Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The RBI Report: "I Kissed a Girl"

It's no secret that last week's Glee left me somewhat enraged and frustrated with how the show's writers handle its storylines - in particular when dealing with the choices they make for the portrayal of the female characters.  Plus, I griped about the seeds of Santana's coming-out storyline, in which Finn outed her in front of a crowd and called her a coward, but because she was written as such an absolute bitch we couldn't really blame him.  Many of you told me to wait and pass judgment after this week, after seeing more of the fallout of Santana's secret come to light and how the show handled it.  So, was "I Kissed a Girl" any better than "Mash Off?"

"I Kissed a Girl," written by Matthew Hodgson, directed by Tate Donovan

I'll get the short answer out of the way: no.  No, "I Kissed a Girl" was not really any better than "Mash Off," at least where sexism and the handling of Santana's storyline are concerned. 

Basically, "I Kissed a Girl" followed the same character format for Finn and Santana that "Mash Off" did - Santana acts like a heinous bitch when people are trying to be nice to her, and Finn pushes her because he wants what's best for her.  The episode picked up where "Mash Off" left off in more ways than one, and found Will, Shelby, Finn, and Santana in Principal Figgins' office, where Santana was receiving suspension for slapping Finn across the face.  (Let's ignore the fact that there have been several other acts of physical violence that were held completely unaccountable both by the narrative and this damn school.  Yeah, let's ignore that.)

Finn, being the Hero of Our Story, stepped in and saved Santana from suspension and removal from participating at Sectionals.  He said he felt bad for her, thereby making this a pity play, and called her awesome, claiming that she needed to embrace it.  And, clearly, the only place to do that is New Directions.  So, he blackmailed her into returning to the club so that she'll realize how great she is.  This was basically a paper-thin plot device to get the Troubletones back in the same room as their erstwhile teammates so it's easier to float the idea that everybody's going to sing to Santana for an episode.

Indeed, Finn declared, unilaterally, that this week's theme was "lady music," in support of Santana and how she should accept herself for who she is.  "I don't get a say in this?" Santana retorted, and the clear answer across the board is no.

And here we arrive at the main problem with "I Kissed a Girl" - it denied Santana her place as the hero of her own storyline.  She did not get a say in any of this.  The episode and the characters in it treated Santana like a project - she was someone to be encouraged, to have the show's message (be yourself; only good things can come of it!) forced on her without any indication that it would actually be helpful to her.  And when it worked, she basically said, "Thanks, guys!  Guess I was just being a bitch."  Boys sang to her about how awesome she is, which of course speaks to the rich history of boys singing to girls on Glee to either a) win them over or b) make it all better.  This is just another awful instance of girls being objects to the male subject in this show.   

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the episode's "girl power" effort - the ladies of the club coming together to support Santana by singing "I Kissed a Girl" and touching each other a lot.  To be fair, we have to give some credit to the notion that these girls aren't hating on each other, and stood up for Santana like a bunch of little bosses operating in complete harmony.  I approve!  But "I Kissed a Girl?"  Really?  When you look at the whole episode, this choice plays like another example of the Glee writers trying to do something lady-flavored and actually giving it over to the dudes.  "I Kissed a Girl" is about a girl kissing another girl to get a guy's attention.  This the most transparent, two-dimensional (and slightly offensive) song choice for the storyline.  "I Kissed a Girl" is not about being gay, or how it's socially acceptable to be gay.  It plays right into the social concept that girls make out for guys, and trivializes any real feelings that a woman, and by extension, Santana, might feel for another woman.  (Just a reminder: gay ladies make out with other ladies for, well, ladies.  I fail to see how that's not an obvious statement.)

It wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have a rather extensive history of Glee subverting song choice for the purpose of redefining masculinity.  Hell, nearly everything in the Blaine Anderson songbook is originally sung by a female artist, and by having Blaine sing them, unaltered, it makes a statement about society's definition of masculinity.  Blaine breaks the mold, because he sings Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and doesn't change the pronouns.  In the Madonna episode, the boys sing "What It Feels Like For a Girl," in an effort to subvert masculinity.  Kurt sing songs originally by women, and the narrative puts forth the idea that that's perfectly acceptable (which it is!).  Artie sang "Stronger" by Britney, Finn sang "I'll Stand by You" by the Pretenders, and Puck and Sam sang "Friday."  And in "I Kissed a Girl," this construct reappears with Finn singing Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," Kurt and Blaine singing Pink's "Perfect," and Puck singing Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One."  

What did the girls sing?  "I Kissed a Girl."  And the writers had the audacity to name the episode the same thing!  But truly, "I Kissed a Girl," as an episode constructed of its song choices, was technically a commentary on masculinity.  Again.  It would have been such a stronger choice if the girls had actually sung "Constant Craving," by k.d. lang, which appeared at the end of the episode through Santana, Shelby, and Kurt.  (Although maybe with all the touching and the talk of constant craving, it would not have gotten past the censors.  Sigh!)  At the very least, the song needed to actually be about women loving other women (not kissing them for attention) or, even better, a song sung originally by a man, intended for a woman.  Or hell, if they wanted a song to communicate the idea that the ladies are A-OK with the gossip mill calling them lesbians, then how about singing Bonnie Raitt's "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About" instead?  Same basic idea, considerably less offensive - and actually accomplishes a subversion of femininity, because at least it's a song sung by a woman to a man. 

(And, if you're counting, the closest Glee has come to making commentary on femininity through its ladies' song choices is Quinn's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and Mercedes' "Sweet Transvestite."  At basic tallying, there have been 22 songs originally by women sung by Glee's boys.  Conversely, Glee's girls have sung 9 songs originally by male artists.)

But I'm getting off track.  Even without the heinous inclusion of "I Kissed a Girl," the Santana storyline was seriously mishandled, especially insofar as it considers Finn.  We're at the point where Santana herself says she's a "mischievous bitch" and Finn says, "I think you're awesome."  Why is it that Finn, as a character, is flat-out telling the audience about the psychology of Santana (she acts out because she's hurt inside!  she's going to start attacking herself one day!) instead of showing us through Santana's actions?  Firstly, I find it a bit unlikely that Finn, who has historically shown little evidence of being emotionally perceptive, would be that clued-in to the inner workings of Santana's psyche.  And secondly, where is the good storytelling in this construct?  Naya Rivera's sitting in that kitchen chair acting her heart out so that we can relate to her, but the essential construction of the narrative is basically telling us that Santana's something that Glee - and its collection of hero boys - needs to fix.  Thirdly, what the hell does Finn Hudson have to do with Santana Lopez coming out of the closet?

The only scene that allowed Santana to be the center of her own storyline was the final scene with her abuelita, where she heartbreakingly tried to be honest with her grandmother (who, it's clear, is basically who Santana modeled herself after) and instead of being met with support, gets thrown out of the house.  How powerful was that scene?  But the writers put it in the wrong place.  "I Kissed a Girl" should have started, right off the bat, with Santana trying to tell her family the truth, with the reason being that there was going to be a political campaign ad broadcasting her sexuality across every television in Lima - and she wanted to tell them first.  

If that scene were the very first thing we saw in "I Kissed a Girl," those emotions would have informed Santana's actions for the rest of the episode, set the tone that what was happening to her was not okay, and the resulting support of the glee club would have felt much more genuine and less like Santana was being forcibly pushed from the flannel closet with the promise that everything would be okay.  But because the writers put that scene with abuelita at the end, that made everything not okay.  Everyone told Santana that she was fine, she could be openly gay and everyone would embrace that, but at the end of the day, the one person she needed approval from (other than Brittany) told her she never wanted to see her face again.  Some message, eh?  See, it's not so much what's happening to Santana as how the writers are framing it - either accidentally or on purpose.

Furthermore, why is it that Santana's storyline featured so little Brittany?  Santana is a young gay woman who has (arguably) chosen to come out, and she already has a girlfriend in the situation.  This storyline affects Brittany almost as much as it affects Santana - and she certainly has more stake in it than Finn Hudson.  And yet we saw very little scripted support for Brittany to give, and no honest discussions between the two of them about Santana's feelings on the matter.  There's prime opportunity there - Sue's scared of Santana's sexuality keeping her from office, so how about Brittany?  Brittany ran for Senior Class President concurrently with the public knowledge of her sexuality and relationship with Santana coming to light.  Were there no repercussions for that?  And if there weren't, then why wasn't it mentioned so that we could think Brittany was a badass for winning an election as an openly bi-corn lady?  

Are the writers afraid to make Brittany sound like an intelligent human being who's capable of understanding her girlfriend?  Or is she just the punchline to an endless parade of dumb blonde jokes?  Denying Brittany and Santana a genuine, scripted interaction as they deal with Santana's scenario whiffs strongly of the fear of having to show two women, front and center, in a genuine and loving relationship.  Or even just the fear of having Brittany demonstrate any semblance of competence, or Santana demonstrate any level of compassion that isn't squeezed out of her by the kind-hearted actions of a boy.  Either way, something foul is afoot.

Glee had a second opportunity to patch up this storyline this week, with Sue Sylvester's involvement.  Sue got caught in the crossfire of mudslinging after the truth about Santana dropped, and the media began to question her sexuality.  Here was Glee's chance!  They could write Sue as being annoyed by the allegations, but ultimately unaffected by them, because who cares?  She could have been the better person, laughed off the "accusations," and demonstrated to Santana that what people say doesn't matter.  And hey, bonus points if Santana reacted by saying "It's easy for you to say because you're not actually gay," and then we would have an interesting gray area discussion about being openly gay and dealing with negative feedback - and from whom it's easy (the media!) or difficult (abuelita!) to disregard. 

But no, instead we got Sue desperately trying to show the media that she loves men, and using Cooter Menkins, Coach Beiste's would-be paramour/exercise buddy, as her trophy boyfriend for the cameras.  Cooter, in a bout of frustrating doofiness, went along with it, because he didn't realize Shannon was into him.  And apparently he likes a lady with a protein shake.  Sue, being an obnoxious villain, flaunted her "relationship" with Cooter in Shannon's face, and Shannon declared that she will fight for him.  He, being the Confused Male (one of Glee's signature incarnations, see: Finn and Will ca. S1) claimed to like both ladies, and it seems this entirely-unexpected love triangle will continue to next week.

Also continuing week-to-week is Puck and Shelby's flirtation, with the constantly-derailing sidecar of Quinn and her ill-advised Machiavellian schemes.  On this week's docket was Puck and Shelby having sex, and Quinn wanting to have sex with Puck to make another perfect baby.  Oh, because both of those things are great ideas.  Puck and Shelby sex was justified (or at least, tried to be justified) by Beth bonking her head, Shelby calling Puck in a panic, and Puck advising the doctors to have a plastic surgeon look at her, instead of just giving her stitches.  McKinley High must have a great educational program, because Puck went from thinking women have prostates to knowing the quadratic formula, and even being smarter than a doctor!  No wonder Shelby wants to be sleep with him!  (Please tell me your sarcasm detectors are beeping.)  

Except technically Shelby doesn't actually want to be with Puck, and this time when she said so, Puck lashed out and called her a coward.  I still can't believe we're not getting Rachel/Shelby redemption storylines in favor of this nonsense.  Sorry, Shelby.  Glee doesn't want you to be a mature adult attempting to atone for the mistakes you've made, and instead would prefer you to be emotionally confused and tangled up in teenage drama that will only lead you to more mistakes that you probably won't get a chance to make up for either.  C'est la glee!

As for Quinn, Puck got to step up and work his magic on her (maybe he's smarter than a therapist, too?) as she delusionally tried bed him in an effort to make another kid.  (Because that makes so much sense.)  The roots of this storyline for Quinn are so tangled and rotted that we basically need to cut the whole tree down at this point.  But since Glee has oh-so-nobly declared that they're doing multi-episode storylines now, every bit of crap carries through to the next one.  Is this a case of "be careful what you wish for?"  Perhaps.

Regardless, Puck stopped his makeout session with Quinn in order to tell her that she's messed up, and at least demonstrated some level of understanding that no one seems to care about Quinn.  Wouldn't it have been nice if Quinn had expressed that in her own right, though, without yelling and bitching, only to be made a pity case?  But, at least someone seems to be sympathizing with Quinn, so I'll take it, and hopefully this tentative bond won't be destroyed by Quinn going firemonster on Shelby for sleeping with Beth's real dad.

The final thing that happened in this episode was the conclusion of the Senior Class President election, with Rachel stuffing the ballot boxes for Kurt and coming forward on his behalf so he wouldn't be suspended.  All I have to say about this is that the writers basically took Pilot episode Rachel Berry and stuck her in the seventh episode of the third season.  I'm tired of recycled plotlines where Rachel cheats or schemes to get ahead - I suppose that it's somewhat better that she did it on someone else's behalf, at this stage in the game, but then that should have been a manifested character point for her.  As is, she just snaked through the background with a devious plan and ended up paying the price.  And what are New Directions going to do without her for Sectionals?  I'm guessing the writers will have to come up with some worn-thin plot device to get Santana and the Troubletones back on their own (probably making them unlikeable in the process) so that the competition is ratcheted up.

In the end, "I Kissed a Girl" was just as bad as "Mash Off," in that it presented a messy and needless dynamic between Santana and Finn, and deprived Santana her own place as the main character of this storyline, until it was time for her to be sympathized with.  In all, "I Kissed a Girl" was rife with sloppily-handled storylines helmed by characters that felt no more real than cardboard cutouts.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: N/A
Dialogue: B
Plot: D
Characterization: D
Episode MVP: N/A


  1. I'm being completely serious when I say this, but you're really brave for continuing to watch this crapfest every week. But your reports are really enjoyable to read and maybe it'll inform people of the various flaws of this terrible show.

  2. Great review ! i think it would be one thing if Glee's men were actually written as innocent and genuine victims but in the script they are anything but which makes the whole thing more surreal for me. I find myself asking if the Glee writers realize their viewers can make their own judgments about the characters.

  3. Indeed, thank you for reviewing Glee so thoroughly. Because this is important. Glee isn't "just a tv show", no, it is a medium with a big influence, but the messages just don't do. Kids, teenagers, hell even 20-somethings like me; people take away something from a tv show, especially if you have learned to care for the characters. And, while the overall message of Glee is positive (anti-bullying, self-acceptance, etc.), all the valid critical points you raise make this positive message taste very dirty. It's such a shame, because Glee had so much potential, if it weren't for the atrocious writing.

  4. I filed a complaint with GLAAD about this episode, and everyone else should as well:

  5. I think I love you. This is amazing and everything I was thinking about this godawful episode, only in a much more eloquent format. Thank you.

  6. Couldn't have said it better. I was very disappointed by this episode which I had looked forward to for some time.
    I'm mostly disgusted by what they have done with Quinn's character. I cringed at all the scenes where she was throwing herself at Puck and trying to get pregnant again.
    If they were going to have a lesbian character in the show it should have been Quinn. There have been so many signs of her character being a repressed lesbian, and it would have made sense for them to do a storyline where she comes to terms with her sexuality. But instead they've ruined that character, portraying her in a conniving, pathetic manner now desperate enough to intentionally get pregnant again...
    The scene where they performed "I kissed a girl" was ruined by all the leering shots of the boys' reaction.
    The writers really missed the mark with this one.

  7. This review was great. I didn't notice those flaws until I read this and I agree completely. You were really thorough. I'm curious to see how you'll review the next episode.

  8. Hello, I am the anon that wrote that heinously long comment on your RBI Report of Mash-off, and while I still disagree with your opinion of that episode, I give you free range on this weeks shit-fest.

    This was to me, without a doubt, the worst episode of Glee ever. There were some okay points, but never have I been so offended on so many levels - as a viewer, a writer (I use that term casually in my case), a reader, a woman, a potc, and a member of the lgbt community. I am usually very good at letting things slide off my back, but this, I can't even. There was ONE thing that needed to happen this episode, ONE thing that would have made all the bad writing, the poor song selection, even the patronizing "well, aren't you glad you've been shoved out of the closet? Now you can be your awesome self in public! Also, I did it out of love!" message bearable, and that would be to say IT IS WRONG TO OUT SOMEONE. This show, which called Finn out for homophobic language, which had Kurt protect the sexuality of his biggest bully, in the face of physical abuse and death threats, totally ignores what Finn does to Santana. And, as I worried over in the Mash-off post, actually CELEBRATED Finn's actions. This is indeed something to write GLAAD to. Hell, can anyone give me an address for the writers? Do they even read fanmail? If someone does have a way to contact the writers, please share, because I do think that they need to hear about this, from as many people as possible. (Politely though, please. We're all civilized human beings, sexist, bigoted terrible writing notwithstanding).

    As I defended before, Mash-off was a great episode. It introduced the possibility of the unhappier side of the gay teen story, the terror and helplessness a LGBT youth feels, the ingrained homophobia that can be present in even the "nicest" of guys, the hate that it can breed, both subtle and overt. Mash-off presented the world as it sadly is today. I Kissed A Girl said that that world is okay.

    I, I honestly have not felt so disgusted by the message a TV show gives before. I fully agree with your review this week.

  9. Oh people, why are you expecting decent writing from Glee? I have not seen it since season 1 when the potential to be great was at least there! I had such hopes for the new writers, but do they even talk to each other? It all seems so disjointed and disconnected!

  10. Another case of "Nice Guy/Nasty Woman" that persists on Glee:

    Santana's Abuelita disowns her, while nice guy Burt accepts Kurt and loves him. Yes, she's from an older generation, but

    Something else I thought of watching the last 2 episodes. Kurt made a point of telling Karofsky that he didn't believe in outing. This is after Karofsky assaulted Kurt & others multiple times and literally threatened to kill Kurt.
    But Santana gets outed in the school hallway by Finn, but it's okay because she's a "bad" person who deserves to be outed.

    Using the Glee writers' "logic", Santana's "crimes" must be worse than Karofsky's, even if we've never seen her beat up anyone.

    I agree with you about the Katy Perry song, one of the worst songs ever. Too bad they didn't have the Glee girls sing this one instead, but I guess it wouldn't have produced as many itunes purchases:

  11. As I say on the "Mash Off" post, I picture a MAJOR scene between step-brothers Kurt and Finn, possibly with Burt and/or Blaine, before this episode starts. Something where they call him to task, probably POINT OUT the kid who suicided the week before (that Finn mentions to Santana), and variously read him the riot act.

    Too bad it wasn't written / wasn't shot / got cut for time / didn't show.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. You're amazing. I've discovered this blog a week ago and I think I have read most of your work already, at least the one that's published here. Following you on Tumblr, too.

    Thank you, thank you, for being critical and for making thorough analysis on such a popular TV show. Thank you for sharing your opinion with the world because while doing so, you're also exercising the form of teaching. I saw the latest episode with brand new _(& critical) eyes, and actually noticed how in "I Kissed A Girl", not only once but twice a male (Puck and Finn) was the figure that gave power to a woman (Quinn and Santana), instead of allowing the female characters reach the same conclusion themselves.

    I'm honestly very grateful. It's so important, learning to be critical, especially nowadays. Practicing the skill to study things rather than allow to be spoonfed. Just to clarify: when I say 'critical,' I'm including positive and negative traits of Glee, of course. I'm just saying that while it's important to recognise that there are good things about this show, it's really necessary to be active and responsive to what we're consuming.

  14. Thank you for these amazing meta-analyses. There were so many things wrong with this episode - lack of Brittany, Santana's parents missing, the bad girl/good guy dynamic seeping like a cancer into the Santana/Finn, Quinn/Shelby/Puck and even Rachel/Kurt storylines. It seems like women are always dumb, in need of correction, cowards or evil on Glee - while the guys (Finn) are always heroes and can do no wrong.

    In addition the writers' insistence on telling instead of showing tells me they failed their college creative writing courses.

    I'm beginning to think Glee really doesn't know how to portray women positively - or doesn't want to (because it would hurt the iTunes sales). This is unacceptable.

    I've read so many good critiques online of this episode, I don't know why they don't just turn the writing over to the fans. I'm sure we'd get a better show.

    This coming week's episode has a dance between Brittany and Santana. Hopefully we get a significant discussion between the two of them? Although I won't cross my fingers because the Glee writers will be too busy trying to make sure the all-girl Troubletones (clearly the superior show choir) loses to the almost all-male New Directions.

  15. this does such a better job of articulating WHY this episode was such a travesty and an insult to women than i could manage. most people i know thought hero!Finn was just such a nice guy.

    @Sora Ryu it must've been another of your comments on this blog, but huge thank you for the link to "Influence" ( just read it twice it was so good.

    btw- tried to post w/ my LJ creds, but received the error that my openID creds could not be verified

  16. ps- "Something to Talk About" would have been such a brilliant song choice instead of IKAG.

  17. Thank you for doing these write ups; such a pity how they handled Santana's situation. I totally agree with about putting the Abuelita scene first, maybe they could have had the parents in a middle scene? if nothing else, maybe she gets a text from her mom --since they were waiting/saving the character for (Gloria Estefan)-- saying something a long the lines of "We love you no matter what- mom and dad" since she says her parents support her.
    That would have set up the boys supporting her and the her parents are fine thing much much better. Even if it was silent Brittany support, there should have been something.

  18. You know for a show who's target audience is gays and teen girls you would think it would be less misogynistic and doing things to please straight guys, I mean I'm not saying that straight guys don't watch Glee but its a small minority, and I'm not sure who they were trying to please with the I Kissed a Girl performance. Gay guys aren't going to be aroused by it, lesbian and actual bisexual girls are going to be offended by it. I would say maybe Glee was just trying to do something from bi guys, but as we know thanks to Glee bi guys are just gay guys who hold a girls hand so they can feel normal for a change.


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