In 2009, the Glee cast’s cover of Journey’s infamous “Don’t Stop Believin’” brought a small musical television show on Fox to the forefront of American popular culture. Around the same time, my best friend Alyssa and I started using Tumblr, and we were pulled into the cosmic, virtual world of the Glee fandom.
Nowadays, my relationship with blogging is much less intense. But for several years in high school, most of my evenings were split between watching CNN, studying for my AP exams and thinking a lot about two of the show’s leading men, Cory Monteith vs. Darren Criss (Darren won in my heart). More than 30 minutes of cute boys, dancing and powerful ballads, Glee was one of the most diverse shows on American television. The cast showed the breadth of America’s ethnic makeup, even if some of the white characters had more complex narratives and backstories.
By my high school graduation in 2012, the show’s producers and writers had mixed success in their discussion of identity: the romantic plotline between two gay, white males was heartwarming and developed, while the show’s first lesbian plotline fell flat and was dismissed as an experiment. Many of us on Tumblr were able to discuss our disappointments with a television program that felt groundbreaking at its start, especially since many of its viewers were teens coming to terms with their own identities and sexualities. How come the boys got something pretty and real, while the girls were left with something less?
I could get into a much more in-depth analysis of the show’s weaknesses — the plot holes and less-exciting episodes. But I want to emphasize the significance of my relationship with the show at its beginning. My teenage heart was absolutely in love with Glee and its cast. I watched every Darren Criss interview and bought every Lea Michele magazine cover—I felt like they were a part of a story that was authentic. As a viewer, I felt it was my responsibility to endorse everyone involved because I wanted to see more shows that carried the same values. The show acknowledged its responsibility to speak directly to those who may be culturally marginalized. All sorts of decisions are okay, and Glee tried to tell us that. And with the rise of social media, we had a chance to interact with the stars of the show on a more intimate level than ever before. They felt like our friends.
I stopped watching somewhere along the way. But the process of engaging critically with something that seems frivolous stuck with me. Whether writing my thoughts on plotlines that involved adult virginity or engaging in dialogue with other viewers on estranged family dynamics, the exercise of discussing about these real questions was both genuinely intellectual and personal.
And the show’s creators were actually interested in what we had to say. Rather than simply caring about ratings, the show’s runners had a sense of duty to the thoughts we shared. It was at once a community and a classroom. Youths’ thoughts and feelings were taken seriously, and they inspired me to question the show on a more intimate level.
Glee taught me that all sorts of media have consequences, even if it was a television show instead of an epic novel. Despite its place in pop culture, that didn’t inhibit us from engaging with the rigor Glee deserved. Here at Yale, there have even been courses where the professors have included the show as course material. There were real stakes in what transpired on screen, and I was allowed to speak out about it. I was allowed to be critical and I was allowed to be snarky and I was allowed to have fun. I was 15, but my thoughts were just as valid and necessary as a real adult’s opinions, or so I liked to believe. What started out as a crush on a TV heartthrob ended with a much more developed love for cultural critique.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column usually runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .