Friday, February 24, 2012

Glee No Longer Gleeful and What Message Do We Owe Bullied Teens?

So. I'm going to go down a road today. I don't know where it will lead.  Bear with me.

Last night, I tuned in to watch a recorded episode of Glee and I've decided to just...give up watching cold turkey. I've been disappointed with the show for a long time, hung on for reasons I didn't fully understand: the music woven through story, the memory of a first season that had such a delicious dark humor.

The show has lost all that was smart about it.  No longer a commentary on the absurdity of high school, it shed all its gleeful irony.  Became preachy, melodramatic, a sappy soap opera that forced me to keep a waste-bucket near should I feel the urge to puke (which turned out to be every .5 seconds.)

The main reason this show lost all its appeal for me?  The writing. Which I can only describe as appallingly bad.  The characters became puppets. The writers took each character, threw it into a situation, forced it to to spit-up dialogue that made absolutely no sense given all the character had been through before it.  Character motives were messy.  Storylines had strange beginnings, no middle, and unearned neat endings that left me WTF-ing.

And then they took on 'issues'.  Or, I should say, they repeatedly took on one issue: bullying.  Or, I should say, they repeatedly took on one issue: bullying gay teenagers.

The first time, one gay teen endured months of bullying, then made the decision to leave schools (then return to the school for unexplained reasons. Wait. What?) 

The second time, a bullying teen herself was publicly outed as gay and promptly disowned by a family member (there has been absolutely no followup to this storyline.) 

The third time, a bullying teen himself, struggling to come out, immediately attempted suicide after one week of being tormented through facebook, twitter, tumblr (the show really enjoyed ticking off the likely social media suspects.)

I respect any medium that attempts to deal with this issue.  It is admirable. It is vitally important.  

I can not respect a show that takes on the issue three times and fails.

In my opinion, the show has done a great job accurately portraying what is really happening out there.  Bullied gay teens are forced to leave their schools, they are ostracized by family members, and they are attempting suicide, among a host of other scenarios the show will, no doubt, take on in the future.

However, the show has failed to leave us with the message we need to hear: THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.

Instead we get the I'm-better-off-dead, the maybe-someday-Grandma-will-love-me-again, the wistful dream of a better future, group hugs, and tears, tears, tears.

Here you have a show with a massive media following frenzy.  And they take the bullying issue, grab it by the horns over and over, beat me over the head, again and again with it and what?  Slink quietly into the shadows...

Where is the character who, rather than sitting in a hospital bed crying next to some dead flowers, stands up and shouts: SCREW ALL OF YOU. I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE.

File this under: Missed. Opportuntity. Repeated missed opportunity.

I'm so upset about this. I mean, really upset.  As in tossed and turned over it, wrote a stupid, ranting blog post, wondered what am I doing with my life, I should be setting up my own massive media frenzy following with my own anti-bullying campagin, why am I so freaking useless, upset.

A lot of you write for children and teens.  Some of you are children and teens (I think there's, um, one of you who reads my blog.)  What do you think we can do to strike a better balance?  To accurately portray an issue and, at the same time, send the message: THIS IS HAS TO STOP. NOW.  Who does this right?  What am I missing?


  1. I love the message Glee sends that it's okay to be different, but I'm with you on the frustration - I would love to stay with one character and go in-depth with their story instead of so much random jumping around. Like with Kurt - did everything suddenly magically get better just because one bully went away?

    The other week Artie had this awesome speech where he says something like, "I don't want to hear it gets better, I want it to BE better." YES! That's the kind of fight I'd like to see.

  2. I haven't seen any of the second season of Glee, but from what I've heard, you're not the only person who feels it is a letdown after season 1. It's sad to hear, because it was so brilliant the first time round.

  3. I never could get into Glee because it felt like all the characters were "types" meant to fulfill some Affirmative Action checklist and not real people. And I agree that doing a lot of hand-wringing about bullying doesn't solve anything. The moral responsibility of writers for kids is not simply to highlight problems, but also to creatively imagine and portray what positive solutions might look like. If this is your passion, please be a leader! We need folks like you blazing trails! :-)

  4. I haven't had the chance to see all of the new season working second shift, but I have to agree that the show let me down when they didn't follow up with Santana's coming out to her grandmother.

    I've noticed a lot of terrible television show writing lately. It's disappointing and offensive, as though the writers don't feel we can handle better writing. Or perhaps they can't afford to employ top notch writers anymore. I've taken the same path that you choose with Glee, just to stop watching cold turkey.

  5. I've never watched the show, and I have to say I'm not very interested in catching up on Netflix, given your critique of it today. I have little tolerance for being spoon-fed platitudes about real complex issues, especially when they are as unsatisfactorily resolved as you describe.

    It's as if the writers don't think the viewers are smart enough to handle a more complex resolution. (And they aren't going to get any smarter after they've been trained to think this is what life should be like ...)

  6. I'm baffled by this show. I agree the first season rocked, but then it just got weird and instead of letting the lessons develop organically from logical story lines, I feel like I'm constantly being preached at--by people with an agenda.

    I think the reason that Hollywood isn't giving us a good solution is because they have absolutely no idea what to do about the problem of bullying. People do not bully others if they see them as real human beings with feelings and importance. You can't see someone for their worth as a human if they are simply a character to you or even worse an object. And who loves to portray people like this? Hollywood.

    I would NEVER bully someone, because even if I have different religious beliefs, political ideas, or even lifestyle choices, every person is worthy of my time. And I DID NOT learn that from TV. I learned it in spite of TV.

    Wow, you got me all ranty too, Melissa :)

  7. Good post, good comments. I don't watch much TV so I can't comment on Glee, but I can say I like character-driven stories a lot better than message-driven ones. Melissa, you've already said what you need to do: create a real character and give him or her a real stand-up moment.

  8. You articulated that so well. I loved the first season, downloaded a ton of their music, and then suddenly couldn't stand it anymore. I always felt like the writers were writing what they thought we wanted instead what a good storyline actually was. I became more and more disgusted until finally I deleted it from my DVR. I like that you analyzed this from a writer's point of view instead of entertainment. These observations are what makes you a good writer!

  9. I have not seen this show, but it tends to happen in these times that much in the media is geared to sensation. I know that it is sensational to be in one's teens and searching for a way to go in life, sometimes clawing to find oneself ... but some of these protrayals are stereotypes and not real at all. To portay one aspect and not the whole and to latch on to a 'theme' that is current, to my mind is not art/drama and not good writng nor scripting.

    Of course, I am an older person, but I write, at the moment, for youger people and I feel that there needs to be some credibility and knowledge that those who are reading (watching) are perhaps twice as clever/ talented as oneself ... and should be treated in every aspect with dignity.

    Maybe this does not make much snes, but I am sure that you will 'get the drift' Melissa.

    And thank you for your comments on my blog!!

  10. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who stopped watching Glee cold turkey. Boo on getting preached at every episode. And if I'm going to learn anything about bullying, it won't be from watching that show.

    I write for the youngin's and I tackle some heavy subject matter, but I've tried to make the protag become a stronger person even though she struggles through a lot of crap. I think that's the most important thing to display, that there is a way out, other than suicide, drinking, sex... all that stuff teens deal with on a daily basis.

  11. Oh girl, tell it! I love how you explained how I've felt. I stopped watching it awhile back just because it was getting ridiculous. I would love to see another show, just as loved with some real depth. Not really helping you with ideas on practical ways to help, but I agree with your thoughts.

    Thanks for your sweet words on my Little Red Dress experiment. And yes, I'm going to do the hacky-sack challenge in it! :D
    Catherine Denton

  12. I never got into the habit of watching Glee, and now I'm glad I didn't. I have a hard time with TV, period. I think that's why I stick so much to books because they so much more often feel real. Not always, but more often.

    (And did I just hear Catherine say she's doing the hacky sack challenge in her red dress?! WHOOO HOOOOOO!!!)

  13. I felt the same way about the writing on the last season of Lost. It was just thrown together and made weird for the sake of making it didn't make any sense to me.

    I'm a reality show junkie...So I'm no help.

  14. Like you, I loved Glee the first season. Having worked in a program much like the one depicted in the show (I was the mute accompanist, always at the piano while major shenanigans were going on everywhere else, ready to start playing at a moments notice), it was fun to watch it dramatized and glamorized on TV.

    But also like you, I stopped watching cold turkey. I work in a middle school now, with children who are 11, 12 and 13. They all watch that show - and while I know it's their parents responsibility to monitor what their kids are watching, there is so much on that show that simply isn't appropriate for kids that age, and it was making me angry every week. There is an opportunity to be more than entertainment, and I think the show has sunk to a very puerile level.

    It's too bad, because the music is good and I loved that part.