Sunday, September 13, 2009


I am in a rare minority--people who can no longer applaud and recommend Fox's debut musical hit, "Glee". I watched the pilot, and like most viewers, I fell in love with the music and the "Phoenix-like triumph of nerds and misfits" storyline. I was so busy toe-tapping and regressing back to my own sweet high-school choir days that I overlooked some questionable plot elements. So last week I Tivo-ed the show and I finally got around to watching it last night. I didn't even finish it. That's how saddened and disturbed I was by what I was seeing.

Glee could have been a great family show--one of those rare TV moments a parent could pop some corn, gather the kids together and share an evening on common ground. But though Glee is glossed up to appear youthful and fun, it's themes are controversial, even for adults. Glee producers self-proclaim the show to be a "dark comedic satire", and dark, in this case, appears to mean dirty. In one choreographed segment the six members of the Glee Club are grinding out a sexually explicit song, complete with dance moves that left very little to the imagination. It was like Hustler--the musical.

I also took offense at the reverse stereotyping. The off-beat characters are the most sympathetic while the one religious character, (the president of the Celibacy Club) is the most mean-spirited and hypocritical character in the cast, a girl who will trade her standards in like poker chips to get what she wants.

I also took great exception to a plot line involving the sanctity of marriage. McKinley High School's Glee Club advisor is Will Shuester, a morally-upright man who has become the romantic obsession of the school's socially and emotionally-challenged counselor, Emma Pillsbury. Blind to her feelings, Will eludes to martial problems at home, and Emma responds by offering comfort and counsel, exploiting the differences between the beleaguered husband and his materialistic and narcissistic control-freak wife. Okay, it's not Fatal Attraction, but the subtle, underlying message is very disturbing. Sympathies run so strong for good-guy Will and backwards Emma, and so strongly against the self-involved wife that you can hear people cheering all the way back here in Baltimore for Will to leave his wife and end up with his co-worker.

Now, why should this bother me? For one thing, this is the only heterosexual marriage portrayed in the series, and it is the most dysfunctional one in a cast where every other strange relationship, (ex. two gay dads who father the Glee Club's prima donna by surrogate), is portrayed as "normal" and functional.

Secondly, the only "normal" cast member is Will, the quiet hero. But he is bring written in such a way that viewers will want him to "fall" and become "flawed" in order to be happy. Now there's a fine message.

Glee pokes fun at every traditional family value, but why should that matter? What danger can one show cause?

As an author, I know all too well how entertainment affects opinions, and therefore culture. Look at the ripples from the Twilight books and all the merchandising done around the Hannah Montana show, or pick up any fashion magazine and the billions of dollars spent convincing you what beauty is and isn't. A generation ago people were apoplectic over Sonny and Cher living together out of wedlock. Now an entire magazine industry is based on feeding readers' hunger to know the details of every Hollywood affair.

Issues and core values are harder than ever to maintain. By painting the controversial with humor, or by wrapping it up in victimization, what was once troubling becomes the object of our empathy, until after seeing it frequently enough, instead of being alarming, it becomes the norm. Then, like the frog in the pot, we become deadened to the danger it poses to our values.

Hollywood and those who want to change our values don't need to march in the streets or fight the courts. All they need to do is cleverly write it into our entertainment and then wait for the messages to distort our core values, tell us that good is judgmental and evil is inclusive.

In our foolishness we often believe we are wise enough to sort out the distortions and therefore we can enjoy the show without being affected by it. I know a frog who used that same logic.

If you love the show and want to ask Fox to clean up its act, you can join Fox's Viewer Panel and have a voice in their programming.

But all of us need to take a more vigilant stand on what entertainment we allow into our homes, and one way of doing that is to pause and ask ourselves what principles can be pulled from a scene.

Consider a scene where a supposedly chaste young woman offers to surrender her virtue to get something she wants. What spirit does one feel simply by reading that scenario? And what principles could a young person absorb from it?

Does the question make us uncomfortable? I hope so. It's still not too late to turn off the stove.

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