Born This Way? The Moral Universe of 'Glee'
Growing up, our weekly family movie nights always starred the same nimble-footed, velvety-voiced stars—Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney—and the musical genre danced its way straight into my heart. So it's no surprise that when the musical television show Glee premiered on Fox three years ago, I was instantly hooked.
Created by Ryan Murphy, the show sought to capitalize on the success of American Idol and Disney's High School Musical series, but it was also unlike anything else on prime-time television. The postmodern musical has followed the misfit members of McKinley High Glee Club through the travails of high school and their attempts to win at show-choir nationals. Last night, in the season finale, several of the show's biggest stars graduated.
Initially, the show was wildly popular, winning Emmys and Golden Globes (and even some coverage on Her.meneutics). Despite uneven writing, overdrawn caricatures, and ridiculously soapy situations, it had heart, not to mention the vocal talents of Broadway star Lea Michele (Rachel) and Chris Colfer (Kurt). I'd be lying if I said I had never teared up while watching.
But this season, Glee morphed from quirky, guilty-pleasure entertainment to a preachy, poorly patched-together morality play. Like a weekly after-school special, Glee took on one social "issue" after another: public funding for the arts, bullying, texting and driving, domestic violence, and, several times over, sexual identity. A failure of creativity and imagination in the writing turned Glee into a series of PSAs for teens, programs every bit as reductively moralistic in their own way as "Christian" movies like Fireproof and Facing the Giants—while taking far less heat from the critics for it.
It's not that I don't agree with some of Glee's lessons. Bullying is despicable and discrimination is wrong; it's not okay to stay in an abusive relationship, and the arts enrich our lives. (I admit that I have texted while driving, but I'm trying to change.) Sadly, Glee's simplistic way of addressing these issues diminishes them, and often misses the richer stories that could be told.
if Ryan Murphy is an evangelist, his moral universe has one guiding principle: tolerance. We were born this way, he preaches, and we should accept ourselves and others as we are.
But the Christian story tells us that we are born broken, and that we need to be transformed; that we must put off the old self, and be made new. I believe this to be true; but beyond that, I believe it to be a better story, every time, than a story about a person who learns to accept herself the way she is.
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