Nothing says wholesome, family entertainment like a group of teenage misfits doing jazz squares. But since last May's exuberant post-Idol premiere, FOX's freshman series Glee has some of the nearly half million who downloaded that exuberant cover of "Don't Stop Believin'" wondering if, as a recent Time article suggests, the show is actually anti-Christian.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, however, that a show conceived by Ryan Murphy, the man known for pushing boundaries on Popular and the controversial Nip/Tuck, would quickly generate controversies of its own. Call it "the ick factor": the show's two main story arcs center around Mr. Schuester, a teacher/choir director who's stuck in a marriage so bad you find yourself rooting for him to leave his wife for the perky guidance counselor, and Finn, a quarterback-turned-baritone who accidentally got his cheerleader girlfriend pregnant. Did I mention that she's a committed Christian (who interrupts their make-out sessions to pray) and the president of the celibacy club? And when her very religious parents find out about her pregnancy, they kick her out of the house. Ick, indeed.
If a show portrays Christians in a negative light, is it "anti-Christian"? This is the question Nancy Gibbs asks in her Time article, "The Gospel of Glee: Is it Anti-Christian?" While acknowledging the show's reinforcement of negative stereotypes, she ultimately argues against the thesis: "It insults kids to suggest that simply watching Characters Behaving Badly onscreen means they'll take that as permission to do the same themselves. The fact that Glee is about a club full of misfits already makes it ripe gospel ground; Jesus was not likely to be sitting at the cool kids' table in the cafeteria." She's right; what we need to worry about is kids seeing characters behaving badly without repercussions. But this is not the case in Glee; its portrayal of struggling teenage parents offers an embodied, complex exploration of the consequences of sin.
She goes on to conclude, "The point lies in the surprises that jostle us out of our smug little certainties and invite us to weigh what we value, whatever our faith tradition." It makes me uncomfortable to find myself rooting for even a fictional married man to leave his wife, but still I find myself struggling to reconcile my own beliefs with the action unfolding on screen. Is this cause for alarm with the show, for portraying a complicated situation without an easy resolution, or is it in myself, for being exposed in my baser instincts? I'm helping the show make its point—I am the "hypocritical Christian" it critiques. We can be quick to jump on obvious red flags, but it's often the subtleties of a well-made work that draw out the true message. They don't make for easy sound bites, but they're often there if we're willing to do the work.
Glee airs its fall finale tonight at 9/8c on FOX. Are you still watching? What do you think about the idea that the show is "anti-Christian"?