The Reverse Whedon

Posted: 10/03/2010 in Uncategorized

Generally speaking, I try to think as little as possible when I watch Glee, which is no easy thing for me because analyzing pop culture is kind of my raison d’etre. Overall I’m pretty ambivalent about the show and it’s rare for me to say that I’m actually a fan because I find myself having to ignore so many problematic elements, but then there’s the moments where they do an admirable job on a topic or sequence that forces me to stick around. Basically, I’m pretty ambivalent about the show and episode 2.2- the Britney Spears one- is one of the best examples of that.

While I found myself nodding along with Kurt and Emma’s vindications of Spears (I’ve been saying variations of the same thing for at least a couple of years) and laughed out loud when Britney finally said “It’s Britney, Bitch,” a very ugly thing clicked in my head during Santana and Britney’s Me Against The Music sequence. Britney and Santana’s relationship is what I’ve decided to call the “Reverse Whedon.”

We all remember and still hold dear everything that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did for depicting female sexuality on television, especially the groundbreaking relationship between Willow and Tara. What doesn’t get talked about or even noticed all that often is the deep dichotomy between the treatment of gays and lesbians in the show. I’m not necessarily upset that there weren’t any openly gay male regular characters in the series, but I (and several commentators on the series) are upset about the fact that while lesbian relationships and issues were treated as being serious and important, male homosexuality was only ever portrayed to put the heterosexual characters into awkward situations and mine them for humour. This trend expands to Firefly and Dollhouse as well, making it a bizarre and annoying trend across Whedon’s body of work.

In Glee, the reverse dynamic seems to be at work. Kurt- aside from being portrayed as essentially a eunuch until the much hyped boyfriend appears later this season- and his sexuality are framed as being a Serious Issue. Much time is spent on his tumultuous relationship with his father and his struggle for acceptance as a gay teen in the midwest. Meanwhile, Britney and Santana are essentially portrayed as a polyamorous couple, but you can only really reach that conclusion by fighting through all the obfuscation. It’s been stated that they’ve slept together and generally act like a couple despite a complete lack of any display of physical intimacy. Aside from Mike Chang, they’re the least developed characters in the series and the butt of the most jokes. Santana is portrayed as being nothing more than self centered, devious, and promiscuous while Britney’s only apparent virtue is the wacky things that she says. They’re Glee‘s own Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, the ultimate DADT lesbian couple.

As problematic of a character as Kurt is- I generally loathe him when he isn’t talking about a musician- he’s allowed to be more than a wink and a nudge. I don’t really expect that to change given the supremely childish, Kevin Smith channeling season opener. “We don’t care that a lot of our shit is fucked up, we’re just going to keep doing it.” I can’t really intellectualize the process whereby someone decides to not only divide homosexuality by gender, but to trivialize and ridicule one while championing the other. I can understand how sexism, cissexism, and homophobia- however awful they are- happen, but I just can’t figure out this approach. It’s a no-brainer to include an offensively stereotypical gay character in a show about a high school glee club then hamfistedly try to do something progressive or at least thought provoking with him, but it’s the point at which that the decision that any expression of female sexuality must be punished or ridiculed (with the exception of Sue Sylvester’s highly masculinized sexuality) enters into the same equation that bothers and confuses me.

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