Tags: glee


It's Tina's turn: a rant

So I really don't know why I watch Glee, a lot of the time. It's sentimental, it's shallow, it's full of cliches and stereotypes and it rarely features music I like. And I really, really, really hate many of the characters. It's Beverley Hills 90210 with show tunes.
And yet I go on watching. Partly that's down to season one, which started so well. It offered us a genuinely varied set of characters from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of issues. And it seemed to want to honour that, for about half a season. But then the agenda appeared. I loved Kurt: I loved his gallantry and courage and sense of self, I loved his gift for friendship and his ability to understand others. I have always hated Rachel, but back then her sheer selfishness was a feature and we were not expected to sympathise. Will... meh: it's not a teacher's place to share his personal life with his students in that way, and I find him creepy. But Mercedes rocks -- she still does; and so do Santana and Brittany and they have all had reasonable plot lines. Over the three seasons, there have been some great arcs: I am delighted by the Santana/Brittany relationship and how it's been allowed to develop. I love that Mercedes stays tough and isn't skinny, and gets to be cute and sexy and smart and attractive -- and to tell Rachel where to get off. I'm delighted that Artie talks back, has big dreams, can behave like an idiot or a hero like anyone else (the wheelchair user is a Person Just Like Anyone Else). I'm pleased that Kurt has Blaine and that that's presented positively. And ever once in a while, the show has great dancing, and I am, as we know, all about the dancing.
But, but, but...
There's Kurt again. He's still fabulous. All the way to all those scenes where he lectures and humiliates the female characters and is Right. Male problems always trump female ones. Women are always Wrong about things and cause their own unhappiness. Gee, thanks. Those young women are his friends and allies, but the writer wants them to know their place. That hurts. (Blaine is kinder, thankfully. But I sense that the script is on Kurt's side, slut-shaming. The way he spoke to Quinn in the latest episode and the way, in particular, he was a mouthpiece for making sure we all know that a girl who gets pregnant, is thrown out by her parents, is humiliated at school, marginalised and patronised, made to give up her child and then made to behave in ways that suit others, hasn't really suffered at all, because... Well, Kurt claimed everyone went on loving her really, which is just not true within the show's own continuity. But men have it worse, in Glee world. Note we did not get a plot-line about Santana starting, say, to self harm, when she was outed and her grandmother rejected her. She's just a girl, after all.)*
And then there's Tina. I love Tina, she was my favourite character from the start. The shy misfit girl who *doesn't* have a huge ego hiding her insecurity. The bright one who no-one really seems to want to know. The one who wants to be liked but only knows how to pretend. At the start, she got some attention from the writers. She got to increase in confidence, to form a very sweet relationship with Artie. In season two, she got to stand up for herself. But she has never got fair screen time. She gets one or two lines. She doesn't get songs, or even, very often, lines in songs or close-ups. She doesn't get to do anything except back-up Rachel on stage and off. That's been the pattern for two seasons now, and was rather the pattern in a lot of the first. She was given a song, remember, and Rachel complained, and Tina was nice about it, gave it up and that was it. Rachel learnt nothing, except to add to her entitlement. The script told us Tina was a good girl, 'taking one for the team'. Because the people who don't matter must do that.
And Tina doesn't matter. Like the song says, 'Nobody's Asian on tv'. Like original Star Trek back in the day, Glee is leaning back on its laurels, patting itself on the back about how inclusive it is -- while tokenising its Asian characters completely. Apparently it's enough that they're there. Oh, we get the occasional crumb. Mike got a typical Asian story earlier this season, when he got an A- and his parents were angry. Because the Asian characters can't be real people, oh no. (There was briefly a Chinese family on Brookside, the defunct UK soap. They did nothing, because the writers apparently thought that only 'Asian' stories could be told about them, and they only knew one or two of those. Same is true of the characters of Indian origin on Eastenders: nothing to write about there except white assumptions about perceived prejudices in their religion, and arranged marriage.)
I hoped, for 4 or 6 episodes, back at the start of Glee that Tina -- and Mike,when he joined the main cast -- would get to be a real character, like Rachel or Kurt or the eternally boring, pointless Finn who we're all supposed to find so fascinating. But I was put right pretty soon. Tina isn't a person, she's an Asian Face, and that's supposed to be good enough.
It isn't. Not in any way at all. It's racist. It's unacceptable.
At the end of the current season, several of the characters graduate and, in theory, should leave the show. Including Rachel, Finn and Kurt. In theory: the rumour is those characters will still be around somehow. Tina isn't a final year student (Mike is). Season 4 could be her turn to shine. The show has a great chance here to show us that she is a person after all. She has hopes and dreams and problems -- not just 'Asian' problems. In my world, this could be the year Tina gets to be the star, to have a life just like Rachel and Kurt. Or maybe she could share the spotlight with Mercedes: they are, we are told (but seldom shown) great friends. There could be some wonderful stories in that, friends becoming rivals or, even better, refusing to be made into rivals and finding new ways to share and deal.
It won't happen, of course. Tina isn't white-bread pretty. Tina doesn't tick the boxes that define 'people'. Tina's only Asian. What we'll gt is a new set of angst-ridden, plot-absorbing pretty white characters, with maybe, if we're lucky, a bit more screen time for Mercedes (but she won't be the star, either, because she isn't thin enough, she isn't white enough). Mike will graduate and go and never been seen again. Rachel and Finn and Kurt will be back every other week, to suck up all the screen-time and take all the starring roles. Because they're the only kind of people who matter.
And that makes me angry and sad, because it's a lie, and a pernicious one. And this show claims that it doesn't do that kind of thing. That it's all about celebrating difference.
So long, of course, as you're white.

*I don't agree with Quin that suicide is never an option. And the plot about Karofsky's suicide attempt is heartbreaking and all too realistic and I hate that young gay men are subjected to these pressure. But that's not my point. My point is that the show put the lines about suicide being selfish and bad into Quinn's mouth, not, say, Artie's or Puck's, and then reveled in having Kurt tell her off and reduce her experiences to trivia. And that isn't acceptable. Oddly, being publicly slut-shamed, pregnant and rejected destroys young women's lives and some of them attempt suicide too. And that isn't a lesser form of suffering just because they aren't male. I suspect, too, that Quinn is about to be killed off, to angst-up Rachel, and because she's just a spare woman these days, and those don't really matter. The fact is the show did not need to humiliate a woman to have this plot-line (and the earlier one about Blaine coming to terms with his sexuality did not need to include a speech from Kurt humiliating Rachel, with the script on his side).