September 24, 2010

Top 5 Problems with Glee: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Season 2 Premiere

Filed under: Television — Tags: , , , , — anita @ 6:00 am

by Anita Sarkeesian
Crossposted from Feminist Frequency

Tuesday night’s season premiere of Glee may have been one of the most offensive hours of television I’ve watched in a long time. It seemed like every minute or two they would make another sexist, racist or homophobic joke. I was afraid Glee was going in a bad direction after the first few episodes of season one but none-the-less I kept watching. I understand the popularity surrounding Glee because it’s a fun show with silly over the top characters, and I’m kind of a sucker for musicals, however the offensive stereotypes masked in humour as well as continuous tokenizing has taken it’s toll. The season two premiere had me enraged.

Glee is a show that stars mainly white characters with a secondary cast of token “minorities” which is illustrated by the fact that only the white cast members were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. The show is notorious for tokenism. It does so by including a limited number of individuals from oppressed groups to make a TV show (or workplace) “feel” more inclusive while maintaining the status quo. In this case the status quo is white and heterosexual. Token characters are usually relegated to a secondary or sidekick role. In Glee, nearly all the secondary characters are tokenized even as the writers attempt to cover it up by “special episodes about –insert oppression here–”.

There were so many problems with the season premiere that it would take me pages and pages to write it all out so here are my top 5 issues.

#1 TRANSPHOBIA & HOMOPHOBIA

In this episode we are introduced to Sannon Beiste (pronounced Beast – I CANNOT believe they had the nerve to name her Beast), the new female football coach at McKinley High. Immediately Beiste is made ridiculous because of her name, her appearance, her gender and her profession. The writers used all this to make jokes at her expense playing up her perceived sexuality and gender identity without ever mentioning it. Although Beiste does not necessarily self identify as lesbian or transgendered the writers are clearly playing on transphobia. I’ve already seen posts on the internet inquiring about the actor’s “real” gender. They did attempt to add complexity to her character by bringing in a bit of a back story which I appreciate but it doesn’t make up for endless homophobic and sexist jokes. Also they consciously chose to name her Beiste, a “butch” and monstrous name to match their casting, costuming and writing of the character. They clearly did this to create a hyper stereotyped caricature of a masculine or ‘butch’ woman with endless possibilities of homophobic and sexist jokes. Characters on the show that have a non normative gender presentation and don’t fit neatly into traditional “male” or “female” identities are often ridiculed; this even happens with Sue, the villain that everyone loves. Beiste is initially made fun of by other characters and framed as an outsider. Later the audience develops more sympathy for her through Will as he begins to see that she is a “person” too despite her monstrous appearance and behaviour. Although we are supposed to have more tolerance and some measure of sympathy by the end of the episode, she is still an over the top stereotyped, caricatured “other”.


#2 “FAKE” SEXUAL ASSAULT & RAPE

I’m so tired of the fake rape plot point in TV shows. Writers often use it because it provides a seemingly unpredictable twist in the narrative, but in this episode it’s just played for comedy. It’s another case of writers having fictional women use the fake accusation of rape or assault to destroy an individual as a personal vendetta. Sue convinces Brittany to accuse Coach Beiste of sexual assualt in order to get her fired. Although it is clearly and obviously a plot point played for laughs, the pervasiveness of this trope creates an environment where real women are thought of as suspect when reporting rapes and assaults. In the real world these sorts of false accusations are extremely rare especially in contrast to the real world epidemic: 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Read the last 3 issues over at Feminist Frequency >>



7 Comments »

  1. Glee is not homophobic, racist, etc. For many reasons that I am not going to go into (you can read about the problem with the idea of movies/tv shows being sexist here http://anthroeye.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/why-anthropology-proves-toy-story-3-is-not-sexist/).

    The quick and dirty issue with your arguments is that Glee is not propelling homophobic/racist/sexist beliefs and practices, it is drawing them out, displaying them and beginning a dialog about them. This is a good thing.

    The scene with Rachel in the bathroom with Sunshine is not meant to show you that this is how Asian international students should be treated It is meant to make you uncomfortable and provoke thought about the way you treat others. Glee is an exaggeration of everyday social issues. Glee was not making fun of Sunshine for being Asian. It was making fun of Rachel for being ignorant.

    While you may feel that these issues should not be joked about, you should know that some of the most potent and powerful discussions of social issues occurs in comedy and joking cross-culturally. If you are interested, I would recommend reading up on the Anthropology of comedy and jokes.

    Comment by Angela — September 24, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  2. Since you posted this comment previously on Feminist Frequency, you can read my response there: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2010/09/top-5-problems-with-glee-season-two-premiere/comment-page-1/#comment-5348

    Comment by anita — September 24, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

  3. [...] that the heartfelt show is losing its warmth.” This assertion is ridiculous: It’s the transphobia, sexism, tokenism, racism, ableism, use of stereotypes as characters, clichéd story lines and lazy [...]

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  4. I have been watching Glee for a while now and it was disappointing to see the representation of coach Beist, especially with Sue making fun of her (funny how she should make fun of Beist considering she is a lesbian in real life). But aside from that I hope that the whole critique kicks in soon because so far it is not doing a good job at it. Since I consider myself a Glee fan, I hope that this show doesn’t let me down again! Thanks for pointing these issues out, I thought I was the only one who felt this way.

    Comment by ElizabethP — November 19, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

  5. [...] I watch Glee.  I like the music.  But I understand that there are often problems with the way they handle certain topics on the show.  For instance: Bipolar Disorder, problems with their “diverse” casting, really a whole myriad of issues. [...]

    Pingback by Where Else But Glee? « Speaker's Corner — December 3, 2010 @ 7:59 am

  6. [...] the easy way out. Their intention of increasing visibility might be commendable if they took on other issues fans have with the show. Announcing at a panel that one of their female characters was a lesbian smells of a gay-for-pay PR [...]

    Pingback by Do you hear the people sing? ugh. « Pop Culture Pirate. — May 20, 2011 @ 4:46 am

  7. [...] show. (Don’t take my word for it. You can read articles on some of the problems with Glee at Feminist Fatale and Think Progressive). It’s important to approach it with an extremely critical eye [...]

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