Glee and Me: Showchoir Cofessional

Word had been spreading around about Glee for months before I caved in and starting watching. The reason for my hesitation will be explained in due course. One day, I broke down and turned to hulu to get caught up on the first few episodes of the season. I watched them and cried. The vibrant choral arrangements, the spot on riser choreography, I was hooked. What moved me to tears was the reminder of something I spent years of my life devoted to: showchoir. After moving to college, I’d been trying to block it out. Erasing every late night rehearsal, costume change, and trophy.

Webb City 2006

I lived “Glee” each year I was in high school. People say to me: “Surely there isn’t that much drama!” On the contrary. Much like any large group of teenagers who’s activities are monitored by a group of parental elites (the moms and dads of the “popular” kids), the Hillside Singers had our share of debacles. Through the years girls have gotten pregnant, people have brought illegal drugs to competition trips, there have been torrid love-triangles, parents have faced off with directors. Not to mention the rivalries with other choirs. Or when rival choir directors get fired for sleeping with students. Can you see why writers decided to use showchoir as material? It’s a community filled with extreme talent and extreme troubles. My choir is one of the oldest of it’s kind in the country, as it was established in the early 1980’s. There are many traditions, but the biggest one to see the ax in recent years is “initiation”. It’s essentially a hazing ritual that takes place for first year members during a weekend choreography camp before school starts. The older boys would shave random patches of hair off of the younger boys. Girls could expect to be ambushed by water guns in their sleep. But the big event was the massive snake and poison ivy infested hill that all newcomers had to roll down and climb up. My year, the men had to go in only their swim trunks. Girls could wear as much clothing as they wanted but had to roll down with apple sauce down our shirts and pants. It was all a big joke, right? Kinda, except for the fact that all but one returning hillsider assured us we would never be accepted in the group if we didn’t participate. Administrators caught on and did away with this “tradition” two years later.

Of course, there were favorites. I was not one of them. My mother worked full time; she didn’t have time to participate like some of the other parents. Not to mention that she didn’t go to the same church as my director. Even as a public school choir, we had some kind of christian pop number in our routine each year I participated. I seemed to be the only person irked by this. I spent 12 years in vocal music and 4 of which involved with this particular director. I took lessons from her, performed well in state competitions, shirked other duties so I could be in her showchoir. To this day (though it’s actually difficult for me to admit) I have an amazing singing voice. I can send my soprano pitch to the back of an auditorium without the aid of a microphone. I have made people cry before and not just my mother. At the final spring concert of my senior year, most of my friends received glowing remarks and awards to match. I left the stage empty handed, made a swift exit and wept in my car for several minutes before entering my house. Twelve years of my life were utterly fruitless. I had no awards, no scholarships because I was not a favorite. I went my own direction too many times to be paraded around as one of my director’s obedient pets.

This is what real life showchoir looks like.

(Oh and in the comments of that video, you can catch a glimpse of the rivalry between my school’s co-ed and women’s choirs.)

So, that’s why I’ve clung to Glee, in hopes to see someone like me succeed at something they love. Unfortunately, my viewing experience has been marred. For all the brilliant voices on this show, the ones that seem to get the most attention are straight, conventionally pretty, white voices. The male lead, Finn, doesn’t even have the strongest talent, in my opinion. The actor who plays Artie doesn’t use a wheelchair in real life. Would it have been so hard to hire a disabled actor to play a disabled character? Why did Chris Colfer (Curt) get shoved back in the closet when this role as a queer character was written just for him? As much as I love all the music, I get the feeling that it’s overly synthesized. I’d like to hear a more genuine sound, but maybe that’s just me being naive. Also, there were two different characters who were lying to their partners in some way about their pregnancies. These plotlines perpetuated the notion that women aren’t to be trusted with their own bodies and are out to trap men into parenthood. It’s unfortunate that due to how minorities are being treated in the script, people are more likely to remember characters as “Aretha” or “Other Asian” rather than their actual names: Mercedes and Mike. I really hope that after this 4 month hiatus some of the more ignored characters will get to develop. I’m tired of Finn and Quin.

My apologies if this was long and arduous. I just have a lot of unaddressed feelings on the topic, so thanks for bearing with me.

-Lauren Mae

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4 thoughts on “Glee and Me: Showchoir Cofessional

  1. demeterschild says:

    I love Glee and I can sort of relate to what you’re saying. Having done musical theatre in high school there are a lot of echos and parallels to the show. I have to disagree with you on some of the things you added at the end though.

    1. I don’t think all the best music is going to the ‘conventionally pretty white voices’ the female solos seem to be split at least 60/40 between Rachel and Mercedes with occasional Quinn and Tina solos (Papa Don’t Preach, You Keep Me Hanging On, True Colors). For the guys, you’re right, I don’t think Finn has the best voice, but he fills a certain niche for the group and he splits songs fairly evenly with Artie. Puck has gotten one song (Sweet Caroline) and the other guys don’t stand out as much, but I think that might have something to do with their range.

    2. Casting: This is starting to become a pet peeve of mine. I think it is unfair to criticize over this for several reasons. Firstly, we were not at the auditions, we don’t know whether they auditioned disabled actors or not. Secondly, we don’t know what the job conditions are like and whether they would prevent a disabled person from being able to perform the task. Thirdly, a casting director has a right to cast the best actor for the part no matter what his or her physical capability is like. Finally, casting someone just because they fit into the specific minority group of the character is troubling at best. I have been cast in a part before simply because I was one of the only black females that auditioned and it doesn’t feel good.

    3. Does Chris Colfer *want* out of the closet? Did someone forcibly shove him into a closet? Or is that totally his own business?

    4. Yeah, the music is a bit over-polished, I’ll give you that. It is a TV show though, not an actual choir.

    5. Just because these two women were practicing deception doesn’t mean that it is supposed to be a statement about women in general. They aren’t the only female characters in the show and they aren’t being put forth as positive role models. The characters are more or less despised (well maybe Quinn isn’t, but she’s a teenager and she’s making a mistake. life is like that). It wouldn’t be a TV show if there wasn’t drama.

    6. RE: ‘Aretha’ and ‘Other Asian’ the satirical outrageous character used these nicknames in one episode. I don’t know what your sample is like, but I don’t know anyone referring to them by those names. Granted, they could incorporate Mike into the plot a little more, familiarize us with his name, but I think it’s an exaggeration to say that people are referring to them mostly by those names.

    Naturally, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I think when you are looking to find something wrong with a piece of pop art, it’s gonna be all over the place. I think it’s necessary to take a step back, look at things with a level eye and try to imagine intentions, and not be so quick to judge.

  2. Scott says:

    This is a rather timely post because I watched Glee for the first time tonight at a friend’s house. They both really love it and thought I would too. I have to admit I didn’t think I would but I did. I think a lot of school organizations have the drama that you talk about, don’t even get me started on what happened in marching band.

    I formed some similar opinions but I think I’ll wait until I’ve seen all of the episodes before I elaborate.

  3. I think that was some well-thought out criticisms. Your criticisms line up with what critics were saying about the show – especially the over-produced sound. As someone who is musically illiterate – i took a semester of voice training, can sight read a little, but i don’t understand how music works – even i can hear the auto-tune being used. I think possibly because i’m not a musician, this doesn’t get under my skin. If i understand correctly, the casting was selected somewhat on voice talent, so it’s surprising that there is that over-production.

    Regarding Chris Colfer, i think what might have happened there is that it was already a tough sell making him so important, and devoting a couple of episodes to him. This show has done a lot for just simply showing that there are gay folk out there, but it’s still a network TV show and i’d imagine there’s a lot more pressure to keep Chris in the background most of the time.

    As for the women and pregnancies storyline, you’ve nailed it hard, Lauren. The problem, Demeterschild, is that this is a view that gets sublimated and incorporated into viewers. There’s been a study recently that shows that racism gets perpetuated through media:
    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1948662,00.html

    This is a pressing issue – racism and sexism need to be squished. And relying on old, sexist tropes, such as The Conniving Woman perpetuate sexist attitudes and mores – we’re still so stuck in it some shows wouldn’t even work without them. Art is produced by society – but society produces artists – complete with the luggage and codes of racism, sexism, etc.

    Of course, this is the dilemma – we can’t produce art that isn’t sexist and racist to some degree – because we’re in a racist and sexist society. However, i do think in the case of TV, some responsibility ought to go to the writers to avoid shit like that. Last year, Grey’s Anatomy put real medical facts in their show, and the result was people remembered and applied those facts. (Women with HIV can have healthy infants – the chances are quite low she would pass it on). http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2008/09/greys-anatomy-v.html

    They’re still putting real medical info on their show, too : http://danielronelmd.com/images/708-The%2520medical%2520facts%2520behind%2520Dr.pdf

    It’s been proven, we know that us as an audience are vulnerable, and malleable. Perhaps it’s time writers of those tv shows get a little more responsible with what they’re telling us.

    Sorry about the links, and that my html-fu is weak. I’m also lazy.

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