An Open Letter to Glee

Dear Glee,

Before we begin I’d just like to note that everything I am about to say is out of love. Despite your many issues, your awesome musical numbers, over-the-top plot lines, and winning sense of humor make me love you, Glee. However, we do need to talk because if this relationship is going to continue… you’re going to have to make some changes, some big changes.

This last episode killed me. First off, the good: you continued with the Mercedes and Kurt wanting more spotlight plot line that has been a long time in the making. The bad? Pretty much everything else. The whole episode read like a bad after school special; Mercedes went from being bad-ass and confident to starving herself all in a matter of five minutes. I understand the power that fitting in can have over someone… but eating disorders generally do not come on and then leave that quickly. I mean, two scenes after she developed her disordered eating she was in the nurses office (after passing out) and having a conversation with Quinn that magically “cured” her disorder. IT DOES NOT FUCKING WORK THAT WAY. Depictions like this fuel all of the misguided (but wonderfully intentioned) attempts to get ED sufferers to just “snap out of it” and “realize they’re beautiful” so they can eat healthfully again. I wish it was really that easy. Furthermore, I’m so worried that after this episode Mercedes and Kurt are going to be pushed to the background so we can focus on Will, Finn, Quinn, and Rachel like always while Mercedes, Kurt, Artie, Tina, and all of the other non-white and non-straight characters play second-fiddle backup to the true main characters. This is not cool.

I applaud your attempt at creating a show with a real social message and real diversity… however, I feel its important to let you know that you are failing at that goal. Your plot-lines still revolve around the heterosexual, conventionally pretty white characters first and foremost and the “diversity characters” second. Thus, each episode that does focus a little on these characters, like the one we saw last night,  feels like an obligatory “extra special” episode rather than the norm. This is tokenism, and it is not much better than outright exclusion.

Your commitment to diversity feels fake because of throwaway one-episode plot lines like this, that give the minority characters enough of a nod that we see them as included but still keeps the main focus on the white characters. I mean, really… how many times has a non-white character been given a plot arc that lasts more than an episode or two? Artie and Tina’s romance, for instance, has developed mostly behind the scenes; every once and awhile we get a short “update” on it but that’s about it.  Some of the minority characters don’t even get a name (“other Asian”) which is fucked up.

Furthermore, as wonderful as Kevin McHale is… why couldn’t you have cast a real wheelchair user to play Artie? Why couldn’t you have cast real deaf actors to play the part of the choir in the episodes they were involved in? It seems shallow to me, to have it both ways… you try to give a ‘nod’ of representation to the disabled community, and yet you cast able-bodied actors to play their parts thus excluding the disabled community from being a part of your show. That said, I think it is important to give credit where credit is due. Casting an actress with Down syndrome to play a character with Down syndrome was very cool… I just wish you could have been consistent in this decision to be inclusive.

On another note, the episode Mattress contained a very disturbing scene that I wish had been better addressed. When Will finds out that Terri is not really pregnant, he flips out in a way that can only be described as abusive. True, Terri was lying to him and that’s wrong. You know what else is wrong? Throwing shit and looming over your wife in such a threatening manner that she ends up backed against the counter. The fact that I cringed reflexively when Will ripped the pregnancy pad off of Terri says it all to me… I thought he was going to hit her, the character in that moment would have been convinced that he was going to hit her… everything in his face and body indicated it and it was scary. I’m not saying this makes Will Shuster an unforgivable character… but he certainly does not live up to the infallible hero role he is painted as.

The way you wrote this scenario could very easily lead to a young woman feeling as if she deserves to be physically threatened and emotionally abused by her partner, because after all we’re supposed to think Terri deserved it, are we not? That’s fucked up. No one deserves to be threatened like that, especially not in whats supposed to be an adult relationship. Why couldn’t Will and Terri have talked about the situation in a mature manner, sure it may have muddied the waters… Terri may not have looked like a total villain, but at least you wouldn’t have been implicitly approving of an unhealthy relationship dynamic.

(I also want to note that, yes, Terri has been emotionally abusive for a long time in this series and no, I don’t think this is a problematic portrayal because all along the show has set us up to view Terri as a villain in this series – she is standing in the way of Will and Emma and she is not a good partner, we’re not supposed to like her and thus we are much more likely to recognize the problematic aspects of her behavior. Furthermore,  I don’t think Will should have stayed with her. However, I do think that he could have asserted his independence and explained his issues with the relationship without threatening Terri. We shouldn’t have a role-model and hero-like character on this show who is physically abusive to his partner.)

This is harsh, yes, but that’s just because I had such high hopes for you Glee. You psyched me up for a show with a conscious, a fun music filled show that would finally represent the world in all of it’s diversity, while also entertaining me. I see how awesome you are, Glee, and I just know that you could be so much more; you could create non-white characters that re multi-faceted and carry out long and fulfilling plot lines; you could bring disabled people into the conversation and really be inclusive while entertaining us; you could send important messages, like abuse is wrong between songs and exciting plot lines. You are so close to doing all of this… and yet, you don’t.

What’s stopping you?

– J


I want to add some moments from the show that I have loved because this is just so damn negative:

– Kurt’s relationship with his father is wonderfully realistic and complex. His “I’m a guy too” comment in response to his father’s desire for “guy talk” was spot-on in terms of highlighting the damage of restrictive gender norms. I love the way that Kurt and his dad communicate through their differences.

– Mercedes is just generally badass which probably has a lot to do with my desire to see more of her character.


– The mattress commercial was so much fun! Pretty much every musical number in this show makes me happy, for that matter.


More Posts on This Topic:

About Artie & Wheels from Feminists with Disabilities for a Way Forward. (Here’s another really good blog post from the same site.)

Women and Race on Glee from Feminists with Disabilities for a Way Froward again.

Another thoughtful essay about Glee from The Antisocial Ladder.

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Glee

  1. Gosh, you really expressed everything that I think about Glee. When I first watched it I was so moved, but them I began to worry about how they were handling the whole “minority” thing. And when Will discovers the fake pregnancy I reacted the same way you did! Did you send that to the TV channel that airs Glee? You definitely should!
    Great insights!

  2. Pingback: Fox: You’re Doing It Wrong….again. « Dis/positional

  3. Hi i am Erin i love Glee a lot i am a total Gleek i Luv you a lot Fin u r so cute and gud looking i could like date you right now and Rachel and Quinn you guys are pretty i love you guys and for the rest of you, you rock a lot all of u are great singers :D

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