Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Glee On The Word "Fag"

Last night's episode of Glee featured a great scene that I was surprised to see on network television. In it the show's writers explicitly address derogatory use of the word "fag" and identify it as a hateful slur on the same level as words like "nigger" and "retard." It's an extremely powerful sequence that sends a fantastic message and I want to share it because the statement it makes cannot be reiterated enough.

To give a little context, in this episode Finn, a typically moral football player, finds out he's moving in with Kurt, a gay classmate and fellow member of the Glee club. Finn's mother recently started dating Kurt's father, Burt, who quickly became an important masculine role model to Finn. When Finn and Kurt start sharing a bedroom it puts a lot of stress on both of them, and the rising tension finally explodes in this fantastic scene:

I'm going to try to have a better clip soon

I don't have anything to add to Burt's speech, it's a powerful testament to the fact that using such hateful language is disgraceful. Considering Glee's popularity it's always admirable when the writers tackle important social issues. They're quick to criticize rural American culture but clearly aren't blind to their own faults, as seen in episodes like the racially-charged "Throwdown." There's also a brutal honesty to Glee that saves its moralizing from sounding like the stuff of after-school specials, as seen when they discussed disabilities in "Wheels." Burt's speech this week exhibited each of these strengths as he admitted his own guilt in having shared a hateful prejudice and indicted its perpetuation. Because so many people watch Glee it presents a a real opportunity for positive cultural influence, and moments like this show the writers are taking that possibility seriously.

If the sequence above had taken place in reality I would accuse Burt of being overly hard on Finn. The kid has repeatedly shown that he has a good heart and more than that he's struggling with his own serious issues. There's no doubt that Finn's treatment of Kurt is reprehensible, but Burt should have handled the situation better. He has taken it upon himself to become a father-figure to Finn, yet his exemplary criticism of the boy's language quickly devolves into an excommunication. Finn is wrong and he isn't Burt's real son so he has to go. No high school kid deserves to be so brutally devalued and disowned, period.

But this isn't reality, it's the television show Glee, and an episode entitled "Theatricality" no less.  Finn's a good kid, the audience likes him, and so hearing him use the word "fag" is especially shocking. Burt's rage is  righteous but hard to watch with Finn on the receiving end, and the divide between the audience's loyalty to Finn and their moral sensibility makes the whole event feel especially tragic. This elevated drama makes the scene all the more effective in sending the message that words like "fag" are hateful, hurtful, and unacceptable.


  1. As you know I tend to be hesitant when it comes to anything "Glee", but after watching that scene a huge portion of my childhood erupted. This scene really harnesses the hate some people refuse to associate with the word "fag". All to often it's been an alternative to "idiot" or "jerk" and usually when someone has the balls to call the other on their intolerant choice of words, the accused tends to rely on the argument "no I meant something different. I have gay friends." Sounds pretty familiar.

    I've grown up with two men who are basically my second and third fathers so at an early age I caught on to the use of this word. I went through the same speeches Burt used (in a less terrifying, but similarly direct manner). It's a very sobering scene

    I can't say much for the character development here, but I gathered this was an interesting development for Burt and for Finn. From what I've seen of Glee this seems like the opposite direction both characters would have taken in earlier episodes (huge assumption!). I'd never look into Glee for exceptional leaps in moral standing, but this seemed to take a much darker turn than anything I've seen or heard of so far.

    So you have my thanks, Maxrambles.

  2. I'll agree with you on everything EXCEPT the use of the word retard being on the same level of hate speech. In fact I don't count it as hate speech at all. It's in the category of politically incorrect.

  3. Glee is for fags & when I say fag I mean lame & feminine, there's a big difference between that & a homosexual. It's just a bunch of whiners who missed the time when being a homo was not acceptable & want to attract attention - look at me being discriminated because I like cock!

    It seems to me the best way to insult a gay guy would be to say how much he likes munching rugs like straight guys are supposed to be insulted if you call them a knob-jockey.

    It's the 21st century & no-one cares if you're black, white, straight, gay or whatever, we're too busy trying to pay our bills to give a shit!

  4. The thing is, Kurt had been sexually harassing Finn for a while, and the show had played it for laughs. If such behavior had been directed at a woman, the whole thing would rightly have been treated as creepy and nasty. Since it was directed towards a man it was played for laughs. Finally Finn explodes and uses the word faggy to describe not Kurt directly, but one of the decorations Kurt had chosen. Immediately Kurt's father appears, bawls Finn out and kicks him out from his home. Nice that he is so protective of his son and he has a point: the use of that word is unacceptable. But, you know, there was a victim in that freaky situation, and the victim was not Kurt.