Strawmanning my religion

So, I’m watching Glee (2×03) through the internets today and this week’s episode had some great songs, especially the Beatles number, but almost every moment that wasn’t music sucked. I felt like the whole episode was designed to strawman my religion- because of course, this week’s episode was about theism and prayer.

And yes, it was about theism and not religion, and it softballed the subject so badly that it wasn’t even funny. The only laugh moment I had was when Kurt added to his quip that Christianity isn’t always very friendly to women, which while absolutely true, is a little less self-involved than we might have expected from him. This was the only actual enlightened direct commentary on religion, and they barely even dented the bunch of adorable puppies they had representing the Religion Is Awesome When Life is Hard side by showing Finn that sometimes you can’t get what you pray for, or you get it in a horrible way. Which of course they immediately explain away by having Emma the guidance councilor pull an It’s More Complicated Than That, and we don’t get to see any of the emotional impact of that, because the reaction song didn’t really have anything visual to back it up, unlike the five or so the theistic kids got.

The rest was a terrible suck-fest full of theistic self-righteousness about being persecuted because the kids weren’t allowed to sing religiously themed songs. Never mind that Glee Club is extracurricular and may be allowed to follow different rules, because our Sometimes-Villain Sue Sylvester’s hate-on for prayer lead her to get Kurt to make a complaint about the religious content of the Glee club.

This continues the one thing that ruins my big bisexual love affair with Glee: the fact that it strawmans more liberal1 positions in order to make fun of them instead of actually trying to open up a debate. When Glee makes fun of conservatives, it makes fun of them for positions some of them actually believe. Nobody I’ve ever heard from believes you shouldn’t be able to sing “What If God Was One Of Us” in a public school, whether they’re American or New Zealanders. When Glee makes fun of liberal positions, we get get a mixed bag of chocolate and vomit. (sometimes the absolutely likely “My dads can’t sew”, and sometimes the terrible “gay boys are just like girls, only with penises!” Gay boys are boys who date boys, making them like girls only insofar as those girls are also androsexual) And frankly, no matter how many chocolates you get in a bag, one that’s filled with vomit really does risk ruining the whole bag.

The episode also completely failed to touch on atheistic spirituality: by which I mean there wasn’t even name-dropping for deism, (that would be me) Buddhism, reincarnation, humanism, (also me) and secular values. (yay!) Kurt “learned” a completely backwards lesson in which he gives up his right to a prayer-free space to worry or mourn in. Yes, it’s great that his friends were supporting him, but when someone asks you for space from your religion so they don’t have to confront your worship in a public context, that’s something they’re entitled to. Instead his friends essentially invade his father’s hospital room to pray in there after having been asked not to.

There were some less bad and more mixed moments, though. For one thing, there was very little of Season 1’s tendency to try and mock things by just showing them and assuming we know they’re ridiculous. If it’s meant to be ridiculed here, we knew why, even if it was completely wrong-headed of the writers to think we should agree, which made the enraging parts less so because the counterbalancing moments weren’t just little allusions telling us republicans are crazy. Probably the highlight mixed moment was when Sue confronted her sister about her frustration with prayer as a child, and her sister (for non-watchers, she has Downs Syndrome) gave us an “I’m okay, you’re okay” moment by telling Sue that God doesn’t make mistakes, which was precious, if it risked straying a little into Just World Theory and having conservatives foaming at the mouth saying stupid things like “yeah, Sue’s sister deserves to be retarded because God made her that way!”. I viewed as more of a “Hey, people may have teased me, but this made me who I am, and who I am rocks!” moment, and if that’s what they meant, Sue’s sister was totally capable of expressing that in a much clearer way.

So, in closing, the kids were absolutely right to pray for Burt, but nothing said they needed to do that somewhere that it would violate his son’s space and steal his right to control his own life. Because that’s all seperation of church and state is about: letting everyone have the space to not practice (or practice, if they so choose) their own beliefs, and not assuming that you get to invade other people’s space by putting your spiritual beliefs in it without permission and assuming they’re okay sharing them, or forcing them to debate you about them when they have other things they care about more.

1Glee is a social commentary and very rarely touches on economic issues, so I’m deliberately not using the words “left” and “right” here, because we’re talking a different political dimension. This will be comfortable to those who read about American politics where both parties are economically right wing, but readers from the rest of the world might appreciate the distinction. :)

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this- I can’t watch Glee because every minute of it that I see (inadvertently, while channel-hopping) makes me retch- you’ve summed up many of the reasons in your analysis of just one episode here. What I can’t work out is why it’s so popular with normally radical pop-culture aficionados. Why are people so certain that it’s being ironic rather than just being a reactionary pile of shite?

  2. I’ll attempt to give you an answer because I enjoy the rest of the episodes enough that I’m willing to sit through one or two per season that are absolutely wrong-headed:

    We suspect that Glee is trying to be ironic with things like “this is where our girl or gay son will live” because it gives them to characters who are very deluded in other ways, (ie. the closest thing we get to villains) so we’re supposed to be ableist and explain them away as “crazy.” It only name drops them, it puts them in a ridiculous context, and it doesn’t try to defend them- in short, it does something a little like it does to strawperson liberal social positions, except the difference is that these beliefs are completely indefensible in the first place, unlike their more liberal cousins.

    I think that’s enough to say “hey, they MEANT this as dry humour”, even if it came off serious. That’s not a defense of Glee in my opinion, it’s a criticism too. They need to communicate their message more clearly, because they’re responsible for their own misfires. At least in Season 2 they seem to be doing that, which is also probably part of why Rachel has been so fail this season- they’re showing us she’s conceited and self-involved, rather than simply telling us and having her act sympathetic.

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