“All of us are scarred by high school. Next to our parents, nothing screws us up more. And people like us, we’re stupid enough to come back here and relive that pain every day.”
This got me thinking about why so many of us watch Glee, when so often the plots touch tender and painful high school memories. I don’t think it’s that we’re “stupid enough” â€“ I think part of the appeal of Glee is that it provides a kind of desperately-needed empathy.
There were many powerful sexuality-related themes in the recent episode to which many people can relate, particularly around Kurt’s experience with bullying and his bully’s internalized homophobia. Other storylines of note are Puck’s struggle with masculine identity, the pressure to have or not-have sex (a subplot for nearly everyone in the cast), and Coach Beiste’s anxiety about not being beautiful. The commonality of these issues got me thinking about how these experiences seem to stick with us much longer than we might enjoy.
Most of us have experienced the tremendous pressure to have sex and, particularly for young women, the pressure to avoid “putting out.” No one can win in that situation. That environment provides little room for authentic sexual expression based on pleasure, desire, and connection. I often feel (and I know I’m not alone in this) sad/angry/disappointed that a time with so much potential for joyful exploration was laden with so much judgment.
High school can seem like it will never end (further illustrating the importance of the “It Gets Better” videos like the one done by Chris Colfer). Rarely is that degree of prolonged contact with the same peer group replicated in adult life. Even if someone works in particular company for four-plus years, there’s rarely the expectation for one’s workplace to be such a self-defining and discrete universe.
I know many people have regrets or sadness around how their sexuality was experienced during those confusing teen years. My suspicion is that Glee provides a kind of mirror that reflects a vulnerable time for folks, whether they were the nerds or the jocks. Perhaps reliving it, it a detached, controlled way, makes us feel more healed. Maybe it reassures us to know that our adolescent angst, which seemed like a unique form of suffering at the time, is really a shared experience that others sympathize with. Then the cast breaks out into song and dance, providing us with the joy, expression, and celebration we yearn for. No wonder the show is so damn popular.
Image taken from Glee’s facebook fan page.