October 7, 2010

Am I the only one who was deeply, deeply confused and offended by Tuesday’s episode of Glee?

Because usually I side, as one assumes the show’s writers intend, with Will and Emma against Sue Sylvester. There’s the occasional wonderful moment in which we’re surprised because Sue is right and Will and Emma are wrong (e.g. Sue’s harsh coaching last season of Becky Jackson, the cheerleader with Down Syndrome, since to be more lenient with her would be holding her to a lower standard, discriminating against her based on her disability), but even then I’m exactly where the writers want me to be.

Which is why I was so baffled last night when everybody on the show except Sue and Kurt went fucking insane.

And, since it’s difficult for me to believe that such skilled writers put a character who’s usually in the wrong in the right and characters who are usually in the right in the wrong for no reason, the only conclusion I can reach is that Ryan Murphy thinks the Constitution of the United States is great and all but should be superseded by good intentions.

Because that’s what Thomas Jefferson’s “eternal wall of separation between Church and State” means in today’s society, or one of the things it means: religion stays out of public schools. Students are free to pray to any deity they like at any time they like, but an institution run by the government is absolutely forbidden to force other students to join them. And if Kurt doesn’t want to sing about God, then the Constitution of the United States says he doesn’t have to sing about God, and what Mr. Schuster and Mercedes and Finn’s grilled cheese sandwich want doesn’t make one iota of difference.

And then when they go and pray for Mr. Hummel in the hospital—at that point I came pretty close to turning off my TV and never watching the show again. Because it’s difficult for me to see a big difference between that and the monstrosity that is the Mormons’ baptism of dead Jews.

And then Mercedes takes Kurt to her church and he sees that really it’s not so bad, believing in God is really okay, maybe he was wrong, maybe he should give this God thing a try, except the entire scene was a fucking lie, because Evangelical churches—which this one clearly was—tend to frown mightily on guys who suck cock. If Mercedes had said, oh, and by the way my friend is gay, everybody in that room would have dropped Mr. Hummel in an instant and started begging Jesus to make the boy straight. (So as not to leave unremarked the elephant in the room, I’ll say simply that I have a lot of thoughts about the interactions of race and sexuality, but I’ll leave them for another time. The Evangelical horror of the love that dare not speak its name is no respecter of color.)

And so when Kurt was sitting there, starting to smile, my blood—long past boiling—began to head toward a gaseous state. Because this was dishonest storytelling. Misleading storytelling at the very least—it would be like showing Pontius Pilate in a good light because of his excellent hygiene. And that’s not something I’m used to from Glee, and it’s not something I’m interested in watching. The corporations that run this country tell me lies enough every day; I don’t need more from my art.

I think I might really have sworn off the show, if it hadn’t been for the hat Kurt was wearing.

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17 Responses to Am I the only one who was deeply, deeply confused and offended

  1. Brandon says:

    It was a rather fabulous hat. I was rather upset that they didn’t respect his wishes and just kept pushing prayer, but I was happy they didn’t give him a revelation of faith that solved it all.

    I definitely had a lot of mixed emotions running through. More than a little preachy.

  2. Yeah, I got a lot of mixed feelings also. Everybody spent the whole episode trying to make Kurt see just how AWESOME religion is. And I thought Mercedes was a real crappy friend for dragging him along to her church and outing him as a non-believer right ther on the spot. Bitch.

    I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, ready to throw something at the TV if he ended up “finfing jesus” by the end of the show. SO glad it didn’t happen.

  3. Jeff says:

    What bothered me most about the episode was the message that if you pray long and hard enough, God will wake your dad up from a coma. I almost wanted Kurt’s father to die and never wake up, if only to disprove this. What about all those people who pray and pray and still can’t prevent their loved ones from dying? How are they supposed to feel? Yes, this is TV, where miracles happen all the time, but if I wanted this kind of thing I’d have watched “Touched by an Angel.”

    It didn’t bother me quite as much as last season’s episode where Finn had to give up his private bedroom to share one with Kurt, and Kurt redecorated it, and Finn got mad, and for some reason we were supposed to side with Kurt, because hey, we should always side with fabulousness even at the expense of invading someone else’s autonomy and privacy. I found it to be, paradoxically, a rather suffocating, one-sided message about the proper way to express one’s individuality.

  4. Jeff says:

    (And yes, it’s true that Kurt wasn’t the one praying for his dad, but everyone else was, so it’s like we were supposed to think Kurt was wrong in not having faith in the power of prayer.)

  5. Travis says:

    @Jeff – It was Kurt’s bedroom that Kurt redecorated. Kurt wasn’t invading Finn’s privacy, Finn and his mother were moving into Burt and Kurt’s house.

  6. I wasn’t happy about the Dad-I-believe-in-you-oh-there-you-moved-your-thumb moment, either. In another context, it would have been no more objectionable than “clap your hands if you believe in fairies,” which has been a storytelling trope for millennia (Sleeping Beauty awoken by a kiss, etc.). But here it was more like, what, you don’t believe in GOD!? Well, come on, at LEAST you can believe in FAIRIES. And when seen as a move away from atheism toward theism it becomes much creepier.

  7. Michael says:

    I had a very different impression of this episode. I did feel like Sue and Kurt came off as the voices of reason, properly outnumbered as a reflection of the current state of our country.

    Also,I don’t think Kurt experienced any kind of conversion. Mercedes said he needed to find something sacred in his life, in whatever form. In the end he said what is sacred to him is relationships with those he loves. Nothing about god(s).

    Did I just spend this much time thinking about this?

  8. TED says:

    You weren’t alone in your interpretation and feelings, but I had an entirely different reading on the episode. It seemed much more balanced to me than to others, and I suspect that a lot of people saw the episode through the lens of their own experiences with religion and at the hands of the religious.

    I’m a non-believer, but I have a long and tempestuous history with religion. Still, I was very recently able to sit through my father’s evangelical memorial service and take comfort in the extremely religious music while thinking to myself “Boy, this is a load of horseshit,” when listening to the minister speak. Tolerance all around, please. I thought that’s what Glee was saying this week, too.

  9. Jeff says:

    Travis — thanks for the clarification. I need to stop multitasking while watching TV.

  10. Kerry says:

    I’m with Michael & TED. It was as TED succinctly summed it up, an episode about “Tolerance all around, please.” I just think it’s hard for anyone to not project their crap around religion onto anything like this. I thought it was one of their better episodes actually. In fact, the best of Season 2 thus far.

  11. Michael, I see what you’re saying, but to me it still felt very much like a continuum between atheism and religion, and so Kurt’s shift, even though it didn’t

    TED and Kerry, I definitely agree with you that we all saw the episode from the perspective of our own experiences with religion. But I can’t buy the tolerance-all-around argument, because it assumes an equal balance of power between the parties, which there isn’t. Those of us who don’t believe in a Christian God are at a disadvantage numerically and culturally, which means we already tolerate the assumption that we do and that, if we don’t, we should, and the ubiquity of Christianity’s influence. An extreme example of the same principle would be to say that both slaves and slave-owners should be more tolerant. Obviously atheists are a lot better off than slaves and a belief in God doesn’t create a bankrupt moral vision, at least not most of the time, but the principle here is the same—the stronger party is in the wrong, and to force both parties to make concessions pretends a moral balance that isn’t there.

  12. TED says:

    I don’t think you can reduce the discussion about religion in the public space to two sides, one of whom is clearly in the wrong. Atheists, of which I am one, like to claim the moral high ground, but I’ve seen several online discussions of this episode of Glee today, and it is usually the atheists who are the more strident. I know a great many religious people who have no interest in proselytizing or even mentioning their religion beyond the walls of their homes and/or churches. And I know plenty of atheists who are openly contemptuous of any form of religion. I’m afraid that I see comparing religion to slavery as both strident and contemptuous.

  13. PD says:

    It wasn’t Sue and Kurt against everyone else. The majority of regular characters, including the teacher, didn’t take a direct position.

    I don’t think there was the slightest suggestion that Kurt found religion in the church or when his father [conveniently] woke up. Kurt was presumably moved by the beauty of the song and his friend singing it to him.

    Christopher Hitchens is moved by the Christians who pray for a healing of his cancer, but he has not made a deathbed conversion. Not an identical analogy, but there is overlap.

  14. Faustus, MD says:

    TED, thank you for your comment, which I have removed along with its inspiration in order to save myself embarrassment. While I stand by my point, and while I think my stridency and contemptuousness are two of my more charming qualities, my only slightly sub-Godwinesque rhetoric did an injustice to the complexity of the issues involved and added little of value to the public conversation. Perhaps I’ll try again when I’ve gotten some sleep.

  15. Especially since my original post was about not religion but dishonest storytelling and the First Amendment.

  16. Marc says:

    Well, I am a little late to the party, but I will speak now that I’m here. I thought the episode was hideous. All kinds of wrong. Season Two started at a low and has gone down hill each week. I thought I would stop watching after the prior week’s Britney episode, but apparently I just couldn’t resist one more time…but I should have, because I was very turned off. I think I’m done with it. Too bad; I thought it had so much going for it in Season One. Now it just needs to go.

  17. Camden says:

    The hat was fabulous, but that’s not the reason I’m choosing to overlook the episode. I believe redemption is found in the young-Kurt-and-father flashback. Where did they find that child actor? He’s perfect.

    That scene where young-Kurt is teaching his father how to hold his pinky out properly while drinking tea was enough to not only excuse the horrible, sappy montage but also to leave me with a glimmer of hope after the show ended. From there I was able to pull myself out of the darkness with memories of the actual good moments of the show, like the first 5 seconds of Britney as Britney. Let’s hope future episodes don’t require such self-manipulating emotional rescue.


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