“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.