Glee, you are now on my sh*t list

Note from Elysia: I wrote this in a fit of pique a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve thought that perhaps a lot of my emotion was misdirected, and that I was not reading satire as satire. I am also still rather confused by what I am supposed to think about Sue Sylvester’s character – unless the writers are trying to make her inconsistent? Regardless, I do feel like the writers may sometimes slip from satire into mocking, and I’m posting this so that interested readers can make their own decisions.

May contain spoilers.

Please, PLEASE get off of my shit list. I really love the music, because it totally appeals to my almost-30 year old self – songs from my childhood and songs from my current life, with some talented performers. Great example: the homage to Madonna in the most recent episode (“The Power of Madonna”; link goes to Hulu). Yeah, I totally recognized all the images from her videos during the hallway walkthrough, and I laughed, and I sang along with almost every song. But you know what? I didn’t so much like the way you dealt with misogyny. Seriously…did you LISTEN to yourselves? You had one or two really awesome lines, with real feminist thought. No – make that adult, human thought. Like the fact that privilege blinds you from even seeing that other people might experience something different.

The attempt to deal with sexism gets points from me for trying. Few points, due to the massive failures, but points. You get zero points for dealing appropriately with siblings with disability. And since this is my blog and it’s about my experience as a sibling to a woman with disabilities, I get to display my emotions and tell you how I feel about the way in which your show represents people like me.

Let me be clear: it is pretty much AWFUL. I get that Sue is a personality who is generally abrasive and crude. I often appreciate the humor in her lines. This “handi-capable” shit? Incredibly insulting. Making light of the struggles that siblings face growing up? Even worse. I won’t speak to the comments about being neglected by parents, but you absolutely horrified me with the weird way in which you presented that revelation. Yes, yes, I saw the episode where Sue visits her sister. In an institution. It’s clear from the way that episode played out that she wasn’t exactly the most present sister. It’s also crystal clear to me that nobody knew about Sue’s sister. The revelation that Sue had a sister with special needs got totally blown over in favor of…a plotline largely focusing on a hairstyle.

I get enough crap from people who immediately assume that living with my sister was a blessing that I was given because I can handle it, or a curse, or that it made for a sucky homelife. My relationship with her was, and is, complicated, and I know that it’s a hell of a lot better than many, many siblings have. Lily loves me, and I love her, and we’ve had a great life so far, all things considered. I will freely acknowledge that my relationship with her is as different from other people whose siblings are atypical as any typical sibling pairs are from each other. It’s possible that what you showed represents some other siblings’ experiences. But I felt like your portrayal of Sue and her sister made a farce of what my sister and I have lived. (And yes, I felt deeply uncomfortable with the big reveal of Sue and her sister when I first saw that episode (“Wheels”). Ask my mom; we talked about how weird it made me feel.) Lily isn’t someone to be pitied, I couldn’t quite tell if I was supposed to pity Sue’s sister. (I have learned from Wikipedia that her name is Jean. What does it tell you that I didn’t even know the character’s name without looking it up?) If Jean has Down Syndrome, I have a hard time believing that Sue would be a total misanthrope…with the exception of people with her sister’s diagnosis. Again, I can’t and won’t speak for all people whose siblings have disabilities, but that was a real stretch for me to believe.

Plus? Not cool, the way you dealt with Will and Emma. How, exactly, is it better for Will to tell Emma that she needs therapy before they can sleep together than to push for sex on what’s really their first date or to bail on her immediately when she says she’s never had sex before? Having been in and out of therapy for years, that one hurt. We need to see more from Emma’s perspective – I want to know, as a viewer, whether she is ready to seek counseling. I want to know if she sees herself as “crazy,” or if she sees herself as a woman who treats her world in a particular way. Having been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that absolutely affects my love life as much as Emma’s way of processing the world affects hers, I can tell you that I would have (and HAVE) been horrified by boyfriends trying to fix me, without regard for whether I thought I was broken or was ready to be fixed. Trust me, it’s a huge decision to go to therapy, and to really use it to change who you are. It is an immensely intimate relationship. I’ll grant that you could have handled that part a lot worse, but you could have handled it a lot better, too. If I were Emma, my need for order and clarity would have meant I would have known my health insurance policies backwards and forwards. If I were Emma and wanting to have sex with Will and knew my current self wasn’t ready, you can also bet that I would have started trying to find a therapist or a way to help myself reach my own goals.

Some of your previous episodes and PR materials have run afoul of a lot of your viewers. Please read up on the commentary over at FWD/Forward to hear from self-identified women with disabilities if you haven’t already.

Please, please, PLEASE – if you read this, think about it. When it first premiered, I loved your show. I love the potential power it has to poke at social constructions and how we treat each other and how some really talented singers and songwriters have helped us to understand that. It would make me happy if you could be honest enough in that view to treat the issues fairly, instead of what I fear are ratings-friendly decisions or choices meant to simplify your plotlines. Life is messy. It’s okay if television show plots are, too.

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One Comment on “Glee, you are now on my sh*t list”

  1. […] post: the r-word takes some hits May 26, 2010 by Elysia You may or may not have read my post on Glee and my discomfort with it. Well, tonight I caught the most recent episode online. I’m still […]


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