How Glee Got Me Through a Long Distance Relationship

This was written in September, 2020.

I’ve taken a short hiatus from my Youtube channel and figured now would be a good time to show my website some love and write something, so here it goes. I think I’ve been in a creative rut of sorts, one inspired by my fall semester classes. I am currently enrolled in my second screenwriting class and am struggling to feel any sense of inspiration or passion for a story. Most days I feel my brain is filled with worms instead of ideas. So I try to think harder, which of course doesn’t work because when has overthinking ever benefited creativity? So where does this leave me? What do I do with my time instead of devoting it to wallowing? I watch Glee. Hear me out.

I first watched Glee in middle school at the recommendation of my Republican father who said “you like singing, you might like this,” knowing nothing else about the show or the “progressive” subject matter. But, I gave it a shot, started watching the show on Netflix, and fell in love with it. It exposed me to issues my Christian parents sheltered me from while delivering performances I aspired to be a part of. I remember hating everything after season 3 and basically abandoning my passion for the show once it ended. That was until August of 2020 when my boyfriend went back to his university and left me with empty space and time. This was around the time Naya Rivera, a beautiful and brilliant woman, unfortunately, passed. With that, my explore page flooded with images of her and scenes from Glee featuring the gift of a character through Santana Lopez. This exposure to a show I had forgotten was such a big part of my childhood motivated me to revisit Glee and see how I felt about it with older, more critical eyes. I knew it would be corny, cheesy, cringey, and offensive. What I wasn’t expecting was it to light a fire under me I thought had left when my boyfriend did. 

Glee focuses on a group of misfits, outcasts, and losers in a small-town Ohio High School Glee club. It embraces a flair for drama with a self-awareness I don’t think I noticed back in middle school, and with that my love for it was reawakened. After my boyfriend left, I felt alone and miserable. Nothing felt worth doing if he wasn’t there to do them with me. I wasn’t really watching tv shows on my own at the time. Every time one of us wanted to start watching a tv show, we would just watch it together. Independently, I would just rewatch New Girl over and over again and though I loved that and relished those moments, they were feelings I had felt before. I had already felt the swell of emotion at every couple pairing up, I had already laughed at these jokes before, and though they don’t get old, they don’t feel new. This is where Glee offered me something I didn’t know I needed. 

Glee' Turns 10: Looking Back on 10 Favorite Episodes | Billboard | Billboard

Starting a new tv show, or revisiting one you haven’t watched in years, grants you the opportunity to open your heart up and fall in love with characters and their stories. As childish as this sounds, longing for my boyfriend so deeply prompted me to squeal at Emma and Will’s tension in the seasons before they finally get together and swoon at Blaine and Kurt’s blossoming relationship. Soap operas have a way of pulling real-world heartstrings. But it wasn’t just the love stories that filled a small void left by missing someone that provoked me to fall back in love with Glee. It was the music. It was the characters. Glee’s main message is that the power of music and performing can bring all kinds of people together in harmony, and the energy behind this message is felt so strongly in every performance (seasons 1-3 lol). Rewatching performances like Don’t Stop Believing or Paradise by the Dashboard Light so greatly uplifted my spirits in such visceral ways. It was a mixture of nostalgia, remembering so vividly my love for these performances, and joy at letting myself enjoy them all over again, as if for the first time. Watching Glee forced me to realize how little joy I was feeling but did me the favor of restoring it in an intimate way, one I could indulge in on my own, allowing myself to enjoy my time with myself alone. 

A sober veil does cover the show, however, in the wake of cast deaths. When Cory Monteith passed, I wore black for three days straight, finding out in my early Instagram days through a trending hashtag. While that’s an anecdote I bring up every now and again, I didn’t really understand why I was so affected by his death until now. Finn Hudson is one of my favorite characters. While I know he can just seem or even act like the typical cis white man, a storyline we are not lacking, I genuinely enjoyed the writing for Finn’s character (though of course, it would happen at the expense of other marginalized characters of color). But, Finn’s struggle with manhood and the lack of a father figure in his life is handled with such nuance and respect. However, it is Finn’s struggle to decide what he wants to do with his life that truly touches me. Glee spends 2 and a half seasons devoted to pushing Finn to be a leader and an inspiration, and yet as graduation rolls around, he experiences a complete crisis of identity and purpose. Finn realizes he cannot live off his high school persona and that he must find a way to incorporate those qualities into a career, which he has no idea how to do. This storyline perfectly encapsulated how I felt when I graduated high school, and even how I feel now. What do you do when you were great in high school but worry that you won’t succeed in the real world for that exact reason?

It’s such a shame that Cory Monteith left the world so soon. He wasn’t a character, he was a real person with struggles and pain, a man who had much good to offer this world. But, the character he left behind also had so much potential and it was and still is devastating to see Finn’s story end before he ever really gets started. Finn Hudson is a character that challenges mainstream notions of masculinity and leadership, though Glee frequently catered better and more complex storylines to its white characters. 

Naya Rivera too left a world that feels her absence. Her character Santana Lopez provided a character who wasn’t afraid to use the term “lesbian,” a word most of today’s tv shows with gay female characters avoid. Not only was Santana a proud lesbian, but she was a Hispanic lesbian who marries the woman she loves and ultimately exists as a character with so much wit and depth (Rivera’s performance elevating Glee’s writing). Santana was and forever will be the bitch you can’t help but love. I won’t go into too much detail because there’s a great video dedicated to Naya Rivera’s magic and how special Santana is, but she genuinely was one of the best elements of Glee. As a Hispanic woman who wasn’t aware of her sexuality when I watched the show, revisiting it with rainbow-colored glasses has been even more exciting and special. Santana’s performances Landslide and If I Die Young are just as beautiful and remain tremendously cherished. We are lucky to have had the gift of Naya, her voice, and her character in our lives.

This is not to say Glee is the perfect show. Before deciding to start rewatching the show, I was frequently seeing tweets mock the show, which was fine lol the show is beyond repair and deserves most of the mockery. But that was another main reason I wanted to revisit Glee, to see what messages it promoted or refuted and whether or not they did a good job. The answer? Messy. I think Glee, for the time it came out (2009), did some genuinely great things in network television for younger audiences. As a daughter of Christian Republicans, my perception and knowledge of gay people were either nonexistent or unsupportive. Sex wasn’t something I understood. My parents never sat me down and had a talk with me about what sex was or meant. Glee introduced me to and normalized these subjects that were otherwise taboo in my life. It was through Kurt that I learned that gay people existed and deserved respect and love. It was through Santana that I learned girls could like girls and that that was okay. I don’t think I’m the only person who recognizes why Glee has value and why it achieved such success for pushing the envelope for young audiences in 2009. Reflecting on it now in 2020, I can admire how the show handled Kurt and his father Burt’s reaction to having a gay child. It did it with care and complexity, acknowledging the shortcoming of parents but their opportunities to grow. I can respect how Glee handles Santana’s long journey and struggle with being truthful to her sexuality. However, I can also wince at how the show handles predatory relationships between adult women and the Glee kids, like when April Rhodes kisses and maybe even has sex with Puck, who was a sophomore at the time. I can be angry with the biphobia it exhibits through Santana and Kurt at times. I can recognize the hypocrisy in Glee when it supposedly champions diversity but provides all its main storylines to the white characters. The character of Tina was done a huge disservice and became so unlikeable by the end of the show. Mercedes was given more storylines, but never really felt like a main character after season 1. When season 4 beings, we get three new white characters (Kitty, Ryder, and Marley), one mixed character (Jake), and one Black character (Unique). Unique hardly gets any screen time until season 5 when they explore her gender identity and issues with using the school bathroom. Jake’s only value as a character comes from his relationship with Marley and Ryder, though he was still given more screen time than Unique.  In terms of writing, Glee is not the strongest show and exhibited poor writing following the graduation of its main members. It loses the charm it once had and becomes quite hollow. Glee is far from perfect and very obviously gets things wrong. But, it does manage to handle sexuality, teen motherhood, stereotypes, and growing older with a sincerity that couldn’t be ignored and still catches my attention, if only for a brief period of time.

I don’t know if everything I’ve written is just melodramatic garbage provided by a girl who hasn’t seen her boyfriend in almost two months. But even if it is, it’s my truth. Glee came back into my life at just the right moment, when I could simultaneously adore it and hold it accountable for its shortcomings. Anytime I felt alone or lost or creatively stunted, I would watch Glee and feel things again. I didn’t have to think about my boyfriend being gone; I could think about Rachel and Finn getting back together for the 12th time. I didn’t have to think about my fear of the future because I could find joy in seeing Santana discover her own. I didn’t have to wallow and hate myself for not knowing what to write a screenplay about because I could just sit back and enjoy the one Glee wrote for me. And for that, I’m grateful.. and also embarrassed. 

Moonflowers and gardenias — Glee + breaking news meme

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