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Glee Finale–Goodbye Seniors!

At last the Glee students (mostly in their twenties but whatever) are graduating. Moving on, leaving us with touching goodbyes.

In the prom episode, Rachel was cast as the underdog who has nothing while Quinn has everything. Rachel, prima donna, has never really fit well as the underdog, and this year’s final few episodes emphasize how badly that role fits. Rachel’s “president of fourteen clubs,” spoiled daughter of doting parents, the girl who gets a second chance after she blows her audition—really, what doesn’t she have? Then with her arrival as prom queen, and a big send-off scream at graduation, she gets even more.

Tina makes a fair point with her disgust at being the real underdog, and this protest echoes one the audience might have—all the stars are leaving! Every character we truly adore is moving on, leaving us with the dreadlocks guy, Irish guy, and mean girl who started her own singing group. But take heart—Tina, with almost no personality, will be the lead singer, the new Rachel-Quinn-Santana-Mercedes character. I’m not excited. All right, we still get Blaine (who should be in college by now if the “Original Song” Sectionals episode is to make any sense) and the fascinating Unique. But they’re graduating all the strong characters and leaving hardly anyone who’s had any storyline at all. Sure the new kids can sing, but that’s less than half of each episode.

In the finale itself, the flashbacks to the very early episodes were fun and delightful, reminding us how far the characters have come. Likewise, having the students sing their goodbyes was a sweet way to have them exit. Kurt’s “I’ll Remember” was quite touching, especially as the other students sang back to him. And “Forever Young” was Will’s perfect goodbye to them all.

All the “surprises” of the students’ futures weren’t all that surprising, truth be told. Three acceptances would have been too pat. Nonetheless, Rachel’s perfect future and final soliloquy song were a bit much.

All the parents’ unconditional acceptance of their children’s singing careers is idealistic of course. They’re leaving their small midwestern high school to try to become famous singers and actors in the top cities of the US—a reasonable plot point given that the show is trying to inspire hopeful teens to reach for the top. But some parents wouldn’t want their kids gambling everything on such a slim chance. In the sudden ending, one detects preachiness—that teens are too young to get married, that if teens don’t get into their dream schools they should try again. It may not be perfect, but the ending is consistent with the rest of the storyline—every single character spends their final moments boosting Rachel to the top. One wonders what Glee will be like without her driving the plot.

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You Can’t Say that in School! Glee Issues

The episode “Funk” shows Vocal Adrenaline TPing Glee’s classroom. All right, Sue lets them in. But when high schoolers in my neighborhood TPed the outside of someone’s house they were marched off to jail. And doing it to the competition screams bad sportsmanship. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them disqualified from Regionals for their attitude. But instead, Will leads his students in planning a retaliatory escalation. The Glee kids steal the mascot and they are threatened with jail time. There’s no permanent censure for Will, their mentor and teacher, who pushed them into this mess. School stories have rules and consequences. But not always on Glee.

One day, Rachel walks into school dressed in the Brittany Spears naughty schoolgirl outfit. A list from high school orientation echoed through my head: no bare midriffs, no cleavage, no miniskirts. Even without uniforms, there’s still a dress code forbidding spaghetti straps and short-shorts. All right, television will have more provocative outfits than real life. But the next scene should have involved her being ordered to wear borrowed clothes or brown paper to cover all her bare skin.

In a more realistic scene, the students aren’t allowed to perform Rocky Horror, even when they skip the cross-dresser. But why does Will insist on pushing for it and wasting all the students’ work? And what about Cabaret as the school musical in “Preggers”? My own school banned that one because it contains an abortion with ambiguous judgment on it. To say nothing of prostitution. Sue doesn’t seem to have thought that one through.

Parent protests are often the cause of censorship. (Though there are plenty of rules about what can be taught or performed on school property). Holly the substitute’s risqué material would likely not be allowed, for instance. And the other teachers are problematic as well. “Sue the bully is out of control. No teacher can speak to students like that. She calls students freaks, bullies them and abuses them. I understand she is supposed to be the bad guy, but no one can get away with that kind of behavior,” one commentator protests (“Watching Glee”). And imagine how Rachel’s doting dads would feel upon hearing her school counselor tell her the lack of a gag reflex will be a blessing.

The parents’ complaints about the grinding, thrusting dance of “Showmance” seem quite justified. Will, however, doesn’t make the “inappropriate for high school” speech he does in “Grilled Cheesus.” He only tells Rachel she shouldn’t have been sneaky about it. And speaking of “Grilled Cheesus,” it seems unlikely the principal would ask his pastor for songs to sing with Jesus in the titles. What about church and state? Wouldn’t the parents of those kids who celebrate Hannukah andKwanza complain?

In fact, real-life parents are complaining, as the Parents Television Council calls Glee the “Worst TV Show of the Week.” Their article complains of “twisted humor and raunchy sensibilities,” adding that the episode “Showmance” “should have also contained the “S” descriptor for sexual situations, given the suggestive dancing and raunchy balloon antics.” There were more protests over a few Glee stars posing in a “near-pornographic display” in GQ (Parents Television Council).

High schoolers won’t watch a few episodes and instantly break school rules to stuff tater tots in a tailpipe or dress like Brittany Spears. But there’s some irritation on the horizon at how the reality of high school is simply ignored. Censorship, always a frustrating issue in high school performances, comes out ambivalent and arbitrary. The rules and their punishments shift. And if there’s one thing high schools can be counted on for, it’s consistent firm rules about how to dress and behave, which subjects are taboo, which rules must not be broken. And so, as a mirror of high school, Glee is a bit wobbly.

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Love Among the Misfits: Twilight and Glee

“I see a future where it’s cool to be in Glee club. Where you can play football and sing and dance, and no one gets down on you for it. Where the more different you are, the better.” Finn says in “Mash-Up.” But of course, the football jocks lock Artie in the Porto-Potty and Finn’s girlfriend calls him gay for signing up, worried that now they’ll never be prom king and queen. Glee, though Will remembers it as cool, is the haven for all the misfits: the gay boy, the pregnant girl, the black overweight girl, the wheelchair kid, the nerds. Into this walks diva Rachel, who appears to have everything in a world of have-nots and broken families. It’s a little hard to take her seriously when she believes she’s friendless and needs a haven to belong. But her tale makes more sense when she’s compared to the remarkably similar Bella Swan.

Many have criticized teens’ beloved Twilight as a wish-fulfillment story. Shy, unattractive Bella arrives at a new high school. Instantly, everyone wants to be her friend, invite her to prom, ask about glamorous Arizona. And creating even more of a stir, she has the attention of the insular teen millionaire Edward Cullen, who’s never even glanced at a girl before Bella.

Glee echoes some of this high-school fantasy attitude. “You’re the best kid in there, Rachel, but that comes with a price,” Will tells her (Pilot). She will have to be the role model for the other kids who can’t sing nearly so well. And he offers her all the solos just so she can feel better. True, high school theater and singing directors give the best parts to the most talented students. But all the solos? When he’s trying to restart this thing?

Though Rachel looks intimidated by the row of blonde cheerleaders in the celibacy club, she quickly stands up on her first day to tell everyone their philosophy is “a joke.” She knows better, and Quinn’s pregnancy certainly supports that celibacy doesn’t work. But Rachel’s always right in her snap judgments, always beloved despite her “high maintenance” personality. When Mercedes protests singing backup for Rachel in the pilot, everyone turns on her—of course Rachel should continue. She’s their diva. And now that Will has conveniently broken all his ethics to threaten Finn, Rachel gets the perfect partner and the pair can begin a perfect relationship.

Rachel pictures them as the hot male lead and the stunning ingénue who everyone roots for. All right, there are some bumps along the way, but deep down, that’s exactly who they are. Here we have idealized teen romance, in which fate and everyone in the story conspire to help the two kids make it. Life for Bella, or the Glee Club for Rachel falls into disaster whenever these star couples quarrel or break up in their “Romeo and Juliet style” romances (“Hell-O,” New Moon).

“I’m so sick of hearing you squawk, Eva Peron!” Mercedes tells Rachel.

“Let her talk!” Finn says, rushing to her defense though he barely knows her (Showmance).

Finn gives up his friends, his top-of-the-school jock status, and his football, all to sing with Glee Club. His miserable girlfriend Quinn calls him gay, and threatens to leave, but Finn won’t budge. Sometimes people change. But in the high school world where reputation and conformity are all, where guys don’t want their friends seeing them as “wimps,” this change feels a little unlikely. Edward, too, risks his secret getting out, and even risks Bella’s life to get close to her, protect her, jump with her among the treetops. And he brings her to the secret haven of the vampires: his adopted family who are just as big a cluster of misfits as the Glee Club.

Esme was an abused wife who lost her child then tried to kill herself. Rosalie, once gang-raped nearly to death, longs for her lost humanity and the ability to have children. Alicewas institutionalized by her suspicious parents. Jasper battled through depression in a hundred years of murder that nearly cost him all traces of humanity. And Edward and Alice are often tormented by their mental gifts, as each learns dire knowledge they’d be happier without. All of them are cut off (by choice) from normal vampire society, and forced to hide their true nature from the surrounding humans. John Granger comments in Spotlight, “In short, we have our postmodern collection of marginalized freaks—a certified rebel, an Appalachian hillbilly, and a Mason, no less! With the Cullen women, they’re all damaged goods who are united only in their struggle to live their lives outside the ‘vampire first’ metanarrative of the Vulturi” (68). These vampires, like the X-Men and other fantastical high school misfits, are more powerful than everyone else, and their abilities separate them from society.

The entire Glee team echoes this. “We’re the outcasts but we’re also better than everyone else” is an echoing theme. In the first episode, Will recalls an idealized Glee Club, filled with spotlights, trophies, and adoration. Glee club? The world of singing, especially small-town high school singing, is unlikely to lead to stardom. Traditionally, Glee Club has been a place for fun and acceptance, a safe place for Rachel to practice her songs in front of peers and Kurt to wear fun costumes, not somewhere where Broadway-class stars get discovered. In a more honest moment, Will admits that the jocks are unlikely to join and Finn points out that maybe Glee still is the “lamest place on earth.” But it’s not about that—as he also adds, it’s about finding a place to express their talents. It’s a haven for Rachel and the other gleeks, just as the Cullen clan is a haven for Bella.

The Twilight series ends with Bella outshining all the vampire clan. As a newborn vampire, she is stronger than her muscle-bound brother-in-law. Even her clumsiness and closed-off mind are revealed as her hidden power—she is a shield who can protect her entire family. Rachel, too, goes on to discover her mom (Idina Menzel!) and lead Glee Club in competition. After three years of leading the group, Rachel continues as star, “President of fourteen clubs” and even Prom Queen (though she wasn’t elected!). As even marginalized Tina accepts that Rachel should indeed be their diva, her old boyfriend-enemy recommends her as the greatest star he’s known, New Directions beats out the more talented Vocal Adrenaline, and one of the world’s top acting trainers shows up to Rachel’s performance to give her a second chance, the perfect wish-fulfillment current of Twilight returns.

Rachel has been the narrative voice of the series, so it’s quite tough to imagine Glee without her. She’s been the leader as all the misfits stand up for one another, making it clear that an attack on one is an attack on all. Like the vampires of Twilight, they form a community where their prima donna and her true love can be teens in love together forever, casting themselves as supporting characters in her drama. And that’s the fantasy.

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