At some point in 2020, Gen-Z internet unanimously agreed to hate Matthew Morrison, the generally “ok” network television actor. On TikTok and Twitter, mostly, a widely proliferating meme proclaims: “Fuck Matthew Morrison!” There is no reason for this. He is not a particularly famous person; his most notable recent project is NBC’s Grinch Musical Live, certainly not enough to warrant a generation of internet users proclaiming their disgust at the man in unison. Yet, despite a relative lack of news about the actor, this seemingly out-of-nowhere vitriol for Morrison is simple to explain. It all comes down to object permanence.
Most people learn, as a baby, that when something disappears from your field of vision, it still exists. Babies also learn other great lessons for coping with the stressors of modern life, like the idea that sometimes people look different than they used to, or that even though mom disappeared behind her hands, or a blanket, she is thankfully still there. Then, those babies get unfortunately older, and life starts to wear them down again. They get holes in their favorite jeans, break their favorite bongs, or find new ways to cope with the reality of a global pandemic. Television will be sometimes good, but mostly, television will be bad. And in a few special instances, television will be so bad that reality begins to warp around the permanent scars it left on their fickle hearts and brains. For those building rinky-dink little hate shrines to Matthew Morrison, that television was Glee. In the years since the show ended, Morrison has been a non-factor in the lives of Glee survivors. But with huge swathes of the internet re-watching the cursed show, he is back, and he is yelling: “Peek-a-boo!”
If a person managed to escape the omnipresent destructive force known as Glee while it was still on the air—most likely because they are currently over the age of 25—they should consider themselves lucky. Its reign of terror began in 2009, when then-middling showrunner Ryan Murphy, known best for Nip/Tuck, launched the show soon heralded as the future of teen programming. Created alongside Goop’s now-husband Brad Falchuk, the series featured a host of actors who were, at the time, mostly unknown: Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Jenna Ushkowitz, Naya Rivera. The man asked to oversee these adults-slash-high schoolers onscreen was Matthew Morrison: perpetual guest-star, off-Broadway actor, and occasional music maker. The series, in its original form, revolved around struggling high school teacher Mr. Will Schuester, played by Morrison, who through blatantly corrupt manipulation tactics, convinced a group of high school freaks and delinquents to band together and start a glee club. He had no reason to do this other than some sick, adolescent fantasy of his. Also, the former glee club director was fired for sexually assaulting a student.
Bolstered by that obviously ridiculous plot, Glee debuted to massive success. Its first season, which ran from 2009 to 2010, garnered an average of 10 million viewers. The show was generally liked by critics, who agreed it was ridiculous, and among fans, it soon developed a cult-like status. I’m ashamed to admit that in my own high school, a group of people I was most definitely not associated with would regularly host watch parties in each other’s basements, accompanied by the glee club’s signature red shirts. Again: I was not doing this, my friends were not doing this, literally not a single person I loved and respected was doing this, and I have not owned that red shirt since at least 2011.
Anyway, the next few seasons featured a dazzling array of downright offensive, ridiculous, and often illogical scenarios, many involving Will Schuester. These include but are not limited to:
- He frames the lead character for drug possession to get him to join Glee Club.
- Will sings “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” with Rachel Berry, a student. He also sang “Endless Love” with Rachel.
- His performance of “Toxic,” where he fucks a hat in front of his students for four whole minutes.
- Will and Sue, the cheerleading coach, regularly assault each other. Their banter is frequently more important than literal classtime, and at the expense of students.
- His only friends are high schoolers.
- He “rapped” a lot. No songs were safe from him: “Thong Song,” “Gold Digger,” “Bust a Move,” and more I’ve blocked out.
- There was an entire episode where he told a trans student that getting the school to twerk in unison was more important than hate crimes that trans student was dealing with.
- Despite a variety of inappropriate relationships with his students, illegal acts, and downright manipulative tendencies, Will is made the principal of the high school by the end of the series.
Granted, Glee is a show that spawned a horrific display of dizzying plot lines, lest anyone ever forget the “hot tub super sperm pregnancy.” But Mr. Schuester’s power as a teacher was a specific sort of evil. For soon-to-be high schoolers gobbling up the show, perhaps he felt familiar, or frightening. I saw Mr. Schuester in the actions of my own drama teacher, and the freshman year English teacher that bent a bit too far over girl’s desks when giving them notes on their homework assignments. And with many of those same middle schoolers and high schoolers now in college and/or on the internet too much, they are bored at home—or school—with nothing much to watch on television. Glee, featured prominently on my own Netflix hub, is an enticing prospect in a time when television is a barren wasteland. It’s long, it’s ridiculous, and it’s instantly meme-able. Too bad it’s also haunted by “Matthew Fucking Morrison,” as the denizens of TikTok refer to him.
So, for those out scrolling the internet, wondering why a bunch of disaffected young people are banding together against the existential threat of Matthew Morrison’s existence, just know we are dealing with our Glee-related traumas as best as we possibly can. It’s not really Matthew Morrison we hate, it’s Will Schuester. In better times, this delineation would be clear. But it’s month.... what, exactly?..... of the ongoing pandemic, and we all need just a bit of space to relearn about the importance of object permanence.