14 November 2011

♫...Tonight, tonight, won't be just any night...♫

I had a problem with last week's episode of Glee. And for a change it had absolutely nothing to do with disability. I mean, obviously, there were a few awful stereotypes about wheelchair users because it wouldn't be Glee without them. My issue was actually about something even more sinister.

I've been asked why I watch Glee when all it does it raise my blood pressure. It's quite simple: The social politics of disability is one of my favourite topics. Television is another one. So representations of disability on TV is my specialist subject. And Glee is so awful and so offensive I watch it for the joy of ranting about how horrific it is. I need to get my righteous indignation from somewhere. And besides; my blood pressure is usually at the low end of normal, occasionally veering properly into low: Getting angry at the telly is probably good for my health.

Or at least, that used to be why I watched Glee. I'm gonna make a confession now and if anyone holds it over my head I swear I'll turn them into a human cannonball as part of a cheerleading display. And that confession is...

When Kurt and Blaine got together they absolutely stole my heart. They're just the cutest little couple. I started enjoying watching the show (or at least their scenes) and making high pitched squeeing noises when they were being all adorable. I think the last time I saw a telly couple so cute was in that episode of Torchwood when Jack met the original Captain Jack Harkness. (Which makes me wonder why the adorable telly couples are always gay men? Lafayette and Jesus in True Blood also stand out in my memory as sweeties. Where are the "awwwww" lesbians? Or even straight couples for that matter? OK, maybe Grissom and Sara were pretty sweet and my opinion was clouded by envy of Grissom because Sara Sidle is the woman of my dreams. Sure there's the budding Brittany/Santana romance in Glee; but Santana's a bitch and Brittany's a caricature: Hardly an "awwwwww" couple. Anyway...)

That Kurt and Blaine are just so adorable they can melt my cold, misanthropic, heart was what made one specific scene in The First Time (link contains spoilers) stand out as particularly horrific.

Double warning of both spoilers and triggers: Below the jump are both plot details for last week's episode and discussions of sexual assault.

The episode begins with West Side Story rehearsals. Artie (given the role of director because he's a wheelchair user. Reminded me of getting cast as narrator in school plays so no-one would have to see my unsightly mobility aids) explains to the leads Blaine and Rachel that the musical is about a sexual awakening and that their virginity is showing. So he basically tells them to go off and hump their respective boyfriends.

This starts a dialogue between Blaine and Kurt about sex when previously they've not "granted their hands visas to travel south of the equator." Although, actually, the scene where Kurt asks if he's sexually boring and Blaine says "no, we're still young" seems like it should have come before Artie telling Blaine to go get some.

Blaine pops back to Dalton to give The Warblers tickets to the opening night of West Side Story and meets his replacement in the group, a smug git called Sebastian Smythe, who immediately starts hitting on Blaine. It made me very happy to see The Warblers again. They're another thing I liked about Glee; I miss them now Blaine's at McKinley. A lot of the music in Glee is mediocre at best, but The Warblers are properly good. Keane bore the shit out of me, but their version of "Somewhere Only We Know" I really like. Their cover of Pink's "Raise Your Glass" is still my favourite song of 2011 so far.

Later in The Lima Bean Sebastian asks Kurt and Blaine to go clubbing with him the following night. Blaine is hesitant but Kurt agrees. The following night Blaine gets drunk while Kurt is designated driver. Blaine dances with Sebastian while Kurt sits at the bar talking to Karofsky. It was kinda sweet to see Karofsky back with him not beating people up.

It's when they leave the bar that things get awful. Kurt lays the drunk Blaine down across the back seat of the car saying "you're less likely to throw up that way." Blaine grabs Kurt and pulls him down on top and starts groping him. Kurt's response is initially a fairly light "Cold hands! Cold hands!" Blaine doesn't stop.

Kurt's next words are "No, no, no, no. Please, no. Just stop it. Stop. Stop." Before Kurt manages to extricate himself and crawl backwards out of the car.

I found this truly harrowing. It was really difficult to process: This couple that I've spent months going "awwww" over and one of them had suddenly turned into a monster.

Bizarrely the scene ends with Blaine storming off in a huff and Kurt calling out after him.

The next scene with the two of them is on the stage, after the opening night performance, with Blaine practising a dance move he got wrong in the show. The scene starts with them distantly and politely congratulating each other on their performances in the musical. Eventually Blaine apologises, but seems to lay more weight onto the apologising for dancing with Sebastian than on the "and you were right, our first time shouldn't be like that." Like that? With Kurt saying "no" you mean?

Kurt then says "Well it sure beats the last time you got drunk and made out with Rachel." WTF? I did a hell of a lot more than simply snogging members of the opposite sex when I was a teenager and drunk and trying to figure myself out. There's nothing wrong with a gay teenager trying to work out their sexuality by doing stuff with people of the opposite gender. Blaine was single at the time so it's not like he was cheating on someone by kissing a girl. If I had my time over I wouldn't change a thing; sleeping with boys when I was a teenager was an important part of becoming who I am. I'm not saying it's an essential for others; people have to work things out in their own way, but it was important for me. Most crucially of all: Rachel was consenting. She never said "no".

Kurt then apologises for being a silly romantic and not wanting to loses his virginity in a gay bar car park. What in the fucking fuck does he have to apologise for???

Blaine tells Kurt it's not silly and kisses him. At last a bit of sense from the writing room. This is then followed by Kurt gushing over how proud he is over Blaine. Sense gone. Blaine asks Kurt to accompany him to the afterparty at Breadstix and Kurt looks Blaine squarely in the eye and says "No. I wanna go to your house."

If you imagine the scene in the car didn't happen; if you imagine that they just had a fight over Blaine dancing with Sebastian then this scene on the stage is truly touching. You remember that they are adorable together and Kurt looking Blaine in the eye and delivering his final line would make the hairs on your arms stand on end. Except the scene in the car did happen and it's scary how easily Kurt forgives Blaine.

I understand the point of Kurt and Blaine having a falling out mid-episode. The basic romance narrative is catalysing event conflict resolution. If you think about a film like Pretty Woman the couple meet, things plod along for a while. Then the couple go their separate ways and the film ends with them coming back together for a happily ever after. Looking at the romance films I can see on my DVD shelves from where I'm sat they all follow the same pattern: When Harry Met Sally, But I'm A Cheerleader, Dirty Dancing, etc.

TV is an ongoing thing so the catalysing event in this episode wasn't Kurt and Blaine meeting; it was Artie telling Blaine to go get laid. The conflict was created by introducing Sebastian and the resolution was Kurt and Blaine getting into bed together at the end of the episode. The sexual assault in the car was utterly unnecessary to the narrative.

Unrelated to the disgust at the car scene: How awesome is it that we now have 2 gay teenage boys getting in bed together on primetime American network television? Yeah, OK, they don't do anything besides rub noses, hold hands and stroke shoulders but, still: 14 years ago many network affiliates refused to air an episode of Ellen because she merely said "I'm gay."

Glee is really popular with young people. It's frightening that they have a main character assault the guy he's in love with. It's frightening that Kurt not only forgives him so easily but jumps straight into bed with him. What on earth kind of message is that sending out to young people about appropriate sexual behaviour? Abused partners tend to put up with abuse because "s/he said they're sorry, and I know they love me really." This episode normalised and made that behaviour acceptable, even if it's a one off and Blaine never behaves in such an abhorrent way again.

I wish someone would pass me the brain bleach so I could erase the scene in the car from my memory. So I could just imagine they fought over Blaine dancing with Sebastian. So I could go back to thinking "awwwww, they're so adorable." So I could get rid of this horrid metaphoric taste in my mouth over Blaine's behaviour and Kurt allowing himself to be used as a doormat.


  1. I think lesbian couples make better TV than gay men. Just a personal preference...

  2. Are there any particular lesbian telly couples you recommend? I can't think of any that made me go "awwww." A couple of film lesbian couples, yes. But not on the small screen.