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thoughtcassette is a lifelong art project created by Denver Lewis, focused on visual poetry & prose.

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Honk If You Love Bigotry: How Liberal Glee Took a Right Turn.

Denver Pittman

According to Nielson ratings, on the night of September 9, nearly three years ago, three out of every nine America citizens ages 18-49 tuned into FOX’s new hit television show, Glee. From a distance, it represented the perfect storm for progressive media: finally a television show that fought fire with fire: satirical commentary at its best.

However, though it is potentially considered open text, which uses oppression of hyper stereotypes to create a satiric counter-revolution—it largely fails. Glee is an important text to analyze because it is a contemporary text that satiates Fiske’s (1987) idea that “realistic television is necessarily reactionary,” in which a “progressive text” is only as powerful as its viewers. Secondly, Glee captures the essence of the largely underrepresented minority population and recasts them in an even more negative light. Even though this attempts sarcasm, it is most likely taken literal and reinforces the dominant ideologies that play against the liberalism it supports. This is irony at its finest and worthy of a close examination of whether a liberal media can survive in its intended form or if it will be (likely) swallowed by the dominant prose. 

In Fiske’s (1987) assumption of realism, he states “the presence of the dominant ideology and the conventional form of realism through which it works are necessary to ensure the program’s popularity and accessibility,” (p. 47). The exception to this rule, and what gave Glee a single audience member in September is the birth of the “progressive text,” which provides a “frame, within which […] oppositional (countercultural) discourses can be heard,” (Fiske, 1987, p. 47). Glee fit the bill for this genre.

Though Glee promised pluralist satire by creating hyper-stereotypes of minorities who were overly oppressed, its humorous double entendre gets lost in translation. Glee is a prime example of how even the most radical of texts can be framed to lose their intentions, becoming a problem. 

Television codes—the “links between producers, texts, and audiences, and […] agents of intertextuality through which texts interrelate in a network of meanings that constitute our cultural world,”—largely arrests the ability to read progressive versions of what the series is trying to convey (Fiske, 1987, p. 4). The interplay between conventional representational codes (expressed through setting, characters, dialogue, narrative, etc.) and ideological codes (which create social acceptability and relatedness to reality) creates an illusion of reality that has strong oppressive power. The premise of “Showmance” represents a socialist utopia that was never allowed to exist in actuality due to its impracticality. Ironically, the hyper-stereotypes are more real representations of reality than television allows the reader to grasp.

Based on general collective consciousness that in order to be gay, black, disabled, or the ‘new’ man and still be “noticed” one must join a collective force that is already recognized by society situates the entire show in a place of hegemony.

Maybe Glee had good intentions. Maybe they are obvious. Maybe we just don’t get it. Because of this (and us), it will never be able to make up for the marginalization it bleakly presents, without regard to passive audiences. 

Glee contains semiotic coordinates possessing codes that convey a previously encoded reality—in this case, conservative-based ideals that elicit homosexism, racism, ableism, and patriarchy—but the bluntness of its conventional representations (i.e. stereotypes) hinders its proactive readability. The struggle between the irony of the text’s “closed” and “openness” (Fiske, 1987, p. 84) elicits the decision to ride the fence and merely walk away with a laugh—allowing for a comfortable exit from the text without feeling morally responsible to make a change. 

It’s maybe not so funny that we can perhaps blame humor for most of the young-upwardly-mobile-professional attitudes of today. But we’ll probably laugh anyways.

Cited works

Fiske, J. (1987). Television Culture  (p. 47, ). London: Methuen & Co., Ltd.