Flippant. That’s the word that flashed through my mind as I suffered through another episode of Glee. Time and time again, the show introduces weighty themes—teen pregnancy, coming out, and substance abuse—and resolves them in the most convenient and offensive way possible. Defenders will argue that the show’s bright, plastic exterior is just a front and that real emotions simmer underneath, but they’re only half-right. The cheer and, well, gleefulness are a front, but what they mask is a darker, more sinister core.
Take Kurt, the Glee Club’s flamboyantly obvious closet case. I’ve had friends like him, guys who insist they like women despite showing about as much interest in female genitalia as mosquitoes do in bug repellant. They’re pretty tragic people, unable to be honest about who they are due less to a lack of support around them than their internalization of social pressures. Glee doesn’t seem too interested in exploring his pain, however, instead treating us to scenes in which he swishes around in a unitard and, when asked by his “date” what he wants to do that night, responds that there’s a Liza Minnelli marathon on TV. Ha ha. Later, when he comes out to his father, the sentiment feels trite and unearned. Since the show never took his plight seriously, why should we? The message, as I interpret it, is that a life in the closet amounts to little more than a few stereotypical jokes, and coming out is no big deal so long as you wait until the most dramatically appropriate moment. I guess what I’m trying to say is: Fuck you, Glee.
I suppose the show is not without its charms. Jane Lynch is a great comic actress, and every now and then, a joke or one-liner will hit the spot. And yes, the cast can sing. Since the show often seems like little more than an excuse to sell cover songs on iTunes (and a successful one at that—the cast has more hits than Elvis!), perhaps that warrants a mention. Also, if you’re looking for eye candy, you could do a lot worse. But for me, the show’s only appeal is in marveling at what terrible people its supposed “heroes” are. On the surface, the message of Glee is that you should be who you are and follow your dreams. In reality, it’s that you should only do that if you have the right dreams.
In the first episode of Glee, Mr. Schuester, a high school Spanish teacher, has to decide whether to take over as head of the Glee Club after the current teacher is fired on account of behaving improperly towards a student (did I mention the show is flippant?). In the pilot’s climax, another teacher shows him footage of himself performing in his own high school glee club. Inspired, Mr. Schuester decides to take over as head of the Glee Club after all. Questions abound, such as: If Mr. Schuester’s experiences performing in the Glee Club were the happiest of his life, why did he stop performing in the first place? The pilot gives us a High School Musical-like conflict in which Finn, the resident football jock, is torn between his desire to sing and dance and his desire to look cool. Except there’s no contest. Since he clearly prefers the Glee Club to the football team, why doesn’t he just quit the football team? Some will protest that he’s afraid of being mocked by his football peers, but it’s not that simple. Athletes are people too, you see. Some are smart, some are dumb, some are bigots, and some are open-minded. Contrary to what every high school movie ever will have you believe, it is possible for nerds and theater geeks to be friends with the “cool” kids. I’m not saying that bullying doesn’t happen, just that it isn’t a universal constant.
Speaking of bullying, I wish I had more time to make Twilight fans feel inferior. Mocking Stephenie Meyer is like mocking Ayn Rand—it just never gets old. The difference between Twilight and Glee is that I could never play devil’s advocate for Twilight. It is, quite simply, trash. Glee is peppy, superficial fun, provided that you don’t think too hard about it (or at all, really.) Twilight, however, with its leaden pacing, repetitive plotting, shallow, empty characters, and misogynistic, heteronormative undertones, virtually begs the reader to write a takedown. It’s for that reason that I’ve seen the first three movies, and am now even considering reading the first book. From an artistic standpoint, it’s indefensible, but from an intellectual standpoint, it’s a goldmine. The first time I picked up the book, I was filled with rage by Stephenie Meyer’s amateurish writing and piss-poor editing. But after years of luxuriating in the community of haters who have sprung up in response to this singular cultural phenomenon, I have turned my hatred into a hobby unto itself. What does it say about so many women that they would fall head-over-heels in love with a series that teaches them that their purpose in life is to be good housewives? How immature does one have to be to see Edward and Bella’s relationship as anything other than blatantly abusive? And how does Taylor Lautner maintain those fantastic abs?
I don’t have the space to dig into all of those questions here (although the answer to the third, I believe, involves a personal trainer and lots of protein powder), but I think part of Twilight’s appeal is that it indulges so many base fantasies without following any of them through to completion. Much has been made of how the series is an allegory for the dangers of premarital sex, but that kind of thinking infects more than just Edward and Bella’s relationship. Take, for example, Bella’s friends, who materialize whenever she needs them and disappear the instant Edward takes her back. I’m not saying that they should be following the two of them along on dates, just that their presence should be felt in some way when she is dealing with the other issues in her life. But that, of course, would require commitment, and for a woman who wrote a series that’s all about getting married, Stephenie Meyer doesn’t seem to know a goddamn thing about commitment. The young lovers spend entire scenes just gazing into each others’ eyes, and Bella, our intrepid narrator, devotes page after page to physical descriptions of her beloved, whose physique, we learn, is Greek, godlike, and like that of a Greek god. How does he make you feel, honey? What have you learned from him? How big is his penis? Don’t laugh. These are the things that flesh-and-blood lovers think about. The key word in that sentence is “think”. It’s not something that the characters in Twilight do very often.
Part of growing up means learning that real life is never as perfect as the stuff you read about in books. That’s fine, as the unpredictability is what gives it flavor. But even in fiction, there must be a sense that what is about to happen is not simply what would make us feel most comfortable. Characters fall in love, break up, wish the whole thing had never happened, then emerge from the other end better, stronger people. You know who else does that? People. I defy anyone reading this to find a single example of people growing and changing in Twilight. Fiction isn’t about giving people what they want; it’s about letting them know that they have control over their own lives. The only person who has any control over what happens in Twilight is Stephenie Meyer, and she’s not letting go of that for anything. I try not to hate people just because I dislike their work, but in this case, I take it personally. Stephenie Meyer, you are everything that’s wrong with America.
I’m going to talk about Lady Gaga now (sorry, I don’t have a better segue.) I don’t understand her appeal. I’ll grant that she’s better than 99% of the other pop stars out there, but that ain’t sayin’ much. Her music has style and ambition, sure, but there’s no there there. My knowledge of her is limited to hearing the half-dozen or so of her songs that are on constant rotation on every Top 40 station and at every dance party in existence, yet even so, I cannot name a single song of hers that has a tenth of the emotional resonance of Michael Jackson in his prime. To be fair, not too many artists are capable of reaching those heights, but Gaga doesn’t even seem to be trying. She is, as one of my favorite bloggers pointed out, essentially a combination of Marilyn Manson and Madonna. Her early work wasn’t brilliant, but it was more soulful than what she does now: outsized, synthetic pop art. I don’t want to come down too hard on her, because there are people whose opinions I respect who like her, but if this is the defining pop singer of this generation, then music has fallen a long way in the past few decades.
The problem with hating is that it becomes tiring. It’s supposed to be a way to blow off steam when one is frustrated with the crap that permeates pop culture, but if one is not careful, it can turn into impotent rage. So I suppose I should give a shout-out to one cultural phenomenon that I really enjoy: I finished reading A Game of Thrones not too long ago, and whaddaya know, it was pretty fucking gripping. There, I said it. People like to ask me if I like anything, and the answer is that yes, I do, but most things suck. Most people, too. In fact, there are only about 40 people in the world whom I don’t think should be put to death. Odds are, you’re not one of them.