Tuesday, February 8, 2011

wherein I hope the creator of 'Glee' is a secret philosopher

I started watching Glee a few months ago and, like a surprising number of people I know, I've only had one good thing to say for every hundred complaints about the show. Among them: the writing is painfully lazy; the songs are Autotuned in such a way that makes Stevie Wonder's talk box seem like a perfectly natural vocal range; all the minority characters are shoehorned into eye-rollingly predictable token roles; none of the characters they want you to root for are the least bit likable. (My favorites thus far have been Sue Sylvester and Brittany, who is the closest thing our generation has to the fabulous, chola-tastic Mary Cherry.) There is next to nothing redeeming about this show. So why keep watching it, especially since I came to it so late in the game?

Answer: Because while I watch, I imagine that Glee is actually an elaborate, high-concept, "theatre of the absurd"-type work masquerading as a mediocre TV show.

To let Wikipedia speak for a moment on the definition of "Theatre of the Absurd":

"…in a godless universe, human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence."

THIS IS GLEE EXACTLY. None of the scriptwriters seem to care enough to create a coherent story arc (at least after the pilot episode), and the individual episodes themselves are broken up periodically by events that, despite their flash, make no sense to the story, like cheerleading routines drenched in pyrotechnics. I imagine the writers' room scheming together like those rebel Disney employees did when they whispered to Jasmine to take off her clothes and drew "SEX" in the air during The Lion King*: "Oh, you know what would be hilarious? Sticking Brittany in a cannon!" (That the writers treat Brittany's fear of death with such levity is another example.)

If the scriptwriters don't care enough to have the story make sense, why should the viewer? It's almost enough to make me stop watching entirely, this obvious underestimation of the Glee audience's intelligence. But then completely ludicrous elements like the cannon thing appear and I'm like, "Well, okay, it's clearly not supposed to be real life." But it looks so much like high school! (Or, at least, what we've been told a normal high school is supposed to look like.) The real and the fantastic come into conflict so much that it's disorienting, and without any sort of path for the story to follow, everything begins to break down.

Also, Finn ate that Jesus sandwich earlier in the season, so God's been gone for some time now.

Sex and the City already set the stage for the kind of lowbrow-highbrow mesh that an absurdist Glee would require; Lady Gaga extolled its virtues to anyone who would listen. Now, think of the possibilities of setting a concept like this in a major-network high school with a soundtrack pulled from the Billboard Hot 100! Pretty much nothing has any real meaning in a suburban high school--not the big game, not the prom, not the relationship drama. (Bullying, yes. Bullying has serious repercussions that shouldn't ever be made light of; in this respect I'm glad that 'Glee' exists and is trying to explain better what it means to be bullied at the most vulnerable point in one's life.) But teenagers are emotionally chaotic--positive hormonal entropy encased in flesh--and so EVERYTHING IS MAGNIFIED A THOUSAND TIMES and at the most unpredictable moments. It makes sense to view high school through the lens of absurdism, because the whole point of high school is that everything is so important and ground-breaking but at the same time, none of it matters.

It looks like a real high school but is so obviously not a real high school--this is why I keep watching this show. Seeing so much drama so hastily Autotuned together in a way that suggests that not even the creator himself believes in the product is engaging, if you pretend it's all done intentionally. And if Ryan Murphy is as smart as I know he is (well, as I want him to be), we'll soon see that final, absurd silence.

*Despite what Snopes says I HAVE SEEN AND HEARD THESE THINGS BEFORE WITH MY OWN EYES AND EARS. In high school, naturally.