The Televangelist: Glee's Enabling Song

One could never accuse Glee of holding its cards too close to its chest: From the very beginning, Glee was clear about its various controversial stances. Its most prominently displayed principle is tolerance, something Glee presents primarily as a sort of stand-in for “love” and a be-all end-all for life philosophy and direction. They’ve spent a lot of time encouraging empathy for and acceptance of a number of relative minorities and underprivileged. I have previously, without blanket endorsement, suggested Christians view Glee as one of the few places on television we can be encouraged to empathize with gay teenagers and the struggles they face, whether or not we accept their lifestyle choice.

But we all know by now that Glee is a monumentally schizophrenic show. It has all sorts of different priorities, every one brutally shoved under the “tolerance” umbrella. Like Christians who often misuse the call to “love one another” or “speak truth” to one another, Glee has taken its keystone and warped it. The key: They put no limits on the term, leaving “tolerance” to stand on its own and against anything that may seek to provide balance.

This past week’s tell-tale episode highlights the show’s fate: a world where every moral question is left not up to any outside authority but to inward emotions and feelings. This is all humdrum typical worldly stuff until we consider the primary audience for the show: middle school to high school kids.

It made sense to me (though I disagreed) to portray the kids in Glee doing things we might disapprove of for the sake of general realism. They didn’t have to glorify the sin in order to portray it, after all. When I heard that the most recent episode, “The First Time,” would portray Rachel losing her virginity, I approached the episode with an open mind. I anticipated a cautionary tale at best, a more clinical and neutral approach at worst.

Instead, Glee pandered unthinkingly to their underage audience. When faced with the question of whether it was alright to have premarital sex (a conviction Rachel had maintained until challenged by the student-director of her high school music in the name of artistic integrity . . . what???), adults are written off as even more screwed up than the kids, completely devoid of actual wisdom. When her friends are consulted, the opinions come out of personal, traumatic experience. The one girl who had sex with the one she truly loved? She says to go for it.

But what happens when these students leave high school? According to the voice of wisdom in Glee, if Rachel has sex with her “first love,” there will be “no regrets.” But will her future husband agree? Will she look back on that moment with fondness once she’s married? I mean . . . who does?

So the message of the show is a more calculated take on the old standby: “If it feels good, do it.” The really frustrating thing about this is that the show is delivering that message to a national audience that doesn’t need to be converted to such a lifestyle. They’re dying for some outside authority to tell them it’s alright to do what they wanted to do in the first place. Glee’s message of tolerance extends way too far, encouraging teenagers to be tolerant of their own base impulses and urges—and to expect those who care for them to do the same.

Glee is preaching to its reluctant choir: “Sing! Sing whatever you want! Sing with whomever you feel! Just mean it from the bottom of your heart!” But in this case, the song is all wrong.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • Carol

    As I watched the show and the exchange between Artie, Rachel and Blaine – all I could think of was….this is slightly creepy. And this coming from someone who enjoys the show for the most part! Artie was suddenly cast as….what?…..some sort of father figure? He goes on to talk about his first time with Britney and how great it was, only to end it with sharing that she called him the wrong name 4 times during. Seriously? Have Glee writers forgotten what it was like to be teens? That would have devastating even to the most cynical kid.

    As for the no regrets part and Tina sharing with the girls how her first time with Mike was pretty much perfect – as a woman – I gotta laugh. It’s hardly ever like that. For the pure and simple reason that at that age – NO ONE knows what they are doing. So it’s usually awkward and hilarious and weird and still more awkward.

    It was quite a blatant pandering. Even with Kurt and Blaine’s first time they were trying to sell something to the gay teens in the audience that just isn’t very reality based. Most gay teens are harassed and bullied all thru high school and can’t wait to get away from that as soon as possible. And again, even in with gay teens, it’s never a perfect night of tender love that was depicted. The same confusion, awkwardness and ironic hilarity as with hetero teens is usually the norm.

    The thing that annoyed me the most was that Rachel and Blaine were BOTH trying to force Finn and Kurt to have sex with them to further a career goal. And with Blaine, there was the added wrinkle of being “bored” with his relationship with Kurt and trying to spice it up after meeting the dashing and seemingly daring Sebastian. These are pretty intense issues within relationships – but Glee just kinda glossed over it with make-up scenes following the conflict. It was way less than realistic – which was what I thought was the point of Glee.

    They clearly missed the mark here. Tolerance isn’t the point. They’re preaching to the choir when it comes to premarital sex. Most teens are doing it anyways, sadly. What would have helped is if they would have explored further why some teens want to wait. Or even those who didn’t and how they felt about not waiting. Truly – not glossed over with girly talk. Not in the hypocritical way that Quinn “waited” in the first season, where she was on the abstinence group while having sex with Puck (and getting prego in the process). But show the struggles that some teens go thru with their decision…..or indecision…..it isn’t all easily wrapped up with a clear “OK, I’m in, let’s do it” decision at the end of it all. In all honesty, most of time, when I was a teen – confusion ruled the day.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Fantastic comments, Carol. Thanks!

  • Peter Bartlett

    Yeah, I have to echo the sentiments of both Rich and Carol. I started watching Glee last season (and then watched the first two seasons to see what had happened before) and I appreciated the nuanced approach it took to many issues. No, it didn’t always have a healthy message, but it looked at issues from different perspectives.

    I remember one of the first episodes I watched where Kurt was trying to get Sam (at the time new) as his singing partner. Everyone told him not to since it would hurt Sam’s reputation since Kurt is gay. Kurt’s dad, who is usually the moral good guy of the show, told him that maybe everyone was correct. He said that it was important to be considerate of what is good for other people (something like that, I forget his exact phrasing).

    This entire season has been terrible. There has not been a single thoughtful or insightful episode. I was thinking, up until this most recent episode, that Glee had become a silly but harmless show that I was planning on watching simply because I knew the characters and I still like the music.

    The last episode, though, was so terrible I am really not sure I can keep watching. They took on a big big topic of teenage sex, and gave a single perspective: it is good if you love them. Now, I expected this to be the theme, but I had thought Glee would be the type of show that would explore the emotional hurts and dangers that is so common with sex at a young age.

    Before I had thought Glee might be ok for a teenager to watch if there was a parent to talk about it with them after. That episode sent a dangerous message and I would not let my kids (if I had them) anywhere near the show at this point.


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