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

September 23, 2010

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.

 

#3 TOKEN ASIANS

Two characters whose names you probably don’t even remember are the “token Asians”. Tina and Mike are rarely featured characters and we don’t really know that much about them (do we even know anything about Mike other than his dancing ability?). During the introduction Tina and Mike used the accusations of racism to deny that they are dating. This down plays and trivializes the very real consequences of real world racism. It also perpetuates yet another myth that people of colour casually blame others for being racist so they can get away with something. The writers maintain racist representations further by having them fall in love at a summer camp for Asian stereotypes er… I mean, summer camp for “tech savvy asian kids”. And really, we learn about this through Artie’s imagination of what happened. It’s supposed to be funny that Artie (who is white) believes that this summer camp is full of Asian stereotypes, and the audience accepts this as fact since there is no other character there to contradict him. The show self consciously understands that there are Asian stereotypes and while they are trying to say that these racial stereotypes are bad they are actually creating and representing them as real.

 

#4 ALPHA MALE SYNDROME

I noticed in the first season that Artie’s dialogue is often sexist and misogynistic and that hasn’t changed. In this episode Tina is telling him that she wants to break up because he doesn’t really pay attention to her and he spends all his time playing video games. While Artie is defending himself he calls her “woman” in a condescending, sexist way. Two things happen from this interaction, 1. Artie completely disregards Tina’s concerns and reasons for breaking up with him. He pretty much ignores it and tries to be “macho,” join the football team and “get abs” to win her back. Artie is written as constantly trying to become an alpha male through ironic sexism and since he is one of the most sympathetic characters on the show we laugh along with the jokes. 2. Even though Tina had valid reasons for breaking up with Artie the writers discount all of that through an off handed joke. At the end of their conversation she says that she is attracted to Mike because of his abs.

 

#5 MAKING RACISM INTO A JOKE

Rachel’s treatment of the Filipino foreign exchange student, Sunshine was clearly and obviously racist. As audience members we know her assumption that Sunshine didn’t speak English and the way she spoke loudly and slowly to her was offensive. However I was disturbed at how seemly uncritical the show presented this, yes it was clear Rachel is being racist however Sunshine hardly reacts to her other then timidly stating “I speak English”. Sunshine just smiles at Rachel and then proceeds to sing a duet with her. If the writers had Sunshine actually react and respond to Rachel’s bigotry, then it could have been an anti-racist, teachable moment (which they have done successfully in the past with homophobia through Kurt’s character). Instead the scene was just played for laughs which made it really uncomfortable to watch.

Later on Rachel sends Sunshine to a crackhouse in a fit of jealously to stop her from auditioning for glee club. The problem with this is that in the mainstream media, through news media as well as TV and film, “crack house” is coded to mean a scary, dangerous place with poor, dirty, black drug addicts. It becomes a reoccurring joke throughout the episode when the characters repeat the word again and again reinforcing the fear of the “scary dangerous black person”. This comical and trivial use also perpetuates the myth that black folks are the majority of drug users in the U.S. when the reality is that drug usage between black and white folks is roughly equal.

Glee suffers from typical liberal politics by showing sympathy for the “other”. They are trying to show “normal” people (straight, white, male) that they should be “tolerant” of difference and “embrace diversity”. Herein lies the problem with this liberal belief, as Allan Johnson said in a speech:

I don’t use the word diversity in my work because I think the word diversity suggests that human beings have a problem with diversity, that we have a problem with human beings who are different from us, who look different, who talk differently, who eat differently, who dress or wear their hair differently. That there is something about seeing such people that makes us get kind of hysterical and crazy. But if you look at the history of contact among human beings who are very different from one another, it simply is not true… So difference by itself is not a problem for human beings which means that the solution to these problems is not to accept differences or tolerate them or even to celebrate them because the problem is how systems of privilege and oppression have been organized around these differences… Privilege and oppression are the problems which means that the solution is going to have to involve doing something about systems of privilege and the oppression that they cause.

The show rarely normalizes folks who deviate from the norm, it just asks you to accept or deal with them. It is frustrating to see these representations and jokes made on one of the most popular shows today, but even more so because the writers probably believe they are pushing boundaries and really embracing “diversity.” While Glee has an illusion of enlightenment on superficial or surface issues, they are still perpetuating deep seated bigotry. They are creating a space where racism, sexism, homophobia and ablism are prevalent and in the forefront of all the jokes. The show is not challenging discrimination and bigotry, they are maintaining the power structures that support oppressive behaviour.

ps. There have been some great articles written about the representation of ability on Glee, check out “‘This isn’t something I can fake': Reactions to Glee‘s representations of disability” in the Transformative Works and Culture Journal and “The transcontinental disability choir: Glee-ful appropriation” at Bitch Magazine.

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46 Responses to “Top 5 Problems with Glee: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Season 2 Premiere”

  1. Spot on critique. I’ve watched several episodes of GLEE, but not enough to call myself an expert or fan.

    But this episode was really, really offensive on many levels. If I was Sannon Beiste, and had to deal with a sexist, hostile work environment like she does here, I would have sued William McKinley High instead of having to take an apology from Will. Whats more cruel about that scene is that even Sue herself—the real ‘bully,’ absolved herself of any guilt or apology by staying true to her character’ quirks. By immediately demonizing Beiste from the outset, GLEE missed a big opportunity to make her an ally/friend of Sue and Will, and explore her perceived gender and/or sexuality in such a way that would invite and provoke a constructive discourse on identity. But its too late for that. Beiste has already become a target of hostility, ridicule, and verbal abuse—all for laughs. Its a characterization that like you said, fuels transphobia and homophonia into disturbing lengths.

    Its too bad Glee doesn’t move toward more positive and fully realized queer characters—such as Freaks and Geeks, which had an episode devoted to one of its main characters–Ken (played by Seth Rogen), having his girlfriend Amy reveal to him that she was born with an intersex condition—leading to a real nuanced, and complex portrayal of Ken confronting his initial transphobia and homophobia, and accepting Amy for who she is, without any form of patronization or guilt. Its no surprise that the episode, titled “The LIttle Things” won a GLAAD award.

    For a show that gets plenty praise from critics for being groundbreaking, genre defying, and ‘diverse’ in its characterizations, it seems that the writers struggle with racial and gender tropes.

    The scene with Rachel and Sunshine is one that has really played itself out in other television shows and films—where one character mockingly assumes their target’s questionable racial or ethnic identity by invoking an accent or perform ‘race drag’—and the audience is meant to laugh away that said character’s racism or bigotry as simply another example of their flawed personality (‘Oh, its just Rachel being Rachel. She’s not really racist.’).
    The more I watch GLEE, the more I am reminded of this growing wave of 80s nostalgia (which the show has shown reverence in several eps and song/dance numbers) that has swept pop culture, even drawing along its more troublesome aspects (the racism, sexism, tokenisms, etc…) too.

    When I see a character like Mike Chang (otherwise known as “The Asian Guy on Glee”) re-enforcing the silent, shy, almost asexual token male Asian stereotype…I think, “Have we really moved on from the legacy of Long Duk Dong, the Vietnamese exchange student in the films of John Hughes?” The writers of GLEE claim that Mike will be given a backstory in episodes to come, but considering the amount of characterization given to the white characters of the show, there really isn’t an excuse anymore.

    Do audiences even recognize these tropes you’ve mentioned? Is it fair to critique a show with a massive base of fans? The season 2 premiere drew in more viewers than its debut—12.3 million people tuned in. As long as shows like GLEE draw the audiences and the $$$, I’m somewhat skeptical that these disturbing facets of the show will be dealt with…unless for those ‘very special episodes’ that come during sweeps.

    In fact, the cold open merely made light of some of the more superficial criticisms directed by fans (and critics) of the show (Will’s affinity for particular music genres, Rachel (really Lea Michele herself–as she has been the target of many criticisms on and off set)’s abrasive diva personality, etc, etc)…with interviews made by a stereotypical ‘blogger’ (whose Jewish identity was made extremely obvious) on a mission to dig out the truth. Right from the get go, GLEE re-depicted a carnival of the racial and sexual grotesque play itself before our very eyes.

    All it means is that we must continue to engage in thoughtful, reflective critique–like your blog does here. :)

    They are not able to navigate that fine line between satire and stereotype. There are few shows on television that successfully juggle this, and when its done, its always a risky move.

  2. Oh my! It’s Ryan Murphy! This is what he does! Look at Nip/Tuck, people! You want offensive stereotypes? Sheesh.

    I’m getting so frustrated with people who get on a high horse instead of examining what Glee is and who it’s coming from. For Murphy, a gay man himself, to allow any homophobia is ridiculous. However, people are flawed — thus the characters are flawed.

    Was Sue right in what she did to Bieste? No! Did Will learn the error of his ways? Yes! Ryan Murphy likes to play with gender lines — which is why we have a butch female football coach at all this season.

    The token Asian thing is a joke within the show. It’s not serious; We’ve seen Tina have a storylone before. And the fact that she is dating Mike (“Other Asian”), means we might see more of her this season!

    Artie is a teenage boy! Of course his language is misogynistic. And if you paid attention at all, you would see that he is genuinely hurt by Tina’s actions. Perhaps this will make him reevaluate his actions and language going forward.

    Racism? Really? From one of the most diverse casts on television right now? Rachel acted that way to Sunshine because it’s Rachel’s way. She’s pigheaded and full of herself and doesn’t listen to those around her. It wasn’t meant for cheap laughs.

    The sexual assault thing was a little uncomfortable, yes, I’ll give them that.

    This article is ridiculous.

    Anita Reply:

    Your comments are discounting the social value and implications of these representations. They are not just characters you have grown fond of over watching the series (and yes I’ve seen every episode, and have actually enjoyed a few) they are carefully constructed representations, written, cast, and portrayed in very particular ways. It doesn’t matter that Will learned his lesson, the creators have established Beiste basically as a monster and even if we have sympathy for her she is still always going to be weird and different to most viewers, the writers could have EASILY made her character more acceptable and agreeable but they chose to exploit her difference.

    Just because the cast is “diverse” doesn’t mean it’s not racist, in this case, it is the content and the dialogue that dictates whether a show is perpetuating racial stereotypes, which it clearly is. And similarly, just because the creator is gay DOES NOT mean that he or she is going to write non-stereotypical, progressive characters, I have seen queer writers over and over again develop some offensive and/or stereotypical characters (Sex and the City, True Blood etc.)

    Oh and “Rachel’s way” is not a defense of uncritical racist behaviour. That’s like saying, oh well white folks in the south lynched black folks because it was their “way”.

    Sarah Reply:

    I don’t fund Beiste to be a monster. Nor do I have sympathy for her. She is a character that I am still learning. I don’t like the way she cut Finn, so I am unsure what to make of her. That has nothing to do with the way she looks or is constructed to look.

    I don’t think her difference could not have been exploited — she’s a female football coach! That’s different! We should be celebrating this difference, not tearing it down.

    You’re right, just because the cast of a show is diverse does not mean it’s not racist, but I fail to see, at Glee’s core, how exactly it’s racist. Is it racist on the surface? Yes. Dig deeper. Please.

    And again, the reason we are being bombarded with stereotypes is to break them down. I’m willing to bet that Kurt’s boyfriend will not be a stereotypically gay man, but rather will possess characteristics society typically does not bestow on gay men (e.g. he will be macho, a man’s man, etc.).

    Rachel is a character. And like any well-developed character, she has her own characteristics. Like any real person, they may not be right (or your feeling of right), but they still exist. You don’t have to like it, and if you don’t then don’t watch (or in real life, you would choose not to associate with that person).

    It is not like saying, “Oh well, white folks in the south back in the day lynched black folks because it was their ‘way.’ ” Actually, perhaps it is. Was lynching or slavery right? No. Did it exist? Yes. Why? It was where society was at the time. Is that an excuse? No. Do we still have the same problems today? To a certain extent, yes. Slavery still exists. People are still marginalized.

    Anita Reply:

    Sarah, I’m not going to refute each of your points because we will just continue to go back and forth. You are telling me to dig deeper, and I don’t think you can get much deeper then my analysis, I am looking at the nuanced representations and impacts of the characters and the writing. You are looking at how the (fictional) characters feel, what their hopes are etc. That is not being critical of the show and that is not looking at anything *outside* of the show. Your individual feeling about Beiste and my individual feelings have *nothing* to do with how her character is represented and the impact that has on transgendered folks in the real world.

    I would love the show if it were breaking down the stereotypes (and in some cases it has, especially with Kurt and his Dad) however, in most other cases it is not. It is perpetuating the illusion of being progressive while it reaffirms harmful stereotypes. This isn’t about how you feel about the show or how the characters feel, this is about the social impact of this show combined with the abundance of similarily harmful oppressive stereotypes in the mass media.

    Christina Reply:

    Sarah, going back to your initial response, I find one comment in particular to be highly problematic. You write: “Racism? Really? From one of the most diverse casts on television right now?” This is akin to saying “I’m not racist. My best friend is black.” Just because there are non-white characters on this show does not mean that they aren’t pushed to the side and represented in a very marginal way. And this is why Glee’s racism is not just on the surface.

    And I completely agree with Anita’s reply above – What you are saying is limited to how you feel about a character, or how we should feel about characters. And you’re right – we should look beyond the surface. We should be looking beyond the surface of the characters to the systemic barriers that allow this kind of marginalization to exist.

    For you to say “If you don’t like it, don;t watch it” does nothing except ignore the issue. I have seen every episode of Glee, love most of the musical interpretations, and even enjoy some of the story lines that do work to break down stereotypes. But at the end of the day, we are still left with a show that presents us with caricatures rather than characters. And not watching it does not mean that it will go away, become better, etc.

    Gina Reply:

    First off, for a clear example to something you said in the paragraph re: Rachel … A lot of people don’t like the President of our country, but they have to pay attention to what he’s doing to have said opinion of him. We cannot critique shows without watching them. Watching all sorts of television and sharing one’s thoughts are some people’s jobs. Or some people just have a general interest in the field and do the same. I include myself in the latter. Moving on!

    The scene between Rachel and Sunshine certainly was played for laughs. It’s been done and done… and done again. When I use to see movies in a theatre often, half of the audience would always laugh at this gag. Rachel was yelling in the girl’s face, so what was it intended to be if not funny? A character in “Lost” did this, spoke louder, and then another character mocked him because yelling won’t do any good if the person doesn’t speak your language. Furthermore, even after Sunshine told Rachel she understands her, Rachel later yells in her face again. You certainly can’t argue that bit. It was ridiculous and unnecessary. Very obviously played for laughs. Again.

    Lucy Reply:

    I believe that you have completely missed the point of Beiste’s representation within the show. Although I agree that scenes such as the sexual assault clip were offensive and not needed, overall the way in which she has been portrayed was, I believe, a positive.

    Yes, she is initially represented as an outsider, strange and overall stereotype. However it is presenting the audience with what they would likely see if someone like Beiste walked past on the street. As the episode (and show) progresses though, you begin to witness a breakdown of the stereotype, look beyond physical appearance to see Beiste’s true character. This is similar to everyday life where your perceptions of a person can change if you get to know them, and whether you like it or not, society has a long way to go before people stop judging by outward appearance. Someone on this blog commented that they believed the other characters were shown as bigoted and mean in relation to Beiste and I agree with this. As the viewer is made to sympathize with Beiste, they are also being primed to judge how the other characters treat her – and I’m guessing more often than not the viewer is not impressed by their antics.

    You say that every character on the show is carefully constructed and this is correct. So, couldn’t the writers have just as equally created Beiste to stimulate sympathy and to counteract the original stereotype given. It is worth pointing out here that whether or not I’m correct in this, her stereotype is one created by everyday people in society and thus Glee is echoing what people have already established. At least they are confronting the viewer with this so some may rethink their ideas of what’s ‘strange’ and what’s ‘normal.’

    This leads, in my opinion at least, to the irony of Beiste’s name. It is not she that the audience is likely to view as a ‘beast’ but the other characters’ behavior towards her by the end of the episode. As Sarah stated Beiste is still a character in development and it already seems that her character will be a positive one.

    So yeah. Obviously the series has progressed so it’s possible I’ve been arguing from more than just episode one. However I believe it’s still relevant to your original issues because you created assumptions for a whole (the series) based off one tiny piece (the first episode). I’m not going to comment on your other points but that’s my 2cents. Just by the way, this particular blog brought up some interesting points and I enjoyed it.

    Anita Reply:

    As the show has progressed and Beiste’s character has developed a little bit more I think I’ve figured out why I’m still very bothered by it. It is complicated because as you say, she does become humanized a bit and forces the other characters to reevaluate the stereotypes they have placed on her BUT what bothers me about it, is the writers had to reduce her down to a frighteningly, stereotypical, nearly inhuman character in order to have the after school special moment at the end of each episode that focus’ on her. What would be truly transgressive is if they introduced her as a full positive character from the get go, because that would force audience members to reflect on their prejudice when confronted with a gender identity that they are normally hostile to. If Beiste was a sympathetic character from the get go then we wouldn’t have to sit through horrifying scenes like the ones about how she is so ugly she is a buzz kill, and watching her dress up in lingerie which is clearly supposed to repulse us. I hope that makes sense.

    Johnny Reply:

    TOTALLY. It’s a TV show, a comedy, meant for us to take things lightly in a world where heavy issues are beating us down. I agree completely with everything you’ve said…and thank you SO much for saying it all.

    julia Reply:

    There is nothing more outrageous than the criticism that we shouldn’t be critical. Yes, we do live in a world where heavy issues are beating us down…are you trying to say (among other things) that in order to escape from a world where people suffer deeply from institutionalized racism, we should watch racist TV shows? Or that us women should stop whining just because we are fed up of hearing sexist jokes in the real world and somehow don’t find sexist dialogue entertaining?

    Really this is Moff’s Law, and before you think about responding you should read about it: http://www.racialicious.com/2009/12/21/and-we-shall-call-this-moffs-law/

  3. The main thing I had a problem with was the fake sexual assault accusation. That was way over the line. And actually, the statistics are that one in six MEN will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime; for women it’s one in THREE.

    Anita Reply:

    The stats I found are 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men, however I have a feeling that the number for women is low (sadly). http://www.rainn.org/statistics

    Egg Reply:

    The term sexual assault is very vague and can be used to legally define (at least in Canada) anything from a boob grab to gang rape.

    Anita Reply:

    yes, and? Both of those things are unacceptable and potentially traumatizing to varying degrees.

    PrettyAmiable Reply:

    Anita, I don’t think the comment was meant to suggest that one was acceptable, but to explain the discrepancy in the statistic. I, for one, think that if you’re including chest grabbing in your statistic, one in three is much likelier than 1 in 6.

  4. 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.

    Anita Reply:

    I don’t have a problem with using humour to expose or discuss oppression, but humour should not perpetuate and replicate the oppression it claims to critique. The danger of Glee is that it has the illusion of “drawing out” oppressive behaviours and stereotypes but it is actually reinforcing many of them.

    And just for clarity, I was not saying that the scene between Rachel and Sunshine was making fun of Sunshine in anyway, I was just stating that they had an opportunity to use that scene as a teachable anti-racist moment and instead they turned it into a (not so) funny joke. The writers framed it as, “look how self absorbed, neurotic and horrible Rachel is” instead of “this behaviour is clearly racist and messed up.” I know they are capable of incorporating a critique of bigoted behaviour, they did it was Kurt (example here: http://criticalcommons.org/Members/femfreq/clips/glee1x20-homophobiclanguage.mov/view )

    Gina Reply:

    Agreed. If I wrote that scene, Sunshine would have given Rachel a blank look and walked right out of that bathroom. Which would come off, verbally, as “This is racist/disrespectful and I have nothing to say to you.” And it would have worked fine for the show since “Rachel is Rachel”, because she would have found being ignored offensive and rude because of her selfish nature. Or you could carry the humor further and have Rachel chase after Sunshine in her frantic state.

  5. I’m so happy this blog exists! Every time there’s a new post to read or watch, I get so excited.
    It’s tremendously encouraging to have such intelligent and inspiring women on our side, it helps a lot when the rest of the world seems insane and cruel. Thank you!

  6. Anita, I really admire your work and how you take the time to respond to people who disagree with you. Your videos are really inspiring, and as a woman who will be entering a pretty old-boys’-club, male-dominated field, I really appreciate what you do. Please keep it up.

  7. I am actually somewhat of a Glee fan, but I watched this first episode with a feeling of discomfort I couldn’t quite place. I tried to laugh at some parts but found myself frowning instead – at Beiste’s introduction and presentation, at Rachel’s awfulness. In the previous season I liked Rachel’s character because she was so outrageously narcissistic it made me laugh – much in the same way Sue is a great villain. But in this new episode I found Rachel simply awful and horrible without any amusing factor.

    Moff’s law ftw. Just because you like a show, doesn’t mean you should ignore all criticism. I just wish the show’s creators would get this as a memo and do something with it.

  8. I agree with you on most counts, but I do have some buts…

    1# I am not familiar with butch female stereotypes. Is this why I did not feel offended? I was actually really liked Beiste. She was tough, vulnerable, funny, sensitive and flawed. She is also a female character that didn’t fit into ideas of conventional beauty, which I found refreshing. She did dress very manly, but given the difficulty that she has had fitting in in the past and how upset she got when she was bullied, I’m not surprised that she would dress that way to fit how a football coach is ‘supposed to look’. They could have made her a joke, like they did Sandy or Ken, but I felt that Beiste was a character I could cheer for.

    Trying to look beyond Beiste’s character, what do you want out of this character? Do you feel that her character fits a stereotype too well, and that if some of the characteristics were changed that she would be acceptable? Would you rather they cast a ‘generic’ character?

    5# I would argue that this is a different case to that of Kurt’s (at least I hope so). I know a lot of people who are definitely not homophobic, who would say use gay slurs to describe things that are uncool or remark that something ‘is so gay’, without realizing the underlying assumptions of their words. On the other hand, I don’t know anybody that would think that it’s ok to talk to a foreign student like that. They didn’t need to make a special point that this was not acceptable behaviour because it was already clear.

    This is probably going to sound stupid, but what exactly do you mean by ‘normalize’? Do you mean that we have to change our idea of what normal is? Because I can’t see anything wrong with accepting that maybe people might not act like you or think like you or be like you and being ok with that.

    Anita Reply:

    While I was troubled by Beiste’s representation I did see moments where the writers were trying to develop her character, so I will just have to wait and see how that plays out, but they are starting off by making her a caricature and it’s hard to get away from that once it is established. I’m perfectly happy with, and celebrate characters of various gender identities but too often they are used as a joke, offensively stereotyped or used to further another character’s storyline. They have to be full, developed, complex characters, and considering how rarely they are represented on television, they need to be written with a strong anti-oppression lens.

    I agree, with your point, that it is specifically different but I was using it as an example to show that the writers are *capable* of engaging critically with commonly held homophobic beliefs so why can’t they do the same for racism and sexism and abilism? I think that scene did less to call out Rachel’s racism and more tried to just show as neurotic and self centered Rachel was.

    In U.S. culture (and many others) normal is considered straight, white, wealthy male, this is the standard and the default. So when writers introduce characters that do not fit this criteria they can choose to humanize and normalize them, by making their difference accepted and normal. But often times, writers villainize and demonize these characters, or they make women crazy, or they make queer folks stereotypical. For example on Glee, you’ll notice in the first season the two prominent men Finn and Will were shown as sweet, well intentioned and good, and all the women around them were manipulative and lying. Does that make sense? It’s a difficult concept to describe in a short paragraph.

    Laura Reply:

    I am hoping for the best for Beiste as well.

    I do think that they should call out poor behavior (so long as they can get away without making it feel like an after school special). I do think in this instance, however, that while it did call out Rachel’s self-absorption, the fact that it is meant to be funny is because she is acting so racist so pointing it out was not really necessary.

    Thanks for the explanation. That makes more sense now.

  9. I actually enjoyed the Beiste story-line. I think the show made it clear that the way Will and Sue acted was disgusting and incredibly not-funny, and I found Beiste an extremely sympathetic character. I also liked that Will participated in the bullying because the show pitches him as a guy who can do no wrong, and he clearly went over the line – which I think translates well into life when you find otherwise likeable people engaging in gender bullying behavior. It’s still disgusting.

    I can definitely see it being problematic.

    The Brittany thing irritated me to high heaven. Tina actually had a pretty significant story line last season, so I was surprised that you called her a token Asian. I agree that Artie is an asshole, and I wish they didn’t cop out on treating him like the ass he is.

    I’m more upset that they cut the token-black-guy-who-had-no-story-line and instead of developing a story for him, added another white dude character.

    Also, random, but when you hear crack-house, you think black people? I’m not free from prejudice and I’m still working on it, but when I picture crack addicts in Ohio, they’re always white in my mental image. Was this something from the show that made you say that?

  10. I don’t really disagree with that much about this post. Especially Artie acting like an ass to Tina. Not as endearing as you think it is, writers of Glee. I think that Glee tends to show the viewer terrible behavior as a way of laughing at it and showing that it’s wrong though. Sometimes the show feels like you’re watching an after school special.

    The sexual assault joke was in really, really poor taste though. As was the one that was in 30 Rock last week too. Is there something in the writer’s room water lately or something?

    I’m really curious about the assertion that crack houses= black people though. When I think of crack houses I think of houses where people go….to use crack. They are generally not that nice of a place and often located in bad areas. However, I don’t immediately think “scary dangerous black person” as you seem to think the show implied. I’m not sure the show implied that at any point, ever. As one might imagine, a crack house is probably not that great a place to visit. I think that probably has little to do with “scary dangerous black people” and more to do with “terrible neighborhood/crack addicts/drug violence”. I have no idea where you got that whole concept from.

    Anita Reply:

    It is a commonly held social myth (perpetuated regularly by the news media) that crack = black. It is also contrasted through this dichotomy crack=black, cocaine=white, keep it in mind next time you see a mainstream news story about drugs.

    Cassie Reply:

    There’s a sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine offenses, which also perpetuates racial disparities given that the majority of those serving crack offenses (which also has harsher sentencing) are African-American, despite a large majority of crack cocaine users being white.

    http://criminaljustice.change.org/blog/view/one_step_closer_to_ending_crack-cocaine_sentencing_disparities

  11. Oh, I hope you do a follow up post on last night’s episode. I found it to be pretty disappointing in a few respects.

    Britney’s a bad role model! She has thoughts and feelings and possibly bipolar! Not a fan.

  12. I felt a disconnect with all of the characters this season! What happened over the summer??? The last episode of season 1 had Will and Emma kiss, Phin and Rachel in love, Quin a changed woman, Tina and Artie a couple,
    I felt like they got all new writers, told them about the show, and then used what they wrote when they had never seen season 1! Weird!
    Loved it last season, loosing interest fast in season 2. Britney spears episode with all nitrous fantasies???? Such a different approach from last season. Last season, I liked them. This season, Will has gone from cool to stupid in less than 1 episode, Rachel has become a mean girl, and is very effective at it,
    I think the writers need to watch season 1 again!!!

  13. I have to say that I love Coach Bieste even though I know she’s an embodiment of several stereotypes- but I feel like they’re also doing a really good job of humanizing her.

    Also I have to say I’m heartened that most of the time when I see comments asking if she is male or female, I see comments defending her and shooting down the people who are trying to be awful.

  14. I haven’t finished watching season one and I haven’t watched the 2nd season of glee but thanks for the summary and I do intend to watch it nonetheless (my sisters are making me). It seems though the 2nd season, much like the 1st, is attempting to seek out people to refer to as “others” instead of just including them in the regular mix and having their individual personalities add to the culture of the show.
    Being a minority, I first watched Glee with hope that here was a great popular show that got it right in terms of equality for all. However I felt it still felt short in making the show all inclusive having the 3 main themes of the show (#1 Rachel and fin love affair, #2 Mr Shewster and the counselors love affair, and #3 Sue and Mr Shewsters rivalry) all about white people! In the words of Chris Rock, “that ain’t right!”.
    And for sure they need to get a female lead who isn’t crazy, or morally corrupt; is that too much to ask for? I mean seriously where do these women come from? I work with women all day and only one is a certifiable psychopath (which I think she’s taking drugs for anyway-I hope).
    Basically I think the writing staff isn’t made up of the people that are written into the show. But why would a show purposefully put minorities into a show if they don’t have the resources necessary to structure characters? For the answer I’d like to take you down a path called the money trail. The more minorities= more viewers, and/or better reviews=more viewership = more advertising revenue! The argument made better sense in my head but that’s basically what it boils down to. Include more people and more people will watch, it doesn’t matter if we made them up and are using them as side characters to lay out a story for people that really matter. *Gasp!*

  15. just reminded me a little of the rest of the commercials, WE NEVER ESCAPE!
    except for this amazing site, thanks for bringing some enlightening views and finally vocalizing some much needed criticisms!

    http://www.stellaartois.com/she-is-a-thing-of-beauty-24/

  16. Let’s face it, this season is a total mess, and I’m totally unimpressed. Rhyming aside, it’s pretty crappy, and I don’t even know if I’ll tune in much longer. It’s not even light hearted anymore, just contrived and offensive. And Artie is a total dweeb, at least he defies the stereotype that handicapped children are nice, he is a total dick, and I dislike him. A lot. This review brought a lot of stuff to attention that people choose to ignore, so good job.

  17. Yeah, the season opener was a bit of a let-down, especially the token Asian stuff. So was the “Rocky Horror” episode. I love Mercedes, but having her as Dr. Frank-N-Furter took away RHPS’s shock value, which is what makes RHPS so fun.

    What did you think of last week’s episode with Beiste?

  18. This, totally.

    Exactly why I'm writing my own show. People excuse the tokenism because it takes place in Ohio, but that is no excuse. The producers and writers had the opportunity to have the show take place in any city.

    Having minorities with no personality isn't diversity, they're called token characters for a reason — because they're nothing but props.

  19. I was a fan of the first season, but this season was a letdown because of it’s stereotypes. I was angry because of the portrayl of the female football coach, and I do not intend to watch Glee any longer.

  20. Quick comment: Having a diverse cast doesn’t make a show any less racist or problematic. It has nothing to do with stereotypes. Just consider this. Would anyone watch this show if Rachel was black or hispanic? Would this show work if the 4 or 5 main characters weren’t all white? Adding in a black character or an Asian character, doesn’t erase this very big problem. Sorry. We don’t have to blame Glee for this specifically. But adding in a diversity of characters should be a given, what a show does with those characters says a lot more about the politics of the show.

    The show has done a good job with stories on gay white males, but everything else has been pretty pathetic. Just because Ryan Murphy is a gay white man does not mean he doesn’t have as much responsibility to give the other minority characters rich story lines.

  21. I have to agree that this was a test to see how far American audiences have progressed regarding both racism and sexism. However; it is disturbing that this is one of the only blogs; which intelligently details the truth, regarding the show’s true intentions. They are not hard to see. The cast overshadows all of the ethnic characters, and there are purposeful token additions to the cast; made in an effort to show faux diversity. This is not an uncommon problem within the mainstream media; as well as within real life. For instance; I still remember in Gifted and Talented grade school, when the teacher walked up to me, with the only other black kid in the class. We were now ‘partners’ for our project. Why? I had already finished mine, and only had one week to go. The kid actually (even at that early age); exhibited internalized racism, and walked away-while rolling his eyes at me. As if I had been the one to do it. I was so angry. The teacher simply smiled, and pretended not to understand her racist faux-paus. Glee’s effect on society is quite similar. I state this because- The mainstream audience is primarily Caucasian middle to upper-class, and the producers may actually believe it to be ‘flattering’, to have any inclusion of racial difference what-so-ever. At least we have That Much right? So..what are we complaining about? Absolutely nothing,I suppose. Honestly, it is exploitation of both racism and sexism; allowing for more silence about the issue of discrimination. Everyone seems to be afraid to comment; even though it is clearly politically incorrect to use exploitation as a basis for themed entertainment. Allowing for inclusion; while also assuming stereotypes, and subjugating that difference…. is equally as bigoted as any racist or sexist person. But, it’s done in a nice manner; therefore it’s accepted. Sociology reminds us that..’color-blind racism’ is quite similar to this type of tactic; where there is still ‘white privilege’, yet a number of different races in the background. Within Glee, this implies that it is acceptable. A forced social psychology experiment perhaps, and an ill-fated attempt to allow for racial, and diversity inclusion. However; the show is a long way from being anything other than stereotypical unto itself. That is the irony about discrimination. Those that discriminate..usually are the stereotypical ones themselves. Hiding bigotry is becoming more difficult, and can be quite exhausting. I’m sure that the creators of Glee agree. By the way…Great Blog!

  22. No mention of the token overweight black girl? This is a common theme through out many shows. The black female is overweight or unattractive and often contrasted against the slim,trim, and beautiful white female characters. It’s just something that I notice on a lot of shows.

  23. I would like to say the show is horrible. It can be a good show, but it’s only aimed at white people nobody else.

  24. [...] is getting a few episodes to see if it can start telling stories that aren’t offensive to women, people of color, and people with a disability. Also, if a character could show some development [...]

  25. [...] http://www.feministfrequency.com/2010/09/top-5-problems-with-glee-season-two-premiere [...]

  26. I could barely sit through this episode and haven’t watched one since… Spot on.

  27. Hey Anita
    Thanks for all the posts. I actually started with the Bechdel Test and started reading backwards. All of what you are saying is very pertinent and also very educational, especially for someone living in India. Our Indian stereotypes are so radically different from the American ones that I liked reading what you wrote even though I didn’t agree with everything you said.
    If you do get the chance, do take a look at our Indian soap operas – they are such a gross misrepresentation of a “normal” family – that it is scary.
    I think Glee is quite a horrid show – such inflated caricatures and the music can become quite painful to the ears.
    Keep writing.