Tuesday, November 30, 2010

wag of the finger: an open letter to the minds behind Glee from a classic film fan

Glee is a shark or jet battle cry with little of Bernstein's lyricism. At its best it is fun spectacle that has the ability to bring old standards to newer, younger audiences with a cast that includes several legitimate stage performers who really don't need the auto-tune. At its worst it is cloying, stereotypical and simplistic. I recognize that in writing this post I must admit to the sin of watching the show. I enjoy it as a former show choir kid with a tooth for nostalgia and appreciation of its premise. I also recognize that maybe I'm asking too much from a teen tv show. But in the past few weeks the show has tried to take hold of larger issues. Therefore all I'm asking, creators of Glee, is that you choose not to be hypocrites.

Last weeks episode used Singin' in the Rain as its musical theme. This I don't have a problem with. I don't mind revisions of old material because it's something that has always been done whether literature, film, or in what show choirs around the country have done well before Glee. In high school I was in a community production of Singin' in the Rain which served as my introduction to what is now one of my favorite films. This is not to say that I don't criticize quality if it isn't up to snuff. While I really didn't like Glee's rendition of the song the way they staged it by having them perform not in a flooded street but on a flooded high school auditorium stage was actually pretty spectacular. Watch here.

It is the mentality behind the scenes leading up to this number that I take issue with.

Will, the teacher who runs the show choir, tells the kids that he wants to do a number from the show. You know, that movie from 1952. Oh, you didn't know there was a 1952? You thought the world only started spinning around 1980? Well you're all clearly disgusted that I would even think of doing something so old. Right. I see. Well then we'll just have to modernize it! Yeah, that's clearly the only way to make it cool!

Hold. The phone.

For starters, the fact that there are several self professed stage and screen nerd characters on the show makes it highly unlikely that none of them would have heard of it. Such a reaction is not true to the characters and in poor writing form.

Second, taking one of the most beloved musicals of all time and making it seem like no one under a certain age could ever like something that old and appreciate it by itself is wrong, creators of Glee. You are so, so wrong.

I thought Glee was supposed to be a show about the underdog. About kids who don't quite fit in standing up for themselves and doing things that make them happy. And for some of us, this includes watching old movies.

I detest ageism in any form. I think it's wrong for the old to try to stifle the young, which is something that the show has tried to tackle in its celebration of the 'new.' But this neglects the fact that there can still be value in and appreciation of the old by the young. It not only neglects it, the show attacks it.

I am no longer a kid and was lucky enough in high school to have friends who were willing to humor my classic film obsession. But I know it can be a potentially alienating thing, and especially hard when you're trying to fit in. I think it's great that there is a classic film community on the internet but I become all too aware of how odd I am when I move out of my own circles.

I'm sorry to go all PSA, especially without cheesy 80s music or a young George Clooney, but Glee you've made it necessary for me to try to do your job for you. So to anyone reading this who might benefit from it all I have to say is whether you love Conrad Veidt or listening to the Andrews Sisters be loud and proud. Do what you love, and don't listen to anyone who tries to make you feel 'uncool' or weird, whether it be disregarding Glee or disregarding everything I've just said.

Underdogs up, up and away.


  1. Word! I think most of us classic movie fans are behind you on this. Great write-up!

  2. I agree. It's hard enough to convince younger people to watch classic movies without having the "Glee" kids taking a snotty attitude to anything earlier than the '80s. Also, you can't tell me that Kurt and Rachel haven't seen -- and loved -- any Gene Kelly musicals! Come on now! ;)

    That's "Glee," though. The writers have the characters say and do whatever is convenient for that week's plot, not what would be consistent with the past.

  3. thank you, jonas!

    And this is true MC. It is something they have done in varying degrees since the beginning of the show to try to broaden their base by promoting the notion that hey now, this isn't just a show for theatre nerds. So to prove this point lets bag on theatre nerds. Even if a portion of the audience are, in fact, theatre nerds.

  4. Never bothered to watch Glee, still I agree with your general thought.
    I detest catering to one of the basest forms or self-importance - dismissing anything that came before one's birth.

    And not just in old movies [though that's sore point for me since my blog is about the classics]. The parts available for older actors are few and often horrid. The magazines in the grocery store show images of people who seem to get younger every year.

    And anyone who mentions all of this is considered a curmudgeon!

    Thought-provoking post, Meredith.

  5. thank you, java! And you are absolutely right. It is a problem of mentality that extends far beyond glee, glee is just the lighting rod for my frustration. It is really deplorable how little older actors are given in terms of demanding roles, especially when those performances are often far more nuanced and masterful. Whether this is a difference in training or life layers or some combination of both I'm not sure.

  6. what a fabulous post about Glee and their version of Singin in the Rain. i like this remix i think it's fantastic i listen to it all the time. but i will agree that these kids on this show are supposed to be theater nerds and just nerds in general and they don't know Singin in the Rain? i am in no way a big Glee fan my roommate is and tells me the songs they sing and i sometimes like them enough to download them. i did not know the teacher said something about the movie being old and before their time. that is a shame and very naive. i think it is important more than ever that younger people be introduced to classic films especially since hollywood does not know what an original idea is anymore.
    fantastic write up i totally agree

  7. Thank ye! And I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't been introduced to classic films at a young age. Not for everyone but at least worth a look and a fair chance!