Tag Archives: sizeism

90 Gleeking Minutes

27 Apr

I’ve been meaning to post something here since I started doing my final papers. Nothing like reading immigration policy to get a person riled up and ready to post some angsty self righteous bloggage. I’m sure as I continue to pursue research about immigration and the U.S. Southwest, the blogs will just appear.

Today, however, I have been inspired. Again, it is Glee that inspires e with its inability to 1) create more than once consecutive episode worth the pure awesome and camp that was the first season and 2) more importantly recognize its embodiment of so many -isms it could make your head spin.

If you recall, last week I talked about Mercedes’ lack of solos (which didn’t change this week) and the institutional structures that these inter-Glee inequalities reify. I talked about the complete disavawal of any real discussion of race and fatphobia on the show, the two things that my friends and I argue are the real┬ácauses of Mercedes’ lack of solo time.

This week, Glee decided to hit it head on with all of its problematic language and subject matter. Usually, I am content to watch Glee through my feminist pop culture lens of critical analysis, aware of the stereotypes and tropes that the show maintains, because of the other great things it tries to do. Also, the music. Did I mention I have almost every song they’ve ever released? It’s an obsession that I own, kind of like my obsession with Ke$ha. Anyway, certain plotlines, like Kurt’s relationship with his family, Quinn’s struggle with teenage pregnancy from the first season, and Zizes’ character growth as a confident, sexual, fat female high schooler have also kept me hooked. (Not to mention Blurt. I think they may be my favorite couple ever. I loved Darren Criss when he was in A Very Potter Musical, and I fully own my objectification of him as a really really sexy object whenever he starts to croon on screen.) My weekly Glee watchings have also turned into somewhat of a ritual. Last year, they involved the friends that I had known since my freshman year of college, and watching Glee was a part of our senior year experience as friends. This year, my Glee watching group consists of many new friends that I’ve made in my WGS graduate program up here in New Jersey. Glee has become part of my life. Tuesday is a very important day in my week.

That is why it is so hard for me to write this post. In consideration of my love for the show, I’ve decided to write it a letter to tell it how it hurt my feelings, and why I’m mad. After all, communication is key to a lasting relationship.

Dear Glee,

I didn’t watch your pilot episode when it aired way back in May 2009. I was a latecomer, who saw the previews for the rest of the season starting that fall and quickly searched the illegal TV websites to find the pilot so I could understand what all the fuss was about. When the five misfits who made up the original New Directions came together and sang “Don’t Stop Believing,” I felt my heart leap with joy. I reserved a lounge on campus so my friends and I could watch the premiere in surround sound on the big screen in Student Life, and the rest is history.

I, along with millions of other viewers, became one of Rachel’s biggest fans. I knew that she was a well-meaning outcast whose eccentricities and neurosis were the result of having parents who encouraged her to be a star and classmates who ridiculed her on a daily basis. It’s hard to be your only cheerleader. I wanted Rachel and Finn to be together, even after the baby daddy drama started. The Madonna episode rocked my world as Tina found her feminist voice, and I truly started to appreciate Santana after she kicked ass singing Gaga. When Jesse St. James cracked that egg on Rachel’s head, he was also cracking my heart.

The first season was not without issues, but something about it just worked. The plots weren’t ever too deep, and many of the subplots changed and fell out of the story arc from one episode to the next, but something about the genuine exuberance and campy nature of the story warmed my heart.

This season, you haven’t been nearly as kind to me. The first few episodes were really just vehicles for iTunes tracks, and some of the most important stories from the first season (remember when Quinn had all that baby mama angst, and was pregnant, and stuff?) were completely scrapped or forgotten. Rachel had suddenly turned from the well-meaning but self-centered girl who’s only best friend is herself to an annoying, selfish, meddling child. (Sending Sunshine to a crackhouse? Really? Really?). A few bright spots in this season are the character growth of both Britney (thank God for those one liners) and Mike Chang (I am so glad you’re giving him more dance time!), and the exploration of Santana’s sexuality, along with the aforementioned amazing that is Blurt. It wasn’t until Blaine came into my life that I truly found my love for Glee again.

But this episode tonight, Glee, really crossed a line. You know that a large portion of your viewers identify in some way with the characters on your show. You draw us in by trying to portray the lives of marginalized teens with some intention of truth. Many of your viewers are progressives, who are ecstatic to see portrayals of certain characters, like Zizes, because in many ways they push acceptable boundaries. You must know that we’re out here, right? You know that I’m liberal, and you know that I love you, so why did you insist on raining tons of ableist, misogynist, racist, sizeist, fatphobic and sexist language on me tonight?

I was so thoroughly looking forward to your 90 minute episode, Glee! I thought it would be like the Madonna and Gaga episodes of the first season, or the Rocky Horror episode from the fall: high production value and awesome songs, and the chance of real plot development! You complete disappointed me. Within the first thirty minutes of the show, I was already fed up. Let me show you exactly where you went wrong, because I know you can’t read my mind, and if this is going to work, I have to tell you what I need from you as a TV show.

Firstly: the interaction between Zizes and Quinn. Though the concept of bringing depth to Quinn’s character by turning her into a self-hating was once less skinny person could be kind of interesting (if it hadn’t already been done better by Saved), it was completely unnecessary. Not only that, but its discovery involved a ridiculous amount of sizest language (“squeeze that tiara onto your head,” just for starters) and fatphobic actions on the part of Quinn. The resolution of the plot, where the three other fat girls wearing matching outfits celebrate Quinn as “one of the people” because she used to be fat but she “overcame” that obstacle, is even more troubling. If the answer to Quinn’s self-esteem issues as a chubby girl in middle school only came through a nose job and endless dieting, is that the kind of “overcoming” that these girls should be aspiring to? Plus, the sudden appearance of a backstory where Quinn transfered in eighth grade and her father (at that point, not estranged due to her teenage pregnancy) bought her a nose job didn’t fit her character at all. It felt completely forced, like there had to be something that Quinn was struggling with (but not, of course, the fact that she gave birth less than a year ago, that her parents got divorced, or that her treatment as a pregnant teen might have changed her perspective as a high schooler), so they created the “skinny girl used to be ugly! and fat! and with glasses!” plot. The amount of problematic sizeist and fatphobic dialogue surrounding this plotline made me incredibly uncomfortable. This was so disappointing following your inclusion of an awesome mash-up of “I Feel Pretty” and “Unpretty” at the beginning of the episode.

Further, I have had it up to HERE with your Mr. Schuster. I’ll admit, when he first danced onto the scene, sporting the best vest collection ever assembled, my heart would beat faster everytime you let him rap. His relationship with Emma’s OCD, however, has forever spoiled my love for his butt chined, jerry curled, nineties hip hop rocking character. I cannot, and will not sit through another scene where he, from his condescending perch of “normalcy,” derides her for not being able to overcome her obsessive compulsive disorder. Sometimes it is confusing, because he seems to accept that it is a serious mental illness that has a large impact on her life, and that kind of framing usually comes with a more holistic and progressive understanding of the person’s relationship with OCD. This is not the case for Schuster. Tonight was the icing on the cake. I could not believe my ears when he told her that everyone “puts up” with her mental illness because she is still able to function (SHOCK!) and because she is “so cute about it,” but that it was time for her to take control. Then, as the answer to her OCD that has plagued her throughout her life, he just pulls out some unwashed produce from the grocery store. Firstly, I do not have OCD and I certainly would not touch fruit that had not at least been rinsed (if not washed with fruit and veggie cleanser or spun in a lettuce spinner). Second, the arrogance implicit in his assumption that she should just be able to eat this unwashed food and be cured because he thought to bring it (when she obviously had never thought to try to do things any other way than through the rituals associated with her experience of OCD, because how could she ever think to do that without some man’s help?) was completely horrifying. The language he used (mentioned above) made me so seethingly angry, because he managed to be sexist, patronizing, and ableist all in the same breath. The statements of Emma’s counselor later, and the attempt to show her struggle to process OCD’s effects on her life, show promise for better treatment of her mental illness as the show progresses, but unless that change also includes someone telling Schuster that he has far more to be ashamed of than a butt chin, I may just have to give up on you altogether.

Through all of our ups and downs, the idea of you still brings a spring to my step and a burst of happiness to my heart. This has become tempered, recently, by a string of ever more pronounced experiences where you continue to at best ignore and at worst, as seen in today’s episode, reproduce a whole spectrum of -isms in the plot, dialogue, and character development of your show.

I’ve invested so much time in us. You have become a part of my life, a bright spot in my week, a reward for finishing final papers, a social ritual for me and my closest friends. You are so much a part of my daily life, that it would make me very sad to see you go. That said, everyone has deal breakers. My mom taught me that. I can’t stand, or sit, by and consume you as you continue to represent ways of seeing the world that do not jive with, and in some cases are in complete opposition to, mine.

I truly hope we can work this out. See you next week,


Well, that turned out far longer than I meant it to. Its time for sleep, and study in the morning.

In Solidarity and Glee-induced frustration,



Well, Mercedes, in answer to your question…

20 Apr

Today I was watching one of my favorite shows, Glee, with some of my favorite feminist peeps (as per usual on a Tuesday). I am fully aware of the issues many feminists and activists have with the show, and bitch magazine has done a great job of complementing my fanatic consumption of all things Glee with their fierce feminist criticism, and I am ever so grateful for this.

This post is not going to be all too long, I don’t think, because I just want to comment really quickly on a clip from tonight. Too bad I can’t find it online yet. The basic gist of it is (and I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler if you didn’t see tonight’s episode, but in case you’re worried, wait until you watch it) that Mercedes and Rachel are in a car talking about solos, divas, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I’m going to have to ad-lib a bit, but the conversation basically the scene from Glee went like this:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Rachel: Blah blah blah its about how much you want it blah blah blah you have to demand respect blah.

I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what Rachel said here, because my commentary with my friends was happening over her little speech about how she wants to be in the spotlight more than anything else in the world as an explanation of why she gets more solos than Mercedes.

Here is what happened in my living room:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Me: Institutionalized racism

Aimee: Fatphobia

Alex: I love you guys

[Insert high five of feminist critical analysis here]

This is the thing. I realize that Glee is “just a show” and that the characters exist within a fictional universe where the realities of our culture don’t necessarily have to exist. However. The people who are writing the show are living in our society, writing about life in high school in our society, and pandering to entertainment executives and a consumer population deeply embedded and implicated in our society. The characters of Glee, like us, sit at the crossroads of many social institutions and structures, constructions of identity and subjectivities. This is why I had to cut Rachel off. (Well, as much as I could without muting Glee, because that would be blasphemous.)

Mercedes does not get as many solos as Rachel because she is a) a woman who is b) black and c) fat and not ashamed (and yes, I am including the episode where she experiments with dieting and experiences body insecurity because all of our experiences with our bodies are nuanced and full of shades of gray). Unlike Lauren Zizes (or just “Zizes,” as she is known on the show), who has been allowed to have a sexuality and a relationship with a popular, attractive football player, Mercedes has also not had any romantic entanglements beyond a crush on Kurt, her gay friend, and a fleeting conversation with a ┬árandom guy who only appears in one or two episodes after Kurt suggests she pursue him (she responds, at first, and for good reason, “Is it just because he’s black?”). I would suggest that part of this is because Zizes was already posited as a deviant female character in one of the first episodes (as the female wrestler who broke gender boundaries at McKinley High), and performs a deviant form of feminine sexuality (forward, confident, aggressive, body positive). Zizes is also white, and her identity as fat has been central to her character development.

Mercedes is supposed to exist outside of her size (now that she’s no longer trying to be a Cheerio) and outside of her race (except for passing comments like Kurt’s “I’m gay, she’s black, we make culture.”), so those cannot be reasons she doesn’t receive the same opportunities for solos as Rachel (thin, neurotic, Jewish). But, if we’re looking at Glee through a feminist lens that demands a position at the intersections, we have to call that out.

Rachel’s suggestion that Mercedes just doesn’t want it enough, or has too many other interests in her life other than the “spotlight,” puts the blame on Mercedes instead of a Glee club that reflects certain racist and sizeist aspects of patriarchal culture. I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of arguments about minorities’ ability to gain employment, succeed in school, and escape the “cycle of poverty” and the welfare system. If only these populations would try harder, and really want it, they, too could occupy the place in society they desire. These arguments not only deny but render invisible considerations of race, class, and other factors in access and opportunity in our society. There are structural mechanisms of oppression that allow certain people, more reflective of the hegemonic masculine ideal, access to opportunities (or solos) while keeping others, quite literally Othered, in their hierarchical place.


By the way, I still love Glee. Have you seen this new Warblers CD?!

Love and Solidarity,