Here’s my experiment – I’d like to make each Monday on the blog into Writer Mondays, where the subject matter will be scripts, novels, TV shows, plays and other stuff what’s written down. Since I can so rarely talk about the business I’m in, this’ll be a way I can do it without getting into trouble. Don’t worry, accountants and podiatrists, even if you haven’t been watching the show (or read the novel, etc.) we’re talking about, it will still be interesting in general, dammit.
I’ve meant to do this for a while, but my brother Sean wrote a blog today about the show “Glee” that was awesome, and also needed responding to at from in. (See kids? You’re already learning how to write!)
You should read it first, once you have, let me respond to it point by point:
1. Sean claims that the football team being the “popular kids” in Glee’s high school rings utterly false, noting that in real life, the truly popular were “rich kids who got good grades and didn’t fucking care about *ANYTHING*, let alone football.” Fair enough – in fact, the poster child for that kind of popular would be James Spader in “Pretty in Pink”, who would never have played any sport not occurring on the north slopes of Chamonix and Megève.
In my own high school, I’d have to say that the “popular” kids in my grade were both football players and rich and didn’t care about anything, even football. Same goes for the cheerleaders, except the ones selling nabs between classes. But I’m willing to give “Glee” a break here, as they have to keep a lot of balls in the air, and it’s just easier on both audience (and producer) if you go with the old cliché.
In fact, given that many high schools do actually drop-kick their music and art departments but have no problem buying whirlpools and new uniforms for the sports teams, it doesn’t seem like it’s too far off the mark, at least in terms of priorities.
2. Sean also has a problem with calling it “Glee Club” when it’s actually a “show choir”. This is absolutely true – as my mom says, “glee clubs” were already dated when my mom was in college, and had already changed their names to “Men’s Choir” by 1950. When I think of “glee clubs”, I think of dandies in double-breasted suits singing about the Harvard-Yale game of ’21.
However, you can’t deny that “Glee” isn’t a great name for a show, and the ad campaign with the “loser ‘L'” is pretty awesome. “Show Choir” is okay as a name, but when presented a choice between okay and great, you go with great every time and let the details slide. Which brings us to…
4. Sean says that “Glee” lets almost all the details slide – the sexual politics, the confusing skill set of the kid in the wheelchair, the relevance of the music… but where I agree with him most is what’s known as “sound design”.
Every time they launch into a song, unnamed high school kids magically appear playing cornets, sax, violins, drums, glockenspiels and whatever else the song needs. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for that, as it’s a hyper-realized, somewhat magical musical theater motif a la “Grease”, when John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John start singing at the carnival.
But the computerized vocal correction and super-compressed post-processing – in other words, the stuff that makes it sound like they’re in a recording studio rather than the lunchroom – is cringe-worthy. In fact, it’s embarrassing, given that some of the actors here have Broadway training (others were professional singers/dancers) and all could have easily hit their notes.
Sure, it wouldn’t sound technically as good if they sang it as they were acting, but the obvious chasm between their speaking parts and their singing parts robs the audience of a true connection. It wouldn’t have been that hard – sing it for real, then make a few corrections in post-production if anything stands out. The stunt itself would create major buzz and bring millions of viewers who are currently avoiding the show because they’re afraid it’s irredeemably cheesy.
5. Sean’s major point is along the same lines: “Glee” makes it all look too easy. Musicians work for decades to hone their craft, pull eight-hour days until their calluses start to bleed or their larynx begins shredding, and still end up sounding like shit. In fact, I’ll let him speak for himself:
So, when this show makes the execrable claim that music can simply be handed out and sight-read, performance ready, that somehow the biggest hurdles to artistic success are the stock personality conflicts between show choir and *CHEERLEADERS*, that all you have to do is *want* it, and it will happen for you (regardless of putting in absolutely no work), this is an utter insult to all of us who sweat blood trying to make a show actually happen… This isn’t a celebration of what we do, because they never show what we do.
Is it possible to say “I totally agree, and it also doesn’t bother me”? Sean himself doesn’t want to watch a show about the drudgery of rehearsal, but I think there’s something that needs to be said about this, and actually, ANYTHING IN LIFE THAT IS REMOTELY ARTISTIC:
Put simply, the public at large has zero tolerance for “art” that isn’t finished. Sure, they may SAY they want to see the painting in progress, but if they do, they’ll be HORRIFIED. We’ve dealt with this for years – people will say they “want to read a rough draft” of a script, but don’t you fucking let them do it, because when they do, they will BE EMBARRASSED FOR YOU and THINK THAT YOU’RE TOTALLY FULL OF SHIT, but too chagrined to say anything about it.
Why is that? Because artists aren’t artists because they’re good at art. They are artists because they can see what something will look like, will sound like even when the rest of the world sees blobs and hears scrapes. It is this persistence of vision that allows artists to do what they do for years on end, only allowing the public to see their craft once they can do so without disclaimers.
When you’re working on a script or a song or a painting or a book, the brilliance curve is steep. Here’s what the “art” generally looks like as it’s being made:
a) stupid idea
b) really stupid idea
c) stupid ideas strung together
d) stupid ideas strung together with shitty connective tissue
e) embarrassing and obvious theme evolves
f) cliché and hackery used to patch holes
i) utter shit
j) shows promise
k) oh my god, breathtaking!
For an easy example, try listening to the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, take 2 and then compare it with final version a few takes later. The pieces of art that were brilliant in their infancy – like Michaelangelo’s unfinished slaves or Dali’s sketches for his “Crucifix” are the exceptions, not the rule.
But back to “Glee”… my point is that the process of making art is necessarily ugly, untransformative and disgusting to everyone but the artist involved, and would definitely be toxic to a prime-time television show. That leaves us with a choice: either we get “Glee” in all its unrealistic, ultra-glossed, toddler-simplified (and yet oddly inspiring) perfection, or we get “CSI: Green Bay, Wisconsin”. Give me the former ten times out of ten.
Besides, I really like the show. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s when Jane Lynch gets on the local news and says “Caning WORKS!” Maybe it’s the Journey songs. Maybe I like the redhead. Maybe I got a little teary-eyed when the gay kid came out to his dad. Perhaps if one student in some high school in Arkansas decides he’d rather sing than beat the shit out of the learning disabled kid on the bus, then I’m willing to put up with the groaners.
Let me leave you folks with a quote from the poet Marge Piercy:
“A new idea is rarely born like Venus attended by graces. More commonly it’s modeled of baling wire and acne.”