UPDATE on “Is GLEE Racist/Heterosexist/Ableist?”

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Have the writers for Glee been reading this blog? No, of course they haven’t. But I was still very pleased to see that Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) got her big solo — West Side Story‘s “Tonight” — in last week’s episode, “Preggers.” There was a lot of talk about how Rachel (Lea Michele) has a better voice and really should have the solo, but Tina sang it nonetheless. A small victory for the show’s non-white characters.

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And, of course, a lot of the episode was devoted to Kurt (Chris Colfer) and his strained relationship with his heteronormative father. I’m glad Kurt was a featured player and for the most part, I thought his story arc was intelligently rendered. Though, was it really necessary for Kurt to shimmy effeminately before making his game-winning kick? I’m still not sold on the show’s need to turn Kurt into Mr. Roper’s vision of the homosexual in every episode. However, the final scene between Kurt and his father, Burt (Mike O’Malley), when we learn that Kurt’s mother has been dead for many years and that Kurt’s father has always known that he was gay was very moving. I imagined these two men figuring out how to negotiate their complicated relationship in the absence of the mediating mother/wife figure and I did get a little weepy.

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One final note about “Preggers”: every time Sandy (Stephen Tobolowsky) appears on screen in a pair of pastel pants and a turtle-stitched belt, I laugh out loud. The show should get a costuming Emmy based on this character alone.

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24 thoughts on “UPDATE on “Is GLEE Racist/Heterosexist/Ableist?”

    Eldritch said:
    September 27, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I just found your site. It looks like it’ll be a lot of fun to read.

    I’m not sure where to draw the line with Kurt. Every character is this show is an exaggeration . (With the possible exception of Will. He gives the audience a normal person to identify with.) But in an episode in which the football team runs a play in which they dance to Beyonce, how can a little shimmy be a step too far?

    If Kurt is Mr. Rope’s vision of a gay, then what is Sandy (Stephen Tobolowsky)? He’s very stereotyped. What concerns me the most about Sandy is not his flamboyant appearance, but rather how the charges of child molestation against him are being swept under the rug.

    princesscowboy responded:
    September 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    You make a great point–Kurt’s antics on the football field do not seem as outrageous when compared with an entire team of football players doing Beyonce’s choreography. But, I am getting tired of the gay cliches he seems to embody (he truly is the man Mr. Roper seemed to be mimicking in all of those Three’s Company episodes from the late 1970s). Yes, this show is filled with stereotypes but Kurt’s stereotypes seem so dated.

    I’m not sure that Sandy is a stereotype of anything. We know he has a penchant for seducing high school boys, but do would-be adolescent molesters dress in pastels? I find Sandy amusing because his clothing choices ape some dated notion of what wealth and class looks like. He is country club chic gone completely awry.

    I’m also curious to see how the show handles the molestation charges against Sandy. Are they playing it for laughs? And if so, is that wrong?

    Thanks for the comments! Lots to think about…

    Eldritch said:
    September 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    The Sandy character does strike me as a stereotype.

    He’s the aging queen who’s still in the closet despite his effeminacy. He tries to project (or thinks he’s projecting) a straight appearance at work, though he usually dresses with better taste than most straight men. But at home you find things which betray his interests as more feminine than not.

    Sandy’s spiritual cousin on “Mad Men” is Sal. Sal is a spiffy dresser. Everyone agrees Don Draper is the handsomest man around, but Sal is indisputably the best dresser. In his home, we’ve been shown his special interest in gourmet cooking (and lack of interest in sex with his wife). In fact, despite being married, he does all the cooking. And, of course, he’s a very good cook.

    Sal is a more serious portrayal of the stereotype than Sandy, though he seems not in the closet so much as doing his best to deny his feelings of attraction toward men.

    Sandy, like the other characters on “Glee,” is exaggerated for comic effect. But like Sal, he’s a flashy dresser! In his home, he displays his doll collection and wears a shorty kimono.

    We actually haven’t learned much about Sandy’s sex life other than the accusations that he’s been touching boys inappropriately. At this point into the series, the show just seems to be ignoring them. Sue was able to blackmail the principal to bring Sandy back on staff. Perhaps the writers have decided not to explore than plot thread further.

    However, getting back to your original objection, perhaps Sandy’s stereotype isn’t as tired as Kurt’s. Thus it wouldn’t seem as cliché.

      princesscowboy responded:
      September 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm

      Eldritch you had me until you said that Sandy “dresses with better taste than most straight men.” Wha??? Tying a sweater around one’s neck can only be done in an ironic fashion or when modeling for the LL Bean catalogue. Also, gnatalby makes a good point–are we even sure that Sandy is a homosexual?

    gnatalby said:
    September 29, 2009 at 4:41 am

    We actually haven’t learned much about Sandy’s sex life other than the accusations that he’s been touching boys inappropriately.

    Actually we saw the scene Rachel referred to in her accusation. Sandy had his hand on Curt’s stomach and it was clearly not just teacher attention but arousal playing on his face. So there’s that.

    I think it’s also worth noting that Rachel is Jewish, which makes her sort of inbetween. It’s not as if, say, Quinn is getting all the solos.

    gnatalby said:
    September 29, 2009 at 4:41 am

    Ugh, html fail.

    Eldritch said:
    September 29, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    “Eldritch you had me until you said that Sandy “dresses with better taste than most straight men.”

    Okay, that’s a good point. Perhaps my meaning is better expressed by saying he dresses with care. Sal on “Mad Men” has better taste, but they’re both concerned with their appearance. We may disagree with Sandy’s taste, but he is takes care choosing his daily wardrobe. He’s not the typical guy who throws things on randomly and thinks he looks fine as long as his clothes are clean. In the above picture of Sandy, he’s color coordinated. He’s pressed, neat and clean. Despite his taste, he’s paid attention to his clothing choices that morning.

    Eldritch said:
    September 29, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Also, gnatalby makes a good point–are we even sure that Sandy is a homosexual?

    gnatalby,
    “Sandy had his hand on Curt’s stomach and it was clearly not just teacher attention but
    arousal playing on his face. So there’s that.”

    Yes, there’s that. I’d forgotten that scene.

    Beyond that, he collects dolls and wears a shorty kimono at home. I don’t think that fits in the stereotype of a straight guy. He’s takes care in his clothing choices (despite his taste) which is usually seen as a feminine trait.

    In Sandy’s picture above, his sitting posture is not the usual male posture. It strikes me as a feminine pose. Most guys sit with their arms and legs sprawled out, taking up as much room as possible. In contrast. Sandy is almost curled up in the natal position. He’s taking as little space as possible. His arms and hands are together, which is also more feminine.

    Again in contrast, Sue is sitting in a more spread out manner, taking up more room, as a man would. I tend to think Sue is straight, but she’s not feminine. She’s aggressive and very direct. Her sitting posture emphasizes that aspect of her character. Emma, the guidance councilor, on the other hand, is very feminine. It’s hard to imagine her sitting in the same way. It’s easier to imagine her sitting more like Sandy.

    And, while it may not be entirely fair, being accused of inappropriately touching boys tends to color him gay. A straight child molester would be expected to touch girls, I would think. (Getting in to ugly territory here. Changing subject quickly! 😉

    Those are the indicators I’ve noted, which make me believe he’s gay.

    Eldritch said:
    September 29, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    gnatalby (04:41:22) :
    I think it’s also worth noting that Rachel is Jewish, which makes her sort of inbetween. It’s not as if, say, Quinn is getting all the solos

    “Jewish” and “inbetween.” Not sure what you mean here. In between what?

    gnatalby said:
    September 30, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Sorry, I could have been clearer. It tends to be controversial on the internet anytime there’s a discussion on whether or not Ashkenazi Jews “count” as people of color, since, in some ways, they have tons of white privilege, but in others they are subject to the same pressures as other ethnic minorities.

    So it’s not entirely clear to me that in a small town in OH Rachel would be read as entirely white in the way that Quinn is.

    eldritch said:
    October 1, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    So it’s not entirely clear to me that in a small town in OH Rachel would be read as entirely white in the way that Quinn is.

    You’re right. There must be something about the Internet that makes your remark look suspiciously bigoted.

    I’m really not interested in initiating an Internet debate here, but I am curious.

    Why would Ashkenazi Jews be considered “colored” but not Sephardic Jews? Are you making that distinction?

    gnatalby said:
    October 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Man I am doing a terrible job at not sounding like an asshole on the internet.

    All I meant is that there are many Jews who meet EVERYONE’S definition as people of color, like many mizrahi Jews and say, Ethiopian Jews.

    As an Ashkenazi Jew Rachel absolutely has tons of white privilege, but there are some ways that Ashkenazi Jews are also read as people of color.

      Eldritch said:
      October 2, 2009 at 2:41 am

      “Man I am doing a terrible job at not sounding like an asshole on the internet.”

      Thanks for responding, gnatalby. However, perhaps we can both agree that we’ve reached an area of awkwardness. It seems best to discontinue this thread here.

      I’ve enjoyed your previous comments about “Glee.” I look forward to seeing your future posts.

    princesscowboy responded:
    October 1, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Should I intervene here? Give you two a time out?
    Also an Ashkenazi Jew myself I can say that I am rife with white privilege.

    gnatalby said:
    October 2, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Okay, I apologize for the offense, it wasn’t my intent but, of course, is still my responsibility.

      Eldritch said:
      October 2, 2009 at 10:50 pm

      “Okay, I apologize for the offense, it wasn’t my intent..”

      Accepted. No problem. I don’t detect hostility or mean spiritedness in your posts.

    Dani said:
    October 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    LOVE that you have created a debate about the chosen peeps….rock on Princess Cowboy!!

    Will said:
    October 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Wait, how is Sandy a “child molester”? That’s a strange name/definition for his unconsumated and perhaps primarily voyeuristic interest in young adult men …

      Annie Petersen said:
      October 3, 2009 at 4:27 pm

      I believe the term has been applied to him by other characters on the show — and until recently, was not allowed to be within a certain radius of those under 18.

      Eldritch said:
      October 15, 2009 at 3:42 pm

      Below is an excerpt from a MSN.com article/commentary about “Glee.” The quoted paragraph shows how their reviewer, Andy Denhart, interprets the character.

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33296717/ns/entertainment-television/

      “Stephen Tobolowsky’s character, Sandy, however, is simply inexcusable: a pedophile played for laughs who confirms bigoted audience members’ fears about men who are more feminine than masculine. It’s incomprehensible that a show that is so progressive with its stories about a gay character, Kurt, would include another who embodies such a false stereotype, never mind making light of that.”

    princesscowboy responded:
    October 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Someone sent me this link via Twitter–I plan to read it soon. Thanks!

    […] identity politics of the show have sparked the most heated discussions – see Amanda Ann Klein’s insightful reading over at Judgmental Observer, Jezebel’s take-down, and Kelli Marshall’s most recent […]

    Dave said:
    October 29, 2009 at 5:02 am

    lol ashkenazi Jews are definitely white (and so are Sephardi ones, actually, although they may go into that hard-to-define “Hispanic” category).

    When you have an ethnic group that routinely produces people who look like Paul Rudd, Lauren Bacall, Bar Refaeli, Joe Lieberman, Corey Haim, and Kirk Douglas (all 100% Ashkenazi) then you are pretty clearly a white group (unless it’s that ambigius “Hispanic” category again which includes blacks, whites, even Asians).

    Just from Glee, Dianna Agron (Quinn) is Jewish herself in real life (Lea Michelle is half Sephardi and half non-Jewish Italian).

    […] An Update on ‘Is Glee Racist/Heterosexist/Able-ist’ […]

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