Point/Counterpoint: Is Glee a clever satire?

Debating the merit of the long-finished but still popular show

The show's sense of humour remains as controversial as ever.
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Yes

The first season of Glee is charming but infuriating—it’s the perfect example of how not to do satire. 

Quinn’s claim in season one that her teen pregnancy likens her experiences to those of racial minorities, for instance, is enough to make a person give up on the show all together. 

But, like most of the couples on the show, the Glee writers switch things up pretty quickly following that first rocky season. By bringing on a team of more diverse writers—women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour—Glee is able to create a genuine connection with most of its viewers, not solely white American high schoolers. 

Even if it pats itself on the back a bit too much for doing so, Glee features an incredibly diverse set of characters, most of whom find rich character development and happy endings—a rarity at the time of its run, especially for queer characters. 

Glee is a poignant reminder of an aspect of satire that we often forget. Satire isn’t always meant to gauge a political reaction or  call out the privileged out on their social position. Sometimes satire can bring the underprivileged together, exaggerating relatable issues until they’re laughable—it’s a lot easier than constantly feeling run down by them. 

For me, Glee offers a chance to laugh at the pitfalls of living in an immigrant family. Watching Tina Cohen-Chang and Mike Chang obsess over the ‘Asian F’—an A minus—was a way to relieve the stress of the pressure that my own parents put on me to be an overachiever. 

I can’t speak to the experiences of those groups and individuals that Glee was more insensitive towards, but I imagine I’m not the only one whom this show helped cope with some serious personal issues. 

Glee is an undoubtedly ridiculous series. It plays on every possible high school cliché and often appears downright offensive in its portrayal of otherwise serious issues like teen pregnancy, ableism, and body dysmorphia.  

However, there’s a key reason why this show has maintained a lasting cultural impact long after its finale: Glee doesn’t take itself too seriously. 

Its satire isn’t rooted in a desire to beat social issues to a pulp. Glee doesn’t push solutions to persistent problems—unless you think butchering Britney Spears’ hits is a viable solution. Instead, Glee is a show that reminds us to laugh at ourselves and at each other. 

— Aysha Tabassum, Features Editor

 

No

Glee brings up memories of Finn Hudson locker magnets and begging my mom to buy me the show’s cover of “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” on my iPod. 

But like these middle school staples, Glee has proven it’s better left in the past.

Revisiting Glee seemed like a good way to pass time while stuck at home. This nostalgia-trip, however, wasn’t as fun as I thought it’d be: re-watching Glee as an adult made me uncomfortable with how the show depicts several of its characters and mocks serious topics under the guise of satirical comedy. 

Sue Sylvester's character, while a fan-favourite, is often questionable at best. 

In the show’s first season, Sue wants to blackmail Principal Figgins, so she takes him out for dinner and spikes his drink. When the drugs kick in, she strips him down and takes incriminating pictures of him in bed. Instead of condemning this behavior, the show plays it off as humorous, failing to acknowledge that blurring the line of consent is never funny. 

The show is also disproportionally hard on the character Marley Rose in pursuit of a laugh. One storyline saw her clothes being altered to be smaller so she would think she was gaining weight. In making light of Marley's body image and eating disorder, the show is doing these serious topics a disservice. 

Even when Glee tries to approach the issue with a more serious tone, it does so with little success. When Marley, who’d been purging, faints on stage during a performance, the glee club gets angry because she cost them a competition. Marley accepts her friends’ anger as a wake-up call and, as by magic, her eating disorder disappears. 

Although the show’s intention may have been to promote discourse surrounding eating disorders and mental illness, Glee glamourized these issues more than it portrayed their harsh realities. 

While it can be argued that Glee approaches serious topics with humour because it’s a satire, that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Where the show attempts to build conversation around important topics, it often fails to do so in a way that is positive and insightful.

I’m not writing Glee off as a show that’s entirely bad—it has its moments. But while comedy is subjective, Glee fails to toe the line between being satirical and insensitive.

— Maddie Ward, Contributor

 

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