Thursday, November 11, 2010

It Was Better On The Hellmouth

We watch a lot of tv here in The Burrow and the fortuitous mash up of this past weeks tv lineup had some enlightening comparisons. So, if you'd allow a little ranting from this angry nerd I'd like to take a moment to juxtapose two of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Glee, and how they dealt with similar issues across the span of 12 years. In fact- there was a single episode of each show that so strikingly mirrored the other that I was PHYSICALLY UNABLE to not rant. (The episodes in question are Buffy's 2nd season's Phases and Glee's 2nd season's Never Been Kissed. *** SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH SHOWS!***)

I'm not an academic but I am a queer person who loves pop culture and has been wishing and hoping for a show that has as many gay themes as Glee has. I was ecstatic with Kurt's first season coming out episode- especially with the way they are writing his father. As the second season progresses, however, I seem to find myself getting angrier and angrier after each episode.

But somehow I never leave Buffy feeling the same sense of betrayal and disappointment. Let's take a look at the episodes in question and the themes they share.

1.) Closeted Gay Bullies

Both shows feature bullies who, it turns out, are only acting out aggressively to cover their own closeted homosexuality. Both bullies eventually get confronted and end up outing themselves in different ways. Let's take a look:

(Yup, folks, that's a Thumbs Up.)

(Rape Kisssss!!!!! Not Okay!!!!)

Buffy's bully pulls this 24hr 180. The next time we see him he's picking up a girl's dropped schoolbooks and thanking Xander for helping him come to terms with the truth. Ok, so Xander's homophobia is kind of an issue but over all the episode has a positive message. Glee's bully freaks the fuck out, violates poor Kurt and continues being a jerk. Awesome.

2.) Inappropriate Kissing and How to Handle It

Willow wants to kiss Oz- secretly to make Xander jealous- but when she comes on to Oz, he turns her down. Articulately. In Glee? Neither Kurt or coach Beist has been kissed by someone they like. When they confide in Blaine and Mr. Schu respectively, the characters get different responses.

(Willow's face reads: "Wow, I'm so impressed with your able to articulate your feelings."*)

(Kurt's face reads: "Damnit, Blaine, I don't want a sandwich, you jerk. I want you to kiss me already.")

(Mr. Schu's face reads: "I'm gonna have to kiss this woman in order to keep her from quitting and leaving me terribly guilt ridden.")

Oz tells Willow that he wants their first kiss to be perfect- and he says it in a way that diffuses the situation and makes her feel wanted. I think Glee's images speak for themselves.

(*Okay, technically this scene is from the episode "Innocence" but still.)

3.) The Fight for Feminine Identity/Strength

Each show also highlights a female character who's femininity/strength is questioned. Glee's butch football coach, Beist, is made into an anti-sex symbol while Buffy is confronted by an uber-masculine hunter who vocally doubts her ability to defeat a roaming werewolf. (Yeah, the shows are a little different- but the comparisons hold!)

(Buffy beats the hunter's evil shotgun. Superman style.)

(Beist get's a hug. All better!)

After safely capturing the werewolf and proving her abilities, Buffy even gets a chance to show off her strength. Beist gets her femininity (and her JOB) handed back to her by an uncomfortably awkward Mr. Schu and a handful of jacket-clad, pop singing and dancing highschool boys. Uuuuuugh.

In the midst of the "It Get's Better Movement" we are calling on pop culture to help us provide queer youth with alternative images of sexuality and to give them hope for the future. But tv is not getting better. From what we have seen here, it's getting worse. We are too rushed to acclaim anything gay on tv that we often miss what's really going on. Yes, we have more gay characters on television than were available in Buffy's hayday. We had Ellen, we had Will and Grace and yes, we have Kurt. BUT- We need to be having new conversations- not worse and less nuanced versions of the conversations we were having more than 10 years ago. Was the Hellmouth in 1999 really that much better than Ohio is in 2010? Ouch.


Joamette said...

Well, if you mean Cleveland, then it's just a worse Hellmouth. :P You're totally dead on with your closing statements!

Reg said...

I totally agree! I'm straight (but not narrow), and I've noticed this same lack of real progression and conversation in accepting homosexuality in the media.

I wish we could move on from sensationalizing and brushing off the real issues, (the bigotry, the bullying, religious zealotry, the fear and anxiety) with candy coated, quick fix endings. It sometimes feels like the gay pop culture figures of yesteryear (albeit rarer) had more to say.

I'm not asking for a full on Queer as Folk/The L Word transformation of all prime time shows (gog knows I have my own issue with that particular pair). I just wish that they'd dare to resolve or say something for once. You know?

Anonymous said...

Well, while I agree with you on EVERYTHING you said about Buffy, I'm not sure I agree with what you said about Glee. There are certain things I have had to deal with as one of the only lesbians at my school, and Glee hits some of them pretty well. The gay population at my school equals about four (i say about because I know for a FACT several men on various sports teams are DEFINITELY gay) and the other three are men. They've told me about things those jock bully types have done to them and it really isn't often that once their "found out" as being gay they come out smiling and being everybody's pal. I think Glee is just trying to be a teensy bit real about it, and I appreciate they're bringing into light how hard and awful the bullying can be.

Otherwise, I agree (Buffy fan forever)