Edited on 4/19/14.
Hey, guys! We are reviving The Queerview Mirror, a review of something queer-related (movies, websites, tv shows, anything) brought to you by one of us Queereka folks every Friday. Enjoy!
Caution: this post might contain spoilers for those who haven’t seen the recent Glee episode “Bash.”
Let me start by admitting that I love Glee. I absolutely love the music and if the characters are sometimes bigger divas than I can stand, they always realize how stupid and self-centered they are being and rein it in for the rest of the episode, at least, and sometimes for a few episodes in a row. Most episodes are lighthearted and the problems the characters deal with are the problems most young people have to deal with: relationship drama, limited school funding, and figuring out what to do after high school for just three recent examples. Most of the time Glee is just a fun show, outstanding only for the cast’s musical talent. But every so often Glee dives into some of the most challenging, hard-hitting issues our culture/society is facing. There have been episodes on issues as diverse as school shootings, teen pregnancy, Asian stereotypes, ableism and lack of access for people in wheelchairs, gay and lesbian relationships, sex education, excessive alcohol consumption, religion, and being transgender.
One of the recent episodes, aired on April 8, and now available on Hulu (instead of just on HuluPlus), called “Bash,” tackles two big issues: gay bashing and interracial relationships. Maybe these issues don’t seem to be the biggest issues right now. The suicides of teens perceived as being queer has been much more covered in the media recently. And I personally don’t remember the last time I saw anything about the challenges and prejudices facing interracial couples in the mainstream media.
To be honest, the first time I watched it, I wasn’t as impressed as I hoped I would be. There was so much going on that the treatment of each issue seemed a little light. The second time I watched it (which did happen to be fifteen minutes after the first time; in my defense, it was because I wanted to write this post) I appreciated it a lot more, how all the pieces weave together to build into a powerful whole.
The episode opens with Rachel, Sam, Kurt, and Blaine (played by Lea Michele, Chord Overstreet, Chris Colfer, and Darren Criss) walking down the sidewalk carrying candles and white roses. They sing “No One Is Alone” from Stephen Sondheim’s play Into the Woods, acapella, the other people walking with them singing the music behind the melody. It is somber and haunting and beautiful. They come to a street light, its base surrounded by flowers, candles, teddy bears, and rainbow flags. A picture of a young man is in the middle of this memorial. The watcher knows the scene depicts a candlelight vigil for the young man, the victim of gay bashing, without being told.
The screen goes black and the word “Glee” appears at its center in white for about five seconds, a pause to process emotions before the show goes on.
It is not my job to give you a scene by scene account of the episode. You can go watch it yourself if you are interested, and I would encourage you to do so. But to summarize, the episode deals with the gay bashing of this young man, Sam and Mercedes (played by Amber Riley) getting back together, Rachel deciding to quit attending the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts (NYADA), and Kurt becoming the victim of gay bashing after intervening on behalf of another guy. For my purposes though, there are a couple more scenes worth describing in detail.
First, shortly after (re)entering their relationship, Mercedes and Sam have dinner with Mercedes’ friends and backup singers Tesla and Shaynice (played by Dana Davis and Ashley Blaine Featherson), who are very concerned about Mercedes and Sam dating. Before Sam arrives, they express concern that he’s a high school boyfriend and from Ohio and then it seems like Sam is making a huge mess of the dinner, doing things like asking if the two women’s hair is real. However, after the dinner Mercedes and her friends talk about their thoughts about Sam. It turns out that they liked Sam, even his impressions, and their real issue with the relationship is that Sam is white and Mercedes is black. They say by dating Sam Mercedes will alienate black women, anger black men, and destroy the market for her album, leaving only white people (albinos, as they so kindly put it) to buy it. She says she doesn’t care and they say she should. Swayed by her so-called friends, Mercedes tells Sam she can’t date him. Edit: As my sister pointed out, these scenes unjustly cast a pair of black women (and people of color in general) as the only ones opposing interracial relationships, the villains in this storyline. This is not the first time media has portrayed colored communities as the ones resisting interracial relationships (think Save the Last Dance). However, white people are just as likely, if not more likely, to oppose interracial relationships, through microaggressions or ‘concern’ similar to what Mercedes’ friends expressed. This is one place that the writers of Glee could have done a bit better.
Second, towards the end of the episode, Kurt encounters two guys beating up another guy in an alley. He intervenes and the guy being beaten up escapes, leaving Kurt behind to face his two attackers. They make it clear that they have been beating the other guy because he ‘looks gay’ and are all too happy to attack Kurt for the same reason. One of the guys hits him over the back of the head with a brick and the other punches him in the face several times before they get into their truck and drive away, leaving Kurt lying motionless in the alley.
Before they attack him, Kurt asks the bashers “What decade are you from?” Mercedes probably should have asked the same thing of her backup singers. And I think that is the big question of the episode. Haven’t we made more progress than this? Why are we still dealing with gay bashings and prejudice against interracial couples?
One of my favorite images from the rallies outside the Supreme Court last spring while the court was hearing the same-sex marriage cases was the image below:
To me it is a powerful picture because it reminds us all that our rights are intertwined, that our fates and happiness are entwined.
I think there are a lot of reasons for why we haven’t left gay bashings and prejudice against interracial couples behind, but one of the most important ones is that we often forget that our rights and happiness are tied to those of others. We decline to participate in the struggles of others, we isolate ourselves, we choose to think we’ll be left behind if other people get rights before we do. We think of privilege and the access to rights as finite and the act of acquiring them as a zero-sum game. Every gain by one group means someone else loses and other groups are excluded from making any gains. White men refuse to acknowledge their privilege. Feminists exclude women who are trans*. Men of color seek advancement for their own cause before women gain equality and white women do the same in reverse. Homosexuals don’t believe bisexuality and asexuality even exist. People traditionally considered able-bodied don’t consider how to make buildings accessible or how to ensure all classroom materials are useable by students who are deaf or blind. The queer movement has brought attention to how damaging the use of ‘gay’ as a negative term is but doesn’t talk about how the wide-spread use of the term ‘crazy’ in a variety of contexts trivializes the experiences of people living with mental illness. Of course, these are very broad statements that are not true of everyone in the groups mentioned, but that they all happen means that our movements need to spend a lot more time thinking about intersectionality and how we can support each other.
Added to that, even if we know something is wrong, we frequently fail to address the prejudice, discrimination, and violence occurring around us. We fail to speak up or intervene because we are worried about what other people will think of us, because no one else is taking action, because we don’t think it is our place to get involved, because we don’t know what the right thing to do is, because we don’t think we can make a difference.
But in “Bash,” Kurt intervenes and Mercedes recognizes how prejudice is linked. The best part of Kurt’s intervention is that he does it without hesitation. He appears at the end of the alley, registers the calls for help, and immediately runs into the alley, yelling at the bashers to stop. We should all commit to intervention with the same conviction as Kurt does. The worst part is that he gets hurt because of his intervention, which may lead some viewers to believe that intervention is too dangerous. However, later in the episode there is a discussion of how Kurt might have intervened in a safer manner. Kurt’s father Burt (Mike O’Malley) lectures him about calling 911 or getting help in some other manner instead of getting physically involved. What I hope viewers will take away from those scenes is that they should take action, though what action is appropriate depends on who they are.
At the end of the episode, Mercedes tells Sam that she was wrong to end their relationship. She says it is as messed up to decide whether or not to date Sam based on the color of his skin as it would be messed up to choose not to be friends with someone (Kurt) because he is gay. She makes the connection between prejudice against interracial relationships and homophobia and she chooses to stand against both.
Overall, the episode is thought-provoking and powerful. It reminds viewers of two important issues that we haven’t finished addressing. The song selections and the drama around the various plot lines work together to build the strength of the message of the episode. It was well done and once again I take my hat off to Glee for not shying away from the issues all media ought to be spotlighting.
Queerview Mirror is a semi-regular feature where Queereka contributors review a variety of media. Look for Queerview Mirror posts on Friday afternoons.
Featured image from mjsbigblog.com