Oh, “Glee.” What I once equated with a squeal and a joyous giggle, now more often elicits a sigh and shoulder shrug. The thing about this show, the thing about all shows, is that the stories only matter if we believe in them. TV is the tinkerbell of mediums. It only lives when we clap. But when the clapping stops, shows stop. That's how it works. Even the most brilliant TV (My So-Called Life, Firefly, Wonderfalls) can't live without fans.
So, when a show – or its creator – goes out of its way to alienate parts of its fanbase, well, that'’ a problem. So, I ask you, how do we solve a problem like Ryan Murphy? Ryan Murphy is a little bit genius at creating TV shows that make us care, at least at first. Popular, Nip/Tuck, Glee. Come on, pretty awesome. But then being a little bit genius is sort of like being a little bit pregnant. It tends to be all or nothing proposition.
The best stories come alive, both off the page an on the screen. The characters stop feeling like characters and start feeling like people. So then a good rule of thumb when it comes to writing characters is how readers react to them. Not necessarily whether a character is liked or not – that’s just taste and personality. But instead our reaction to their actions. If a character does something we don't like, do we get mad at the character or do we get mad at the writer? If it’s the latter that's a Houston we have a problem.
On “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” when Willow got – quite literally – high off magic and Tara broke up with her, no one called for Joss Whedon’s head. That felt like horrible, terrible, so very sad real life (minus the mystical powers part). On “Modern Family,” no one gets mad at Steven Levitan for letting Phil embarrass his children/wife/father-in-law week after week. That feels like the dorky dad in all of our lives.
But on, “Glee,” we rarely blame the characters for their own bad behavior. We blame Ryan Murphy. (Well, minus maybe Finn. We blame Finn and Ryan Murphy.) Finn outs Santana then song assaults her to having fun about it and everyone hugs & sings Katy Perry afterward. RYAN MURPHY! After sleeping together for three years Santana & Brittany continue to only give each other deep, meaningful hugs on camera. RYAN MURPHY! Finn is the requisite white male hero, yet continues to have to relearn lessons he already learned in the first season. RYAN MURPHY!
For lesbian TV viewers, it is an all-too familiar formula. A show we begin breathlessly watching filled with characters we love and actors we respect that somehow veers off course and becomes a frequent kicking bag. Just replace our current cries of RYAN MURPHY with our past cries of ILENE CHAIKEN and you get the picture. We can all tell when the strings on the marionette start to show. And that is one of the worst sins of storytelling – not letting your stories come alive.
But now, more than having just shortcomings in storytelling, “Glee” seems to be taking on a decidedly ungleeful attitude toward its lesbian and bisexual fans. The aforementioned Mr. Murphy in fact seems to be actively trolling lesbian fandom with tweets like this.
And, yes, I saw the “Wedding of the Year” tweet, too.
Now, I understand that constant negativity and hateful feedback suck. Anyone who shares their opinions or art with the public is subject to adoration and wrath in equal measure. And, of course, people should not be harassed or bullied for their work. There is a difference between haranguing and respectful disagreement. But it confounds me when storytellers get angry at people who care deeply about the characters they created for them to care about. Yes, a lot of Glee’s gay women fans are annoyed with the show for its inconsistencies. But why shouldn’t they be allowed to express that frustrations? Am I thankful “Glee” allowed Santana and Brittany to exist and fall in love and be a couple? God, yes. So much yes. They are lovely. They are important. But that doesn’t mean all future treatment of those characters or other storylines must be worshipped. Also, don’t get me started on the idea that characters should somehow be punished for fan reactions. Do writers really “give up” on storylines because of fans? Shouldn’t they only give up on storylines because the story doesn’t work?
Like I was saying – oh, “Glee.”