Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Freaks and Gleeks

I’ve never seen Glee. There, I said it. I have been completely oblivious of this television phenomenon, much like I was for Lost and 24 and pretty much any other hugely popular episodic series to debut since my first child was born. But in my own way, I still feel connected to the show. Any depiction of mostly-smart, artsy kids on the fringes of popularity strikes a chord (oh, hush) with me. I don’t need to watch Glee. I lived it.

Okay, no, I wasn’t in my high school’s elite singing ensemble. But most of my friends were. And those who weren’t were in the nationally-competitive choir, or orchestra, or band, or a combination of the above. I can count the number of athletes I hung out with on one hand, and most of those were runners or swimmers (the nerds of jocks). My friends were National Merit finalists and National Honor Society officers. I lettered in Thespian Club, y’all.

Graduation All-Night Party, June 1994
Me, 4 Chamber Singers, and our
Co-Valedictorian/Theatre Award Winner
(Edited to crop out jean shorts)

We were good kids. Really ridiculously good kids. We didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. One of the very few couples I knew who were having sex had met with their pastor beforehand to discuss it. The cops were called on a party at my house and found about a dozen teenagers drinking Coke and playing Trivial Pursuit. “Sorry we were playing the Abba so loud, officers. It won’t happen again. My parents are asleep upstairs.”

I went to a high school where over 90% of graduates went to college, and my friends were expected to attend the very best of them. We weren’t better or smarter or wiser than any other teenagers, but we saw the benefits of following the plans made for us. Our parents and teachers had spent a decade grooming us for greatness, or at least happiness, comfort, and security, and we weren’t going to blow it. Part of the reason we were involved in so many activities was for the benefit of our transcripts, and we were very conscious of how everything we participated in stacked up. A ticket for a DUI, or even a curfew violation, had no place on our permanent records.

We also weren’t too badly hemmed in by a fear of stasis. We were all going places, literally. I can’t think of anyone within my immediate peer group who went to college closer than thirty miles from home, and the vast majority left the state entirely.

So we did our time as rule-followers and curve-blowers and extracurricular extremists. We knuckled down, studied hard, and steered a straight line toward our goal.

The arts, however, were something we did purely for the fun of it. Most of us took an extra class – ominously held during “zero hour” at 6:45 in the morning - so we’d have room in our schedules for these non-required courses. Even as a third-string member of our lousiest choir, some of my best high school memories involve rehearsing and performing. It was freeing and expressive in a way that so few things are, especially in adolescence.

Part of Glee’s buzz is about how it celebrates differences in a way teenagers so desperately need, but the model for that celebration has been around much longer. I have a lot of gay friends who credit their school arts programs for keeping them alive to see adulthood, but they weren’t the only ones to benefit from that culture. The Arts wing at my school was a haven for the misfits and the misunderstood. I can think of some examples of those kids who were awkward or egotistical, but I can’t think of any who were mean or bullying. I’d wager that singing Gershwin for an hour a day will take all the bully right out of you. (This might be something the prison system should look into.)

Based on how much fun I had during that time, I can see the appeal of living vicariously through kids doing the same. I’m not convinced that Glee is great art, but if it increases support of arts in high school, that’s great enough for me.


  1. All good points, but the writing is still dismal.

  2. Ah, zero hour. And I don't know what you're talking about. I think I'm just as glamorous as the Glee stars.