Glee, a show that played on the network television station FOX, aired from May 19, 2009, to March 20, 2015. Though it was a United States show, it gained international success and attention rather quickly. Fans of the show outside of the US watched it on the internet. And with the help of Tumblr, twitter, Facebook and other social networking forums, it gathered a loyal, defensive fan base I’ve not experienced before.
The show was centered in McKinley High School, which represented small town, rural, USA. Most minds and views appeared narrow, or just downright ridiculous, and it was meant to be. It was marketed as a comedy but its seriousness was apparent to me in the first episode. The main characters, a glee club, were a bunch of outcast, misfit students struggling with their individual identities and self-esteem. And, of course, you had the advocates, the teaches (the heroes), who were also imperfect and, of course, there's always a villain. Viewers came to know and identify with the fictional characters and form opinions/solutions/theories of the crisis/storyline/plotline and networked with others across the globe in huge numbers.
I may be embarrassing myself, but I’m publicly admitting it here- I enjoyed glee! And I’m not in the minority. Fans turned out in record numbers for staged appearances, for concerts, for the actors at other known functions. The fandom became known as “gleeks” –friends were made, and relationships were formed- globally. I met some great people through the love of this show, the actors and their characters. When an actor from the show made his Broadway debut, a get together was arranged by the fandom. I "first met" some online friends, at one of these shows. I put quotation marks around “first met” because in actuality, it seemed as if we knew each other already as old friends. We reserved half of Sardis, for closing show, at least eight countries were represented. We still meet up when they make it out to New York these days, not glee related.
Yes, I enjoyed and admired glee, even with all its failings. It was ridiculous at times, it was over-the-top-beyond-cheesy, sometimes it was great; but besides all of that, it undeniably brought important topics to prime-time-network television. Some serious issues that were addressed: high school status and social stereotypes, body image, bullies/cyber bullying, teen pregnancy, OCD, discrimination, LGBT teens, physical and educational disabilities, relationships, learning to work as a team, race relations, public school funding for the arts, alcohol and drug abuse, modern families, homelessness, and that’s just to name a few.
I’m an adult. I consider myself very open minded (always have), but many viewers were not. If a show can portray situations in an unconventional way, it’s good. And especially for teens. Because these situations are normal, and happen, but for some reason, not in fictional TV land.
With this show, teens formulated analytical breakdowns of the issues and broadcasted their views. The unhindered access they had to air their thoughts and opinions via social networks made for serious discussions of serious topics and that’s a good thing. Maybe people viewed Glee as a very big joke (and sometimes it was), but I’m not sure if oversimplifying any popular teen media is fair to do, especially if it promotes belonging to a community. Fans became artists, fanfiction writers, charity organizers; sometimes not terribly successful, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere. Besides, isn’t it a good thing if teens see people that look like themselves on the screen? The jock that goes with the unpopular girl, the bad ass who winds up in glee club and best friends with the wheel chair kid, gay couples kissing. That should ALL be commonplace, so I think it’s important that it was shown on our TVs.
While I admit that the show SERIOUSLY fell short in exploring and portraying a lot of these, at least they were there, in the public consciousness. Doesn’t that start the conversations, even if to discuss how it’s being done wrong? Isn’t discourse of any kind better than no discourse at all?
As I have stated, I was invested in the fandom, so I got to see (follow) and befriend groups of people of all ages, ethnicities and locations, but my biggest surprise was the young adults. I must say, I was very often astonished by the very grown up attitudes and writings/analysis by young men and women. I’ll admit, some of it was silly, and blatantly obviously from young viewers, but a lot of it was not. Especially Tumblr users; I found that their opinions, outlooks and writings were very mature and thoroughly considered. I immediately wondered how educators could utilize this creative thinking and organize it to benefit young adults in a productive way. A library program on Glee? Why not!? Teens in groups, talking. In this way, they can focus on their own well being and learn about their individual self-worth. Compare, goof off, get serious or bizarre. High school students are so in danger of getting lost, especially if they feel like they’re not part of the “in” crowd. Social and emotional skills are so vital in keeping students on track, especially those at risk. I think it's healthy to have face to face contact outside the "box".
I have personally traveled to attend book signings, concerts, and fan fests because of glee. I have been introduced to many songs and artists I would have never heard of, and I imagine young people were exposed to classics and “oldies” and different genres in music as well. And it wasn’t just that. Thoughts on societal, family, economic and other issues were posted and pondered and examined because of this situation or that on an episode; so even if the stories weren’t addressing generational interaction, its fans of many ages, spanning many decades definitely were connecting. And since the fandom was so diverse, we all learned things about other cultures and countries that aren’t taught in the history books. And we all made some very close friends.
Here are a couple of articles I liked: