Looking back on TV shows from your youth can be a time fuelled by nostalgia or cringe, and sometimes even a tragic combination of both. For me, that show is Glee. Even if you didn’t watch it, it was everywhere in its prime years of 2009 to 2012. So, what makes it such a guilty pleasure?
When I started to watch Glee, I was 12 years old and in that fun period of questioning who the hell I was and where I fit in. For me, Glee was something that made me feel like I belonged somewhere – even though it was just on a screen. It tackled issues I was just starting to consider myself as I became more socially aware: teen pregnancy; religion; value judgements on weight; race and sexuality. The sexualities portrayed in Glee were so formative in my negotiations of my own sexuality, realising around the age of 13 or 14 that I was bisexual.[pullquote]this kind of representation felt ground-breaking and important[/pullquote]
That was definitely aided by characters like Kurt, and then Brittany and Santana as the show progressed. Even now, I recall nostalgic memories of being excited over Kurt and Blaine (Klaine, for those who also spent their tragic youth on Tumblr) having their first kiss and singing together, or the hope for Brittany and Santana to just get together already! At the time, this kind of representation felt ground-breaking and important and I found it hard to pick faults with the storylines as I was so overwhelmed with excitement and its relatability.
Alas, that was a long time ago now. Times have changed and Glee has become dated already. Thinking about it now, I realise that the representation of bisexuality was incredibly flawed in the show; Kurt, a gay man, is frustrated when his boyfriend Blaine kisses a female friend at a party and suggests that “bisexual is a term that gay guys use in high school when they want to hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change”. Yikes. This claim is never opposed or addressed again, leaving this damaging stereotype out in the open for all to believe. Glee messed up time and time again with its problematic tendencies. Tokenistic treatment of minority ethnic characters (the silent underdeveloped Asian dancer Mike is a perfect example), transphobic jokes, false sexual assault accusation plotlines, stereotypical stock characters that promote damaging assumptions… the list goes on.
It’s sad to look back on a show that you truly once centred your life and activities around and realise that it was nowhere near as progressive as you thought it had been. I tried re-watching the first series a couple of years ago but it just wasn’t the same. I’ve learned too much about good onscreen representation and too much about how Glee got it so wrong to ever feel the same unabashed joy that I once did. Glee will always have a place in my heart for introducing me to so much and providing a sense of belonging… but damn, it really is a hot mess.