Why Glee Still Needs To Work On Diversity

Since creator Ryan Murphy is feuding with Newsweek over gay actors playing straight, it's time for another round of Glee analysis! So, is the show chock full of negative stereotypes, or a beacon of acceptance on primetime TV?

Today's debate is courtesy of The Daily Beast, which has posted two opposing articles on "The War Over Glee." In the first, Andy Dehnart argues that while characters frequently declare that it's best to just be yourself, "Every opportunity Glee has, it turns its characters into what our society expects and demands from people based not on who they are as individuals, but what their genitalia looks like."

Thus Terri is a devious shrew who faked a pregnancy to trap her husband. Openly-gay teen Kurt is so effeminate he makes quips like "as an honorary girl, I have to agree." And according to Dehnart, Finn and Puck love singing, "but to appease our uneasiness with that derivation in gender roles, we're constantly reminded how straight, obsessed with sports, and dumb they are."

In the counterpoint piece, Thaddeus Russell actually agrees that the show is filled with clichés, but argues that it's OK for Kurt to be stereotypically gay because "unabashed queens have transformed life for everyone, straight and gay." What the ensuing history lesson on the gay rights movement has to do with Glee is a little unclear, but it seems Russell is arguing that the show promotes the acceptance of homosexuality by having a lovable flamboyantly gay character, rather than forcing Kurt to tone down his sexuality and blend in with the other straight students.

Everyone seems to agree that Glee is loaded with stereotypes. The real question is whether or not there's anything wrong with that. Just about every TV show, particularly those set in high school, pigeonholes its characters. It's not like Glee is the only show on the air that features a bitchy blonde cheerleader, a sassy black girl, and a dumb football player. However, what rubs me the wrong way is that those involved in the show are constantly patting themselves on the back for being the most progressive program on TV. Granted, the cast may be slightly more diverse than in the typical teen drama, and I can't think of another series that features a teen in a wheelchair. But with pompous declarations that the show is "dedicated exclusively" to promoting tolerance, Murphy is setting the bar pretty high, which makes Glee's shortcomings all the more apparent.

For instance: Kurt's a fun, well-developed character, but why are the only only other examples of homosexuality on the show the pedophile ex-glee coach, Rachel's unseen gay dads who constantly threaten to sick the ACLU on people, and possibly Santana and Brittany, who imply in Finn's presence that they're up for some lesbian activity? Will Kurt's love life always be limited to kissing Brittany and chastely pining for Finn? While there's been a whole episode devoted to Artie and his wheelchair, he's often relegated to supporting vocals, much like his stuttering ladyfriend Tina, who we learn was just faking her speech impediment because she's shy (a shy Asian woman — how novel). At least they fare better than their New Directions teammates, the "black guy who doesn't talk," the "Asian guy who dances and doesn't talk," and the paralyzed kid who was only on the show last week to teach Rachel lesson in humility.

I'm a Glee fan because the characters entertaining and it's fun to watch them sing, not because it's revolutionizing the way women, homosexuals, minorities, and people with disabilities are portrayed on TV. But if the people behind the show get too caught up in singing their own praises and schooling others on tolerance, they'll miss the fact that there's still a lot of room for improvement at McKinley High.

The War Over Glee [The Daily Beast]
Glee's Harmful Simplicity [The Daily Beast]
Glee: In Praise Of Stereotypes [The Daily Beast]
Glee Creator Ryan Murphy Pens Another Open Letter; Says He's Spoken To Author Of Newsweek Article [Entertainment Weekly]

Earlier: The Perils Of So-Called Straight Talk
Sing It Sister: Why I Hate Glee
Please Don't Stop The Music: Love & Hate For Glee