From growing up on TGIF’s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Boy Meets World” to high school’s “Gossip Girl” and “America’s Next Top Model,” what’s hot on television has defined our stereotypes and normalcy. The media can undeniably have negative impacts on body images, sexuality, and more – and the same old tired storylines only create an ideal life (hello, Serena and Blair’s glamorous ensembles) that’s impossible to attain. So what should our generation be looking for in a positive, guilt-free TV show?
Yes, the show with all the singing and dancing. And yes, maybe some of the storylines are a bit more risqué than “Boy Meets World” when it comes to openly addressing sex. But the show presents prominent social issues through relatable material that teens can identify with. It shows the consequences of sex, like teen pregnancy, in place of a glamorized bedroom scene with two impossibly good-looking actors. It deals with aspects of homosexuality like taunts and bullying that very few other shows have addressed. It features kids from all socio-economic backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, etc. And above all, as evidenced in this season’s “Born This Way” episode, it teaches the impressionable teens and tweens who watch the show that being yourself is better than trying to be something you’re not.
The show centers on an Ohio high school glee club striving to be recognized and respected by its peers: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the popular kids. The school’s Spanish teacher, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), decides to revive the club after reminiscing about his own days as a student performing. His passionate obsession with keeping the club alive despite financial woes and cheer coach Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) enduring vendetta against the “gleeks” gives the show that underdog tone that we all know and love.
“I love the drama that comes with shows like ‘Gossip Girl,’” says UO collegiette™ Anna Grigoryeva. “But ‘Glee’ is sort of representative of all of us in high school. It can be cheesy, but it’s a positive influence to have when it comes to learning to respect everyone and love yourself.”
To be clear, “Glee” is no “High School Musical”. There may be singing and dancing, but the show goes much deeper into the psyche of the average teen. Beyond heartache and puppy love, each character in the club represents diverse ethnicities and cliques that can be identified in high schools across America. There’s wheelchair-bound Artie, openly gay Kurt, popular jock-turned-glee-club-member Finn, closet lesbian cheerleader Santana, bad boy rebel Puck, and the list goes on. Beyond the classic stereotypes represented, each character brings their own hardships to the table.
Kurt deals with the consequences of being an out-and-about gay in the form of bullying and snide, backhanded comments. Quinn, the popular head cheerleader and president of the celibacy club, gets knocked up by her boyfriend’s best friend. Rachel, the Barbara Streisand wannabe, is a Type A perfectionist who routinely compares herself to the popular girls and constantly stresses about not being “pretty” enough. Each character deals with some internal struggle about being different, but ultimately comes more or less to terms with their uniqueness.
And most reviews of the show have been of praise for its “breaking boundaries” approach to high school teens.
“I admire the show for being brave + fighting for modern social messaging,” tweeted Lady Gaga. “Never back down.”
Adds the Material Girl herself: “I thought the Madonna episode of ‘Glee’ was brilliant on every level,” said Madonna in an interview with US Magazine. “…I completely appreciate the layers of irony, especially when all those macho boys sang ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl.’”
“Glee” probably has no parallel in today’s age of the Kardashians. It may have a preachy undertone of teaching teens to love themselves for who they are despite their flaws, but that is arguably more admirable than striving to look like that blonde what’s-her-face from “90210.” It may poke fun at existing stereotypes, but ultimately, it sends the message that everyone has a voice, and they have the power to use it. And in an era of TV-education (“edutainment”), that’s a pretty pro-active concept to grow up on.