Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Problem of Kurt

This will probably be a bit disjointed and rambling.

I'll start out by saying that I do not hate Glee, I love nearly every crack-filled minute, warts and all. I do not hate Chris Cofler, far from it, I think he's done a marvelous job with what he's been given. The issue is what he's been given, is largely shit. Neither do I hate his character, Kurt, so much as I resent that this is being treated like a television breakthrough.

It's not. It just is not.

The Kurt character is not just badly and inconsistently drawn, but is a step back for gay people. The character is a Hollywood stand-by, the Camp Gay.

“The traditional stereotypical image of a gay man. He's flamboyantly effeminate in his dress, speech, mannerisms, and interests. He wears tight (often leather) pants and a loose, blousy shirt, often with a silk kerchief or scarf knotted around his neck, all of which will be in bright or pastel colors. He will often speak with a lisp, and is given to flouncing, prancing, and standing with one hand on his hip as the other is held out in a limp-wristed gesture.

Extreme cases will include a near-opaque slang, referring to himself and his gay friends with female pronouns, and minor to complete transvestism. Insofar as he has a personality, it will often be vain, catty, and cowardly.”

Ryan Murphy just had an interesting war of words with a member of the Kings of Leon. The band did not want to license their work for Glee to cover. An act of defiance to which Murphy took great offense.

One of the Kings tweeted a nasty remark in his direction, and really there is no excusing it. Murphy replied that, ‘it's telling that Nathan can reduce a group of people to a mean-spirited cliché,’ which kinda makes one wonder if he has ever actually seen his own show. Glee is populated with mean spirited cliché, after mean spirited cliché.

There’s the bitchy cheerleader, the vapid cheerleader, the dumb jock, the scheming diva, the fat black gospel singer (best friend of the bitchy fab gay guy, of course), and our own effeminate, show tunes singing, campy gay.

There is nothing wrong with being effeminate, singing show tunes, or being a catty queer, but when this is virtually the only consistent representation of gay people on television or movies, it is troubling. When a character like this is then lauded as ground breaking, it is offensive.

With few exceptions, the homosexual characters in movies are campy caricatures or creepy violent misfits. Glee has both in, Kurt and his tormentor Karofsky. Sometimes Kurt is both.

There was the nasty story point where it is implied Kurt sexually harassed another student. Kurt, it is claimed, does not know that, 'No' means 'No.' This even though 'No',  is never said by that student, Finn. Finn, never tells Kurt 'No', in fact Kurt never even tried anything. He just wasn’t behaving the way Finn wanted him to behave. Kurt was merely acting the way a young person interested in another young person acts. The big strong football player was unable to tell the tiny effete nancyboy, ‘No, I am not interested.’

Is the message here that Kurt is, that young gay men are by nature predators? Because that is certainly what is implied.

Then of course we have Dave Karofsky, the Glee closeted teen who bullies Kurt. There is a long tradition of gay, or coded gay people as villains. Unfortunately on Glee, this also make him the single most interesting character on the show.

The new Entertainment Weekly cover.

‘Bold,’ ‘new,’ really, EW? Screw you.

There is nothing bold or new about these characters. They aren’t even  characters, they are caricature, and people are hailing it like it's this revelatory experience having this character on a hit TV show, when it is the same recycled tropes? I can't even... I just shake my head.

Check out a net little documentary called The Celluloid Closet. It is both informative and entertaining and traces the history of Gays in cinema.

So, what is wrong with a stereotype? They are stereotypes because they are true, the voices cry, we all know people like Kurt.

True enough, there are also minorities in prison, that doesn’t make it any less problematic or racist, if that is the main portrayal of minorities in the media. Why should gay people accept less? Why should we be happy with crumbs from the table?

Honestly, if you want bitchy fab queens go watch Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, they did it up far better.

What about all the gay kids identify with Kurt? I’m sure there are plenty, just as I am sure there are many who do not, many who don't self-identify with a crying, effete show tunes singing spiteful queen. Yes, Ryan Murphy the character is often mean spirited as is the stereotype. Well, those young people are just out of luck, and portrayals like this just make it harder on them. They too need a role model.

What we need is something akin to what Uhura on Star Trek was to African-Americans in the sixties.

Nichelle Nichols famously relates the conversation she had with Martin Luther King when she told him she wanted to leave Star Trek.

“I told him I would be leaving the show, because; and that was as far as he let me go, and he said, “STOP! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing?! You are the first non-stereotypical role in television! Of intelligence, and of a woman and a woman of color?! That you are playing a role that is not about your color! That this role could be played by anyone? This is not a black role. This is not a female role! A blue eyed blond or a pointed ear green person could take this role!” And I am looking at him and looking at him and buzzing, and he said, “Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, people who don’t look like us, from all over the world, for the first time, the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be!”

[go to for the full story]

As broad and diverse a group as the LGBT community is and the best we can get from our own people on network TV is the same age-old Hollywood tropes? It is sad.

Honestly, I watch the show and I laugh right along with everyone else, but they’re cheap laughs, and we’re usually not laughing with the character. They are the butt of the joke.

Clichés like this are shorthand, it is sloppy writing and as long as we have television, we’ll have bad television, and these tired tropes, but let us not kid ourselves about it. Stereotypes are demeaning, and people use them to justify violence against us.

Unfortunately there are precious few other options right now in prime time television, there is the gay couple on Brothers and Sisters, and the gay cop on SouthLAnd, but nothing for teens. Even these shows don’t get near the attention Glee does, nor for some odd reason are they lauded as Glee inexplicably has been. You want ‘bold’, ‘new’ depictions of gays on television look there, they are absent on Glee.


  1. I totally agree, they are just tossing around the stereotypes. It's not fair for us masculine, even feminine gays! They need to show that there is diversity in the gay community.

  2. I totally agree, they are just tossing around the stereotypes. It's not fair for us masculine, even feminine gays! They need to show that there is diversity in the gay community.