I love this show. I’m not afraid to admit it. The raw talent of the cast, the character development, the geekiness, the music (duh), and the wonderful caricature of the American high school experience. I come back week after week for the clever plot lines and dialogue, and the overall impeccable artistry. I know what some of you are thinking–Glee is just a show about sex-crazed teenagers, pushing a liberal agenda! How can you watch that stuff and call yourself a Christian? And you’re right… on the surface. If you look deeper, you’ll find more depth—just like with teenagers come to think of it. They can be a mess on the outside, seemingly concerned with nothing but what’s superficial, shiny, sexy; but if you take the time to look deeper, wow; what perspective, passion, potential. (Whereas we adults tend to keep our messiness better concealed.)
Glee has such high appeal in part because almost everyone, both in and out of high school, feels like somewhat of a misfit; and Glee is show which highlights that fact and how essential it is for us as unique and even flawed human beings to have a safe place to be unique and even flawed, giving us our common ground back and showcasing what the Church ought to: hospitality. The show also has lots of appeal because it’s good art: it’s well made and speaks to the human condition. If we don’t want to forfeit our influence in our world, then we need to be more discerning about art: just because a show (or song or sculpture or painting or novel) depicts unChristian ethics or values doesn’t mean it’s bad art. Likewise, just because a piece of art depicts Christian values doesn’t mean it’s good art.
Sometimes the art we come in contact with will match up pretty solidly with the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture. Sometimes it represents the complete opposite ideas about what life is like and what it means to be human. But most of the time, as with the TV show Glee, we are presented with ideas that partly conform to Christian doctrine or ethics, or are but a shadow—”All truth is God’s truth.” Art comes out of the ideas in the heart and minds of the women and men who create the work, and Romans 2 tells us that God has written his truth on the hearts of all people. Certainly Glee is a shadow, and at times, in that shadow are moral messes and liberal agendas. So we have to watch Glee with through the lenses of our biblical worldview. We have to watch Glee with our brains turned on.
Watching Glee with our brains turned on, we can be aware of and reject what goes in opposition to a biblical framework, and affirm what is good, even if those good qualities and ideas about life fall short of what Christ gives as we pray his Goodness come; his Good be done (Mt 6:10). My favorite quality about Glee is the unexpected dives into full-bodied, deeply human characters. And it’s Glee’s knack for flipping expectations and busting through the stereotypes, it setup itself, that allows me to write the following as a way of merely observing while withholding judgment, because you never know when Glee will flip something. So what are Glee‘s flat places that I’m hoping will curve and plunge and flip? Well, I’m afraid they’re pretty typical: A woman’s choice; hypocritical, asinine christians; “I knew you were gay when you were three”; and my personal favorite, feelings-driven love. That’s where I’m going to camp out, but I will make a small note about a woman’s choice. This problem goes deeper than abortion. Because regardless of whether or not we murder the child (and the good news is that more and more people (and movies and other social media) paint abortion in a negative light and favor life), when the choice is all Her’s, we kill off the humanity of the father too. He becomes just a sperm donator. There’s a very important episode of Glee admonishing young men to treat women like persons and work against objectifying them. There needs to be one about how women objectify men.
Which leads me to feelings-driven love and false romantic ideals. Have you ever stopped to think about what books and movies and TV shows and pop songs are all telling us about what love is and what ideal romance looks like? If you haven’t noticed, love is a feeling. And romance is an intense, often tumultuous, chemistry-infused whirlwind affirmed by good sex great sex.
Already there are some elements of the romantic plot-lines in Glee that cause me to be hopeful that things will flip, but until they do, the following scenes perfectly expose the love = feelings definition that we know in our heads isn’t right but aren’t doing much to counter in our own lives.*
Before I dive into the scenes, a little Will & Terri Schuester background:
Once upon a time Will, the goody choir boy had a crush on an older girl named April. That didn’t work out so he dated and subsequently fell in love with Terri. Together for many years, their marage [sic] appeared to grow stagnant until Terri announced she was pregnant. Will was quick to step up to be the daddy despite his wandering eye for the ginger co-worker [Emma]. (Glee Wiki)
Okay. Scene: Will finds out Terri’s been faking the pregnancy and freaks out (naturally). After ripping the pregnancy pad from Terri’s waist, Will tearfully tries to make sense of his upside-down world:
Why did you do this to us? I don’t understand.
I thought you were leaving me. You’re so different, Will. We both know it; I can feel you, you’re pulling away from me.
Why, because I – I started standing up to you, trying to make this a relationship of equals?
No, because of the damn glee club! Ever since you started it you just started walking around like you were better than me.
I should be allowed to feel good about myself!
Who are we kidding, Will? This marriage works because you don’t feel good about yourself.
I loved you Terri, I really loved you.
I’m so sorry, Will. I’m so sorry. Do you remember at that appointment? Do you remember what we said? That at that moment, no matter what happened, we loved each other. We could get that feeling back again. You could love me back, Will. (“Mattress”)
Next episode. The Glee Club kicks tail (and Lea Michele does the best “Don’t Rain on My Parade” I’ve ever heard) and take Sectionals, after which Will comes back home for the first time since he left to change clothes for Emma’s wedding.
I want you to know I’ve been seeing a therapist. It’s just at the local community center, but still.
Good. I hope it works out for you.
I’m taking responsibility, Will. I mean, I’m weak, and I’m selfish, and I let my anxiety rule my life. But you know I wasn’t always that way. It’s just that I wanted so many things that I know we’re never gonna have. But that was okay as long as I still had you. Will… say something.
I’m looking at you, and I’m trying… I mean, I really want to feel that thing I always felt when I looked at you before, that feeling of family, of love. But that’s gone.
I don’t know. (“Sectionals”)
So there it is. Love = feelings and this distorted love defines our relationships and whether or not they’re worth fighting for. At least for episodes 12 and 13… The writers have very cleverly set things up so that we experience the relationship almost entirely from Will’s perspective; and we are set up to dislike and distrust Terri and root for Emma. We sooth ourselves for hoping Emma and Will get together even though Will is married to Terri because Terri is selfish, often mistreats Will (and others), and is antagonistic toward Glee, the one thing outside of family that makes Will come alive. While Emma is adorable and caring and seems to have more in common with Will; she’s entirely the lovable underdog we love to cheer for.
But… I kind of feel as though Glee is setting us up to see ourselves for what we really are: unsympathetic, quick to judge and slow to search for the whole story, quick to follow and go after what feels good rather than what is good. Because while Terri Schuester says and does a lot of things that make us question her right to take up space (without the comic relief of Sue Sylvester), there are these deftly placed moments—those Glee-moments—where Terri is human, vulnerable and hurting. And you begin to feel sympathy and find yourself thinking… Is this a trick?
So we’ll see what happens. With each new episode I look forward to more plot twists, magical musical numbers, Sue Sylvester quotes, and busting of social myths and categories.
*A 2008 survey on the divorce rate in America: about one in three. (And Christians? Largely the same: about one in three.)
Christian porn and masturbation and the connection to fantasy-inflated expectations of real life.
“Christian” novels are just as bad, if not worse, at proliferating a false romantic ideal.