The power of television can be seen through shows that confront important societal issues within a storyline. Glee, a popular television show documenting a high school Glee club and the struggles and triumphs it experiences, is one of those shows. By addressing head-on important issues like bullying, bulimia, teen pregnancy, and homophobia, this impactful show is making a difference just by airing. And in the television industry, with popularity comes Hollywood success. This is where we see many of our favorite characters shift into tabloids and the Hollywood lifestyle. We see our beloved character out partying, and we think ‘That is so not something _____ would do!’ It is increasingly becoming a blurred line. With this, television is becoming a major presence on social media, as well. The Cory Monteith tribute episode of Glee scored 822,000 mentions on Twitter and Facebook. The #RememberingCory was tweeted over 350,000 times, and 7 of 10 of the trending topics on premiere night were related to Glee, Wetpaint reports. That is power. That is TV domination. But people wouldn’t have known to tune in if it weren’t for Cory’s tragic death playing out in pop culture news. This coverage led to 7.4 million viewers watching ‘The Quarterback’, almost doubling their standard viewership, according to USA Today. This is because his life shifted to celebrity status, and because Glee was so popular, people were interested in his life off camera, because of the character he portrayed on camera. Glee is an example of the way television increasingly blurs the line between real life and narrative and actor character relationships.
Important topics are represented in Glee through all types of characters. While it is ironic that these high school characters are being played by actors in their twenties and even early thirties, thus diminishing a realistic outlook, they still bring real issues to the screen, and to viewers. The youngest actor of the Glee ensemble cast is 20 years old, according to Glee Wiki. The majority of the ensemble cast is 24-28 years old. The age they are supposed to be playing is 15-18. Because of the real age of the actors, seeing pictures of them in magazines at a club is not unusual behavior for a person of that demographic. But because we see them as a high schooler, and in a more conservative lifestyle, we feel like it is inappropriate. Television convinces us we know these characters as people, but popular culture proves to us that we don’t.
The idea of representation in a television context can be broken up into three areas: image analysis, content analysis, and textual analysis. The first, image analysis, can be seen through the characters of glee and a specific storyline involving bulimia. One of the storylines revolves around newcomer Marley being tricked into believing she was too fat for her costume for a big performance. Kitty, a popular cheerleader also in Glee club, was secretly sewing Marley’s costumes smaller to convince Marley she needed to lose weight. Marley sees this costume, and thinks she needs to conform her body to fit into that. This thought process is an unfortunate trend in teenage girls’ minds. So Marley becomes bulimic, throwing up in secret. When the big performance finally comes, she fits into the costume, but then faints on stage. What I appreciate about Glee and what I think it does a great job at is not only showcasing these all too common issues, but also showing a kind of resolution and problematic feature to them. It doesn’t glorify these issues. It shows that being skinny isn’t worth starving yourself. Yes, Marley may have gotten into the dress, but look what happened after. This crosses over as a trend in Hollywood as well. Many actresses from TV shows are criticized in pop culture for being too skinny or too fat. Mischa Barton, an actress from the popular show The O.C. recently came out saying being constantly criticized for her weight is what contributed to her ‘full-on breakdown’, resulting in her being on an involuntary 5150 hold in a psychiatric ward. “I was never the right weight,” she tells People magazine.
The next area of representation, content analysis, is the focus of which groups are represented in a show. In Glee, the Glee club is made up of cheerleaders, jocks, handicapped, foreign students, and those deemed less popular. The main theme of the show is the unifying of all of these different types of groups, something rarely found in a high school. These characters come together, stick up for each other, and love each other despite their different statuses. The issues they deal with together are what brings in the next aspect of representation: textual analysis. This is the writing of the show, what the characters are talking about and dealing with. This is where things like bullying, teen pregnancy, and gay rights are incorporated into the show. This is what makes Glee impactful as a show. It doesn’t focus on one issue; it confronts head on a plethora of current issues teenagers are facing. Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of Glee, told The Hollywood Reporter, “The storytelling is much more rooted in realness, perhaps more than it's ever been before.” The representation of Glee as a whole is what makes it noticed, successful, and relevant to society.
In the episode, “The Quarterback”, dedicated to late actor Cory Monteith, there was heavy symbolism throughout the show. Monteith’s character, Finn, was the quarterback of the high school football team, and could be considered ‘the quarterback’ of Glee club. As the leader of the football team, he was in a masculine and powerful role. He dominated the school. But in his spare time, he was singing and dancing, a less masculine role for men. This was not taken well by his peers. But because he overcame the torment that came with his decision to join Glee club, his character represented rising above stereotypes and gender roles. Finn symbolized triumphing the status quo. He was sensitive, vulnerable; protective over those he loved, especially when his stepbrother would be bullied for being gay. So when Finn passed away, his letterman jacket was fought over in the glee club. This semantic representation, this object, represented everything Finn stood for. It proved that someone in his powerful position could stand up for so much wrongness. The syntax interpretation of the jacket is the feeling of attachment to this object, and what it symbolizes, it is what shows the deeper love of the characters. This can be seen on and off screen, as his costars dealt with Monteith’s passing together. And the 7.4 million viewers that tuned in to watch the tribute episode proves the audience felt the attachment too. This is what is special about television. Viewers get attached, and feel like they need to bid farewell to this character too. But this is where the blurred lines come in again. Viewers want to say goodbye to Finn, who died on the show from an unknown cause to viewers. But in real life, Cory died from drugs, something very different from what his character would do. So the cast, crew, and all of America want to bid farewell to Cory, because some Americans may not watch the show. The viewers and casts grief and love for Monteith shifted from on screen to off throughout their time together as Gleeks, just like the issues Glee represents in it’s show.
Mise en scene, or staging, is the final aspect that supports the idea of seeing the transfer from on screen to off. Factors like costuming, lighting, and character expression help establish Glee as a whole-hearted show with a powerful message. The lighting, flat, shows innocence, and that of a normal high school. The character expression, the fact that the Glee club can all express themselves together, but still in an individually unique way, through music, is a factor that is not seen in many other shows. And the costuming, the fact that a cheerios uniform or football letterman jacket instantly means popularity and status. And when we see a cheerio not in her cheerio uniform, but in a magazine, it throws us off. This is the power of the mise en scene feature. These simple setup features of Glee are what contribute to the overall picture.
The show, Glee, serves as a societal assist to all those people battling issues like bulimia, bullying, homophobia, etc. It shows a high school with real issues. It shows resolutions and real ways to work with the issues. It shows unification and love of friends, on and off screen. While these actors have been forcefully thrusted into Hollywood life, they represent a show that benefits our culture.