Glee tends to be a touchy subject in the geek community.
Some of us cheer it on for what it does and continues to do with regards to spreading awareness. Others may feel that it is a cop out or pandering to the geek community just enough to get us and the mainstream to watch. So which is true?
It depends on who you ask really. A couple of months ago Patton Oswalt wrote an article about how geek culture as we knew and loved it was dead. One of the reasons he cited for this conclusion was the fact that we were seeing Rocky Horror performed on Glee. Since it has such great mainstream appeal, it now must be the proverbial antichrist of geek media. While I can understand the protective instinct we feel for our cult favorites, I tend to disagree with the doom and gloom sentiment.
Geek culture is constantly evolving, like Doomsday from Superman, but less evil. Glee has actually done a lot of good when it comes to opening up the geek world to mainstream culture. Look at it this way, before this show, popular culture looked down upon glee clubs or show choirs. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples in popular media. For one, how many times have you seen a glee club as the main focus of a show?
The answer is little to none. I admit that I may not be aware of some, so please chime in. The example that easily comes to mind is in American Pie when Oz joins the glee club, amid ridicule from his friends, to get closer to the girl he likes. Beyond that, there are of course the Sister Act movies that, kind of highlight show choirs. Another example is in Weird Al’s song “White and Nerdy” where the songs narrator further cements his geek/nerd history by saying, “I’m nerdy in the extreme and whiter than sour cream/I was in AV club and Glee club and even the chess team!”
Truth be told, Glee has actually done a fair amount for Geek culture. For one it definitely tries to break the stereotype of geeks being relegated to the unattractive. A good example of this is the character of Sam played by Chord Overstreet. Here we have an all American kid, athletic, on the football team, moderately popular, and socially well adjusted. However, as the second season progressed we began to see that he really was a huge geek. In his interactions with both Quinn and Santana, he frequently quoted popular movies such as James Earl Jones’s Darth Vader in Star Wars and Sean Connery from The Hunt for Red October. To add further Geek cred, even Joss Whedon directed an episode with Neil Patrick Harris as the guest star.
Another contribution to Geek culture would be the simple message of acceptance and understanding. The show has done an amazing job of furthering awareness for Gay rights and depicting what life in high school is like for a young gay student. That message of equality and acceptance is present in the fact that no one interested in glee club is turned away, with the exception of Becky, but even that was done gently.
So why the backlash against Glee from geeks?
One reason might lie in the fact that for the most part, the cast of glee kids are all relatively good looking. The show has definitely made some headway with the addition of Lauren Zizes, but looking at the cast you can tell that the less physically appealing students are not strongly represented. Now, I’m not saying that all geeks are ugly, far from it. However, we do not all look like the kids in Glee. Some may see Glee and instead see that it in essence does not represent geek culture.
Some may even view the character of Jacob Ben Israel as a bit on the nose in terms of depicting the “stereotypical” geek. His performance resembles Neil Goldman from Fox’s Family Guy, which may or may not be a coincidence. If there were ever a strong example of a negative depiction of geeks, this would probably be it. The character often comes across as lewd and conniving, such as when he blackmails Rachel into giving him used panties in order to remain silent about Quinn’s pregnancy in the first season.
Another complaint some may have is the lack of strong geek characters on the show. You have Kurt and Schuester who enjoy musicals, which one expects if you are in show choir. However, we don’t see any gamers, D&D fans, Sci-Fi/Fantasy geeks, or any other of the strong flavors of Geekdom out there.
As a writer, I can see the reasons behind that because if it doesn’t fit in the story then you’re just trying to wedge something in that really doesn’t fit and that is pandering. From my perspective, Glee does benefit our culture even though it may not hit the mark on every part. It does not shy away on how the social outcasts face daily ridicule and harassment by the popular, more dominant, culture.
The show’s popularity with mainstream culture is good for several reasons. For starters, it shines a light on what happens in every high school across the nation. Geeks or the social outcasts get trampled on daily, often while those in authority turn a blind eye because of a “kids will be kids” mentality. Second, it is showing the mainstream that the social outcasts have something to offer culture as a whole. Finally, the show has taken something that was purely relegated to the dominion of geekyness and not only made it accessible to the mainstream, but they love it as well.
With that, maybe next time they will be more inclined to give other parts of fringe culture an honest shot. So to everyone who feels that having our culture inch closer and closer to the mainstream is bad, just think about how nice it will be if our kids didn’t have to worry about getting slushied in the face.