What got people talking about the show in the first place, other than the music, is the storyline surrounding the openly gay character, Kurt Hummel. Some find his story to be the heart of the show, and in part responsible for the shows great success (O’Callaghan, 2011). The character is played by openly gay actor Chris Colfer, who has won several accolades for this role. A lot of the story lines he has been in come from experiences that happened to him in high school. The actor has stated that he didn’t want Kurt to be “overly flamboyant because it’s so overdone,” but instead, wanted to portray the character as “more internal and superior” with a “ ‘I’m better than you’ persona” while “underneath it all he’s the same anxious and scared teen everyone is/was at some point” in their lives (Fernandez, 2009).
However that is not what the audiences saw. Even though he only reveals his sexual identity to his best friend in the third episode, you could already tell that he is ‘queer’ from his first scene in the pilot episode (Pilot (Glee), 2009). You have probably come across characters with similar if not exact characteristic as Kurt, in movies, television shows, and even books.
In his first scene, he is wearing visible make up with several layers of branded clothing, which in no way are school attire. What is even more peculiar is that he is able to afford all this clothing, even though he comes from a low-income family. When he speaks he makes references to fashion brands and Broadway shows, which the other characters are not even aware of. He also has a feminine walk and flips his hair every few minutes.
In that same episode, Kurt performs the entire “Mr. Cellophane” number in a high falsetto. His choice of song suggests that he is not seen for who he really is, and his choice to sing in a female range blurs the lines between his gender and sexuality.
Even though it’s a cliché, its not an ‘inaccurate portrayal.’ The show isn’t a documentary, so some characteristics are unrealistic and it does deal with the honest perceptions people have about gay people. While some applaud Glee for it’s honest portrayal of its gay characters, others claim its too picture perfect. Kurt is depicted as a flawless person in his looks and in his actions, which may give gay teens unrealistic expectations in how they should look and how they should act. What is being presented is the desirable image of the gay male, in terms of race and class, is the same as the desirable image of the heterosexual male.
What differentiates Kurt from the rest of the stereotypical gay characters is that he's not there for laughs or diversity. He's there because he serves the purpose of saying, gays are real people with feelings too, and he's there to let gay teens know they're not alone. And that's why there's more praise than outrage toward a character like Kurt. As a gay teen, Kurt is faced with a number of scenarios that challenge his true identity. In a later episode, named ‘Preggers’, Kurt joins the football team in an attempt to show his dad that he is not gay. After returning home from kicking the game winning point, he is shown in the basement of his house applying skin care products in front of a vanity mirror (Preggers, 2009). He finally tell his father that he is gay; however his father admits he has known that Kurt was gay since he was three because he asked for high heels as a birthday gift. This is another gender stereotype, in which girls want dolls and men want cars.
Another criticism of homosexual portrayals in the media is of the romantic interests given to the homosexual characters, or lack of. While you can see the heterosexual characters kissing and making out in most episodes, Kurt has no romantic storylines in the first season. The closest he came to it was when he had a crush on Finn, one of the heterosexual leads, and tried to manipulate him to fall in love with him (Hairography, 2009). This depiction also reinforces another key stereotype that’s been used for decades now – that all gay men are out to ‘turn’ all straight men.
Having said that, the show also depicts Kurt going through many stages that real gay people go through, such as standing up to bullying, coming out to his parent, falling in love, questioning his faith and discovers himself. So he may have started as another effeminate gay best friend, he character becomes as fleshed out as the rest of the characters as the show progresses.
“Masculinity is expanded to incorporate tolerance of gay men who have take on a female gender identity, but this does not actually challenge heteronormativity, masculinity, and the trivialization and exclusion of minorities or the rigid separation between male/female and man/woman (Wolfenden, 2013).” Just as shows like Queer Eye for The Straight Guy emphasize the differences between the ‘queer’ and the ‘straight’ men, Glee naturalizes Kurt’s sexuality, incorporating his character back into the culture of the show through ideological delusion, which “ensures that the potential threat to the dominant culture posed by the subculture is ‘trivialized, naturalized, domesticated’ (McRuer, 2006).” Kurt may not be a manly man, but he is viewed and accepted as a functioning female, which reinforces the naturalization of sexuality to something that the heterosexual man can understand.
While Kurt may not be over the top flamboyant, he’s still falls under the familiar feminine, fashion-loving clichés we have seen over and over on TV and in the movies. Having said that, the stereotype he embodies does of course exist; but what about the majority of gay people who aren’t like Kurt (Cullen, 2011)? This is where the other Glee characters come in. By having a large cast and spanning several seasons, Glee was able to depict various gay storylines and show that each character and each relationship is unique.
In the second season we get introduced to Blaine Anderson as the role model and potential love interest to Kurt. And just like Kurt, he is white, young, and handsome, but unlike Kurt he is much more confident with his sexuality. While his sexuality is a big part of who he is, it is not a major facet of how he wishes to be perceived.
In the episode ‘Blame It on the Alcohol’, Blaine questions whether he is bisexual or not, but he just accepts that he is gay after making out with Rachael (Blame It On the Alcohol, 2011). The show quickly wrapped up the story instead of exploring it any further. In real life, a person might take years for him to fully accept that he is gay, bi, or straight, but in most shows, not just glee, this type of storylines get resolved within a single episode.
Furthermore, homosexual images are presented in a way acceptable for heterosexual audiences by reinforcing traditional values like family, monogamy and stability. Most of the erotic connotations of homosexuality have been eliminated. Gay male characters in particular are only welcomed in mainstream mass media as long as they do not infer any sexual desires and practices.
Kurt and Blaine have their first kiss on the sixteenth episode of the second season and only have sex in the fifth episode of the third season. However nothing sexual ever happens (Original Song, 2011) (The First Time, 2011). What the show depicted was both characters lying in bed, fully clothed, holding hands and kissing each other softly. The second time the show implied they were having sex was in the fourteenth episode for the fourth season (I Do, 2013). This time they were also fully clothed, and all that was shown was they are entering the hotel room and then the morning after.
So in the span of four seasons since they met each other, sexual intercourse was implied only twice, and the number of times that they were seen kissing can be counted on your fingers. So while we don’t expect them to make out in each episode, it is apathetic in comparison to what’s shown on most other prime-time shows centered around high-school kids. Showing two gay characters kissing romantically on national television is big step forward, but we are not yet there.
One of the more fascinating and intriguing depictions of gay characters is Dave Karofsky. Initially intended to be the typical jock bully, Karofsky’s role in Glee has grown to be much bigger than that. In the first season, the character doesn’t have much of a storyline, more than pushing the glee kids into the walls and throwing slushies in their faces, however in the season 2 episode ‘Never Been Kissed’, Karofsky is revealed to a closeted homosexual (Never Been Kissed, 2010). After months of bullying, Kurt finally stands up to Karofsky in an empty locker room, Karofsky kissed Kurt passionately on the lips, revealing that he has been channeling his confusion about his sexual orientation through bullying.
Queer media studies have examined how the mass media, as a cultural and social institution, contribute to the maintenance of the sexual status quo expressed as the pre-eminence of heterosexuality in the representation of social interactions. In the past, gay men were consistently portrayed as effeminate in the media. Unlike Kurt and Blaine, there is nothing effeminate about him. That doesn’t mean that being manly is better, but it is different. We get a better understanding of his action, if we look at it from his perspective. Just like we have, Karofsky has probably seen the cliché depictions of gay people in media, and then when he saw that same type of gay character that dominates popular culture in his own school, he felt confused and angry that he couldn’t be gay and masculine at the same time.
Moreover, in today’s mass media a man can be at the same time openly gay and masculine. However, media’s gay masculinity is predominantly “young, white, Caucasian, preferably with a well muscled, smooth body, handsome face, good education, professional job, and a high income” (Iren Annus, 2011). This of course does not imply that all gay characters on television respond to this description or that the effeminate gay man has completely disappeared from the mass media.
Later in the show, Karofsky starts accepting his sexuality and tries being honest with his feeling, even goes as far as admitting that he actually loves Kurt. However he still doesn’t want to come out publically, nether the less he gets outted at his school and someone spray-paints “FAG” across his locker (On My Way , 2012). While he tries running out of the school, the other football jocks bully him and slam him into the lockers. He returns home and tries to hang himself but fails as his father finds him in time.
The character also shows that not all gay people are the same cliché. The truth is, there are gay people who are accepted by their families and peers, but there are also those who are scared to embrace who they really are. All these people exist but they have not existed on television, at least not for a long time or targeted at mass audiences (O’Callaghan, 2011).
Cultures often point to television genre or narrative as a strong influence on sexual identity formation and behavioral choices made by teens, particularly as they grow into emerging adulthood (Davis 2004; Kielwasser and Wolf 1992; Meyer 2003). While the male queer characters represented in Glee are being subjects for textual analysis, it would be interesting to see how audiences make sense of Glee’s representations of queer sexuality and how do these representations impact their own sexual identity (Meyer & Wood, 2013)? In conclusion while Glee’s depiction of queer male sexuality is a step forward, there are still miles to go. And with the show coming to an end next year, who knows when the next time a show with its influence and depiction of a wide range of queer sexualities ever be on television.
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