchable. I have tried — twice, I think — to watch the TV show, but on both occasions, couldn’t tolerate it beyond the 20th minute. It was just too shallow for me.
Then a friend texted me the other day saying “Every teenager should be taken to watch Glee Concert” referring to the 3D version now showing in cinemas. I assume he had taken his son there.
Mystified by such enthusiasm, I asked, “Why so?”
His reply: “. . . has a real life gay teenager sharing his coming out and his growth to self acceptance. . . very affirming. Must be the first time an overtly affirming gay character and person are in a PG13 movie.”
Damn. Glee doesn’t do anything for me. Concert movies don’t do anything for me either. But checking facts out in the interest of gay activism and blogging is what I do. So I dragged myself and a friend to the movie, and for an hour and a half I had to resist the urge to run out of the theatre screaming.
My friend however, enjoyed it tremendously.
This is not to take anything away from the quality of the singing and dancing — they’re superb — and I guess they’re what a concert movie is about. But my frontal cortex was in revolt, constantly thinking of other things.
The thought that dominated was something that another friend had said a week or so ago. Referring to the four presidential candidates’ replies to the question on gay equality that I had asked at the 18 August forum organised by The Online Citizen, she said the various answers all sounded like lip service.
“Hey, don’t knock lip service,” I had replied.
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The path of an idea as it moves from the margins to mainstream has many stages. One of the most important is when people start paying it lip service, for that marks the point when contradicting the idea is seen as morally indefensible. Individuals may still behave in ways inconsistent with the idea, but somewhere deep down, they are conscious that their behaviour is no longer acceptable. For public consumption, they will park away their actual thoughts and behaviour and fall in line with socially expected positions.
Gay equality in Singapore has reached that stage. Generally speaking, it has become impossible to argue for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, though there remain pockets of resistance that couch themselves in convoluted language.
One example would be when extremely conservative Christians go on and on about loving the person and hating the sin — their position being that if only gay people desist from gay sex, they would be fine with it. I don’t know why they can’t hear themselves whenever they say that. It’s like saying, I have nothing against people with darker skin so long as they use whitening powder.
Another example would be when people pay lip service and then quickly make a reservation about not exposing children to it. Here the device is to use another morally indefensible position (that of hurting innocent children) to undercut a position (gay equality) which society expects adherence to, but which they as individuals actually resist, yet cannot do so openly. The reality of course is that children are fine with homosexuality, just as they are with heterosexuality. Where there may be a problem is when they are exposed to sexuality (whether hetero- or homo-) before they can handle it, in which case the real problem in our society is that there is too much of the hetero kind.
In the movie itself, there’s a borderline example of this. At around the 20th minute, the Slave 4 U number (by Britney Spears?) is performed by Heather Morris to highly sexualised dancing (see a video recorded by a concert goer). Is this suitable for 13-year-olds?
Of course it will be argued that such images and dance moves are now so common, no child is going to think twice about it; there’s nothing to worry about. But if so, it only makes it even funnier why similar dance moves performed by two women or two men to each other should be considered “too lewd” for children.
Lip service leads to token efforts at demonstrating the principle, but token efforts in turn can have positive effects of their own. As a principle is rendered visible, it is also rendered non-threatening, and what may have begun as tokenism gains substance. People know this instinctively. That is why there is some unease that with an elected presidency and such narrow criteria for eligibility, we lose something important — that of people of minority groups becoming the symbol of the state. People fear the loss of such symbolism can devalue the principle of inclusiveness.
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Coming back to inclusiveness, interspersed between the various performances in the movie are testimonials by real-life teenagers about overcoming their status as outcasts, thanks to Glee.
The hoopla is so relentless that the movie often looks and sounds like an infomercial. Its encouraging message — that “Glee” is good for you, especially if you’re an outsider and feel different from the popular kids — is continually reiterated
The most outspoken Gleek testimonial is that of Trenton Thompson, a gay teenager who was dragged out of the closet in the eighth grade after his journal was stolen by a friend and put on the desk of his secret crush. Trenton credits Mr. Colfer’s character for his determination to stand up for himself and be out and proud.
The two other most prominent Gleeks are Josey Pickering, an articulate, red-headed girl with Asperger syndrome (of which there is no sign), and Janae Meraz, a smiling, self-assured dwarf who was asked by her dream date to the prom, where she was crowned princess. The movie shows her ecstatic coronation, presumably a re-creation.
— New York Times, 11 August 2011, A Tutorial on Tolerance, With Beats and Upbeats, by Stephen Holden. Link.
If the New York Times’ review was damning, that from Time magazine was scathing.
Glee began, in September 2009, as a TV show about the glee club kids at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. Then, as this comedy-drama-musical bucked prime-time trends, became a solid hit and turned its misfit teens into role models, executive producer Ryan Murphy and his team also took on a mission: propagandizing for Otherness, for kids who are gay, fat, disabled, troubled, mentally impaired or just plain lonely. The message surely gives hope to outcast kids, and functions as a sharp skin-bracer to complacent adult; but the series, once an enclave for show tunes and classic pop, now takes itself so seriously that it could be called The Church of Latter-Day Songs.
— Time, 12 Aug 2011 , Glee The 3-D Concert Film: The Church of Latter-day Songs, by Richard Corliss. Link.
I found the comparison between Glee and megachurch religion wonderfully apt. Reviewer Corliss was spot on when he outlined how Glee had the five essential components that made religion: the Gods, the Faithful, the Gospel, the Hymns and the Miracles.
But I am digressing. I didn’t go to the movie to criticise it; I went there to verify what I was told. Indeed it was as my friend described it, with several scenes wherein gay teen Trenton Thompson spoke about being outed, having to change schools, and finally acceptance. And to the degree that such messaging, indigestible as it may be to a middle-aged guy like me, works for teenagers, spreading a message of diversity and humanity, I’m not about to diss it.
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Now comes the embarrassing part. Because I had not been following Glee on TV, I didn’t know (until my movie friend said “What? You didn’t know?” at 500 decibels) that through the gossamer thin story-line that it was made of, was a full-blown gay romance between teenage characters Kurt and Blaine:
I believe that the TV series is rated PG13 as well, which is why it is shown at the 10 p.m. slot on Channel 5. The Media Development Authority’s website says of this classification for TV:
Programmes given the PG 13 (Parental Guidance 13) rating contain more mature themes and/or scenes compared to PG programmes. These are therefore only allowed after 10 pm on Free-to-Air TV channels. Similarly, broadcasters are required to rate the programmes clearly and provide the appropriate viewing advisory.
What I can’t find anywhere — and I hope viewers can help fill in the gap — is whether Mediacorp cut the shows in any way to make it fit PG13. For example, I see in a tribute video uploaded by a fan of the series onto Youtube that there have been kissing scenes:
Does anyone recall seeing these scenes in the free-to-air TV version in Singapore?
If the program had not been mutilated, then over time, it is going to change attitudes among the young audience that watch Glee. And that’s why this is worth recording, despite the pain of having to sit through the movie. Between lip service by adults and the religion of inclusiveness propagated by media, things are not going to remain the same.