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Culture in Context

A call to abandon "Glee"

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I have one question for the masterminds behind “Glee”: How dare you?

“Glee” has ruffled quite a few feathers during its four-season run. In its quest to emphasize acceptance and tolerance, it has featured a transgender high schooler, sexual relationships between teachers and high school students, a high school student working as a dancer in a strip club, a college-aged prostitute and sexually active and promiscuous high schoolers — both gay and heterosexual.

That’s a laundry list of things that tend to ruffle people’s feathers. Yet none of those things have kept the show from regularly bringing in millions of views — including me. Many Christians could watch one episode of “Glee” and any number of things would have them ask, “How dare you?” But it has taken me far longer than that. Sure, I’ve been offended, I’ve even been scandalized — the high school stripper in particular stands out.

But it took until last Thursday, when I joined nearly 7 million people watching “Glee,” for me to become truly outraged and want to stomp into the studio and ask anyone I could find: How dare you?

The episode opened with a black screen and white letters spelling out a warning that this episode would be addressing school violence: “Viewer discretion is advised.” I tensed up; school violence is a very hard topic. But sensitive topics, when handled correctly, make great art. The show’s reputation of throwing out random, difficult topics without handling them carefully didn’t give me much hope.

Sure enough, the episode began as usual. There was high school drama, liberal values and peppy karaoke. In fact, by the time school violence was introduced — two gunshots rang through the school 30 minutes into the one-hour show — I had completely forgotten about the warning. For about 10 minutes the “Glee” kids hid in the choir room, scared and crying. They made amends, thought about what really matters — everything you expect in such a moment.

Yet there were no more gunshots. No gunman came to the door. And after 10 minutes a S.W.A.T. team cleared the campus: No gunman was found. Following a slight misdirection, it was revealed that a recurring character with Down syndrome, Becky, brought the gun to school because she was trying to learn to protect herself before she graduates into the real world — she had no intention of shooting her classmates — and the gun misfired twice.

Moments after this revelation, the episode returned to normal. Bursting with relief that they were not harmed, the “Glee” kids filled the final 15 minutes of the episode with more high school drama and karaoke. By this time, one word was pounding through my head: irresponsible.

That is the charge I lay at the feet of the minds behind “Glee”: You are irresponsible. You cannot spend 15 minutes on a school shooting. You don’t get to finish the episode as usual, with a feel-good song that brings all the kids back together. You cannot spit in the faces of all of the families who have lost loved ones in mass shootings by not even allowing the topic an entire episode’s attention.

You are irresponsible. You do not get to pawn the guilt off on a girl with Down syndrome — to use her disability as an explanation for such an act, avoiding the task of actually creating a shooter with motivation. You do not get to tell 7 million people that a girl with Down syndrome, when scared, will immediately bring a gun to school. You do not get to break down the communication between the Down syndrome community and those outside it with such lies.

I should have turned “Glee” off when it featured a high schooler working as a stripper to make money. And I should have turned “Glee” off when a high school character had sex with his high school teacher. But I didn’t. I’m not proud of that; it’s just true.

But I won’t be a part of this problem. I won’t support a show that uses the topic of mass shootings to boost its ratings — if the goal were actually to talk about this horrible subject in an edifying manner, it would have been handled with more time and more care. I won’t turn “Glee” on again because I am sickened by its abuse of the Down syndrome community and the victims of mass shootings.

I hope I’m not the only one. I hope some of you have already made the decision, or might think about it because of what I’ve written here, to turn the TV off. I know it’s unfortunate; “Glee” is a fun, light-hearted thing to watch after a long day of classes. But I believe it has done unpardonable damage with this episode. I can’t ask the creators of “Glee”: How dare you? I can’t ask anyone anything. I’m just a viewer. The loudest thing I can do, the loudest thing we all can do, is shut off the TV.

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. Amanda

    Thank you! If Christians across the States decided to turn off Glee it would make a very loud sound. Thank you for your vulnerability and willingness to see through the poppy harmonies and eye-catching theatrics of the show for what it is: an opportunity for the TV network to make money by pushing buttons and boundaries. I watched through the first and part of the second season before I realized how toxic 'Glee' can be. April 18, 2013

  2. Seriously?

    You completely missed the point of the entire episode. This was intentionally created in light of recent shootings to show the scary times we live in and how to deal with them. While Glee may not represent Christian values, it does represent things going on in America and things people struggle with. How many current shows on tv have a character with down-syndrome portrayed accurately and as unflinching as glee? Though you may find homosexuality wrong, this show has helped thousands of struggling gay teens and even prevented suicides. Glee gives a voice to the voiceless and represents people of all sizes, colors, races, lifestyles and religions. They even have a Christian character who is not represented in a negative light, unlike most other shows. Though you may have been offended by the gun scare in this episode, this accurately portrayed the fear people have and the honesty that comes when life or death situations occur. And the ultimate thing that should be taken away is that Sue cared so deeply for down syndrome Becky, that she took the fall for her and got fired from the thing she loved more than anything, showing true love and sacrifice. The boyfriend of Lauren Rousseau, the substitute teacher who was killed at sandy hook said, "“As long as it keeps the subject in the public’s mind I’m all for it. My Lauren was a huge fan of the show. So I’m sure she would have approved.” Glee deals with a lot of uncomfortable things, especially for Christians, but they are things that should be addressed and not pushed under a rug. Christians should get out of their bubble and realize that in a hurting world, things do happen; some people may live in poverty and have to provide for their family and that may mean feeling that the only way to do that is to work at a strip club. I understand your right to your opinion, but this piece came off as very harsh, elitist, and judgmental. April 19, 2013

  3. Lauralyn Koontz

    Amanda, thanks so much for your support. I know my opinion probably isn't a popular one, so it's very nice to know I'm not alone.

    And to "Seriously?",

    Thanks for your your comment. I was not surprised to get it as I am guessing your belief is the one held by most people. I'd like to address some of your concerns.

    "While Glee may not represent Christian values, it does represent things going on in America and things people struggle with."

    What I listed at the beginning of the article, all of the things that tend to offend people, was not meant to be all of things that have offended me — I was just laying out many of the controversial topics of show. Notice that I never said I should have stopped watched the show because it "may not represent Christian values." My problem with the show isn't that the show deals with things I may or may not agree with — but that it throws them in irresponsibly and without care. I don't want those things "pushed under the rug," but dealt with carefully.

    The high school stripper and the high schooler sleeping with a teacher are two examples of the creators of Glee using things for shock value, rather than giving a voice to the voiceless. For instance, the teacher-student relationship scenes are short and thrown in, and while the teacher feels bad for sleeping with the student, there are no consequences for the actions. She just feels kind of bad, so they stop. The scenes didn't scratch the surface of reality — the struggles of teachers with over-sexual students, how students can feel taken advantage of sexually by an inappropriate teacher, or how fast that teacher should have been fired. They handled a real situation, yes, but did so very irresponsibly.

    "Though you may have been offended by the gun scare in this episode, this accurately portrayed the fear people have and the honesty that comes when life or death situations occur."

    See, my problem with the episode is that it didn't "accurately portray the fear people have." Right after the the shooting, the kids were dancing and singing and worried about the girl they have a crush on again. The scars from shootings run deep, but in order to do that accurately the show would have had to give the topic more time — which they did not.

    And lastly, "How many current shows on tv have a character with down-syndrome portrayed accurately and as unflinching as glee?"

    But Glee does not portray Down syndrome accurately. Becky is rude, mean, crude and brings a gun to school on a whim — with no violent past or real motivator beyond one conversation with Brittney. This is a horrible misrepresentation of people with Down syndrome. This not to say no person with Down syndrome makes inappropriate jokes, but Becky is not dealt with carefully. In earlier seasons she and Sue had a very charming story line, now Becky is just used to hear shocking things coming from a girl with a mental disability. April 19, 2013

  4. Skypsulky


    December 13, 2013

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    December 16, 2013

  11. Jim

    Its a good thing you got into Biola. Had you been writing at an Ivy league school or a reputable college this article wouldn't get a higher than a C. Nothing you said could be further from the truth. Do kids get shot a school by gunmen at school, yes. Do kids bring weapons to school that accidentally get discharged, yes, and it happens much more than a random shooter.

    News is a business young lady. That means you hear about the things that draw attention, which means accidental gun discharges at schools where no one is hurt are rarely in the news. That because its not near as dramatic as a shooting. But it happens much more than gunmen killing sprees. So maybe Glee was more like true life than your condemnation of Glee is. March 22, 2014

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