It can be controversial, hilarious, and informative. Those of us in MIT 2100 (Political Economy of Media) know that Professor Burston strongly believes that it could usher in a new era of a renewed public sphere.
It’s that ever-popular, never-endingly topical show called Glee, and it has gained a massive, worldwide following as well as critical praise for its representations of ethnic and sexual diversity. Several Glee characters are Jewish and the show often highlights its own diversity with episodes that deal with issues like sexual orientation, faith, and able-bodiedness. While it is extremely entertaining, Glee also sheds light on important issues that people deal with every day of their lives.
Today, the Glee cast released a Christmas album — wait, a Christmas album? Doesn’t this directly contradict the religious diversity that Glee is so often commended for?
This is not the first instance of Christmas albums being released by stars who may not celebrate the holiday. Glee is merely another installment in a tradition that has seen several Jewish stars produce Christmas CDs: Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and the Barenaked Ladies have all released Christmas albums despite their religious background. Clearly this Christmas song tradition must be the desire of the star and their managing team to pitch the artist as one who is making the most of the holiday spirit and its commercial benefits while not actually declaring their love for the birth of “Christ the Savior”…. So what’s the verdict ? Have the Glee cast and producers also become hypocrites who are only in it for the money? Or does this just reinforce something we’ve known all along about Glee‘s commercial appeal?
It is naïve to think of Glee in an innocent and non-enterprising way. Its first “season” DVD was released around Christmas time last year, with a mere 6 episodes on the disc (perfect timing for a guaranteed profit, so who cares if the product is so minimal, right?). They’ve even released discs featuring the music of a single episode. It is clear that the ultimate goal here is $$$.
Glee is constantly trying to appease two sides of the show – edgy, boundary-pushing content and actual marketing value. There are times when Glee is obviously going for a more High School Musical feel, featuring product lines that appeal to younger viewers. At the same time, the show strives to be original and cutting-edge with shows dedicated to watered-down versions of uber cult classics such as 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The show’s timeslot was recently moved more firmly into primetime from 9 PM to 8 PM, without changing any of its content that was originally created for later night television. But now in the primest of primetime slots, Glee is reaching a larger and younger audience than ever, raising its responsibility as a cultural phenomenon through the roof. It is an impressive feat that Glee has managed — walking the fine line between controversy and conformity — but we can only hope that with the release of the Christmas episode (airing December 7th), audiences will receive the diversity they have grown used to in the show (maybe some of the characters will celebrate non-traditional holidays). As for now, it is troubling that this album simply targets and reiterates the show’s majority demographic: white, Christian families in America.
Glee needs to make up its mind — is it merely a notched-up version of Disney or is it going to stay true to its roots and change the attitude of Middle America by truly reflecting society today? Right now it is sitting on the fence playing it safe and teasing us with a bit of both.
What are your thoughts on the seeming hypocrisy of Glee‘s Christmas album? Will you be tuning in to for the Holiday-themed episode next month?
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