These F***ing Teenagers: Gossip Girl, Glee, and the Sociology of Teen Soaps

Ryan Sheely and Matthew Wrather return to discuss Gossip Girl, Glee, and the sociology of Teen Soaps. This week, they take up the Glee backlash on this very website, create a typology of celebrity cameos, discuss depictions of work, and mock a listener. (They are assholes.)

Also, Ryan’s girlfriend dies of consumption in the background. (They live in a studio apartment.)

There will be no spoiler warnings and there will be many naughty words. If either of those things bothers you, don’t click!

Reactions to the show? Suggestions about what to call it? Email us or call 20-FAT-JOG-01 (that’s (203) 285-6401).

Download TFT Episode 3 (MP3)

12 Comments on “These F***ing Teenagers: Gossip Girl, Glee, and the Sociology of Teen Soaps”

  1. lee #

    I hope you guys call out me and my criticism of “Glee” on this. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a diss track of my own.

     
  2. Sheely #

    You were kind of the Mobb Deep to Belinkie’s Biggie. Which is to say, don’t you have sickle cell or something?

    Although did write a whole post on the show, Belinkie was more unambiguous in his disdain (after all, he suggested that the whole episode needed a rewrite and that the writers don’t know anything about plot).

     
  3. Matthew Belinkie #

    @Sheely – I don’t think I used the word “bad.” I said “lazy.” Which is a form of “bad,” but more specific.

    Let me cite an example. In the Kristin Chenoweth extravaganza, Will kicks her out of the Glee Club AT INTERMISSION OF THE SHOW. With (presumably) paying customers waiting for the second half. This seems extraordinarily unfair to all his singers, and completely out of character. Yes, she broke a promise to him. Yes, she shouldn’t have been in the group at all. But then why did he let her perform the first half? And what about the first half convinced him to cancel the second half?

    But that’s not what annoyed me. What annoyed me is that Rachel just SHOWS UP BACKSTAGE during intermission, volunteering to take over. (And by the way, how monumentally unfair is that? She quits in a huff because she can’t be the star. Then she shows up backstage offering to be the star, and they welcome her back with open arms. What happen to letting the OTHER girls share the spotlight? But I digress.) What the hell is she doing back there? Did she come to congratulate them on a great first half? Did she come to make out with Finn in his sexy cowboy costume?

    We don’t know, because the writers don’t care. She shows up backstage for no reason, because it’s convenient. Will gets rid of Amy halfway through the show, because it allows Rachel to come back, not because it makes any sense. Any of us could come up with a DOZEN ways Amy could have been injured during intermission, or quit in a huff, or done something so over the line that Will HAD to fire her. But the writers didn’t bother. This is what lazy writing looks like.

     
  4. Scott #

    First off, thank you for the stylistic corrections to my comment–I THOUGHT I knew how to use verisimilitude in a sentence…

    And no, I don’t mind any of it. Really. (And plus, I’ve already seen season 4 of The Wire. But thanks for the offer.)

    You guys had a really good point about agency: The Wire was, at its base, a show about the limits of of agency while Gossip Girl, Glee (and, I suspect, most shows not built around really depressing end-of-season montages) are, in different ways, about wish fulfillment. I guess that sort of sums up the difference between fantasy and tragedy in modern television right there.

     
  5. Matthew Wrather #

    @scott — Right. It’s the fantasy of unlimited agency that makes a show like Gossip Girl (moreso than Glee) compelling, when it is compelling.

    @belinkie — I don’t know, man. I think if you start playing the “it just so happens?” card, you knock pretty much all of western drama off the table.

    “Wait, wait. Oedipus JUST SO HAPPENS to survive the attempted infanticide by his parents and then… wait, wait, then he JUST SO HAPPENS to run into dad at the crossroads and then, get this, JUST SO HAPPENS to show up in Thebes where Jocasta is lookin’ pretty good…” (I realize that Greek drama is a straw man.)

    I made the point in the show that Glee is about wish fulfillment. (It’s also about a certain texture and tone, but that’s not germane here.) The point of the sequence you describe is Rachel’s enacting the brilliant understudy fantasy, and not the vicissitudes of how we get there.

    I think you’re right that the writers don’t care, and maybe I just find it less objectionable than you do. But it does seem to me that objecting that the episode plots on Glee don’t have the intricacy of, say, The Shield is a Babylon 5 criticism of a Star Trek problem.

     
  6. Genevieve #

    I think the beauty and the challenge of Glee is that it’s no more or less believable than any of a host of cheesy musicals. The teenagers are no less realistic than the teens in, say, Grease for example. The difference, though, is that while a classic musical requires us to suspend our disbelief for the course of about 90min, Glee is demanding that we do so for the course of an entire season (and, ideally, more) of television. That’s a much, MUCH taller order. They’re taking the genre out of its comfort zone, repackaging it in a slightly awkward way.

    I think that it *does* have going for it the fact that it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, they can pull off things that a more sincere show wouldn’t even attempt (Wrather’s Babylon 5 vs Star Trek analogy works well here.)

    However, as much as I love the show, and will likely see it through this season regardless of what it does, I think that it really does need to step things up a notch in terms of writing and character. The situations, the conceits, the “fluff” of musical theater can translate just fine to the small screen, if done right (which Glee does.) What shows like Lost have taught us, though, is that what differentiates the serial television medium from stand-alone genres is its ability – in fact, its *obligation* – to give us depth of character, to show us arc and development. Glee is *starting* to do that, but I think the writing is still too weak to make that aspect believable… which it absolutely has to be, regardless of how silly the other aspects may be.

     
  7. Megan from Lombard #

    don’t you have to be an overachiever in order to get into college? Don’t the acceptance boards and such look at the activities you’re in as well as the essay you wrote, your grades and the letters of rec? And once you’re in doesn’t that mean that you have to keep up that level of overacheivement in order to live up to the expectations of those that admitted you plus the other students at the same institution?

     
  8. stokes #

    Claiming that the writing on Glee is lazy for the reasons you bring up is like claiming that a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture is lazy because they don’t plant crops. “I mean look at those goldbrickers. They aren’t planting rice! They aren’t even planting barley, for crying out loud! Any of us could think of a dozen crops that they could have planted. But the nomads didn’t care. This is what lazy food-getting looks like.” The problem in the hypothetical here is the unexamined assumption that farming is an indespensible part of any food-getting strategy. Now, it’s true that farming is a GOOD way to get food. And from a broad historical perspective, it kind of “better,” I guess. But that doesn’t mean that any particular person is stupid or lazy because he/she isn’t bothering to farm. There are still places in the world where people can get plenty of nourishment from other sources.

    Anyway, you see where I’m going with this metaphor. For “food-getting,” read “writing,” and for “farming,” read “narrative causality.” Glee doesn’t give a hoot about narrative causality. It gets its nourishment from other sources. That doesn’t make it lazy, it just means that it doesn’t share your priorities.

    Now Matt, I know that you’ve written a teleplay or two in your time. You know the horrifying sensation of a ballooning page count. Think about the situation here. They’ve decided that they want to get Amy out of there and get Rachel back in. Like you, they can think of a dozen ways to do this, and they maybe try writing about half of them. But there’s a problem: all of them are basically dead air. They take care of plot mechanics, sure, but they don’t do ANYTHING ELSE. There aren’t any good jokes, or any good singing. No one needs an interesting new costume for them. And basically all the character business that could have been thrown in would just be repeating stuff that was already established earlier in the episode. And then one of the writers stops, and asks the room “Hey, are people tuning into this show because they want to see a really well made plot?” There’s a pause. Everyone slowly shakes their heads. “So screw it, right? Will just fires Amy, and Rachel just shows up and takes the solo! And then we have enough time for another musical number, which IS why people are tuning into this show!” You can call it lazy if you like. I call it triage. And the resulting product is BETTER than the version where one of the songs is replaced by six pages of dry but functional dialogue.

     
  9. callot #

    If the problem is that we’re wondering if Glee is good enough to justify the kind of leeway we give Dickens, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Marquez, Kurosawa, Shaw, Austen, Rossellini, Sondheim or Whedon in terms of plot, we’re being a little hypocritical (or at least prejudiced) in terms of formalism. Why is it that naturalist dramatic realism is somehow better as a default mode than the alternative? “Lazy” would be creating another tv show that takes the relationship between representation and emotion-porn as a given. I like “Singin’ in the Rain” and I like “The Children’s Hour” but “Singin’ in the Rain” is pretty under-represented these days.

     
  10. Matthew Belinkie #

    I actually watched the Rachel coming backstage scene again, and it now bothers me for different reasons. I don’t care so much about why she goes backstage. What NOW bothers me is the unfairness of her getting to take over the show.

    After she quit the Glee Club because she couldn’t be the star.

    After she didn’t attend rehearsals for weeks.

    After Will JUST APOLOGIZED for bringing in a ringer instead of letting the loyal members of the Glee Club have a shot.

    Rachel’s return is presented as this moment of SELFLESSNESS. Like, she’s just trying to help her friends out of a jam. But I don’t buy it.

    And I know you don’t cotton much to how I’D handle it, but I’d have Will maybe offer to let her take over, but Rachel demurs. Rachel says Tina should do it, because Tina deserves it. Rachel knows Tina will be great. Rachel’s going to be cheering her on, and the next day, Rachel will be there at rehearsal.

     
  11. Matthew Belinkie #

    @Wrather – Your example of Oedipus unintentionally proves my point. Every single thing Oedipus does is completely logical from his point of view. In fact, Oedipus is largely DEFINED by his rationality – don’t forget, he’s the one who beat the Sphinx. What I’m objecting to isn’t coincidences. I’m objecting to characters doing things for no reason.

    @Stokes – What you’re basically saying is, “Any story has boring parts. What Glee does is simply choose to skip the boring parts.” I reject this, of course.

     
  12. Matthew Belinkie #

    And Glee fans, let me propose something. Just because you like the show a lot doesn’t mean absolutely everything is perfect. It is possible (theoretically) that perhaps, maybe, there are things that Glee does well… and things it could handle a little better. I think they could be a little more serious about their plotting.

    A great example (suggested by a commenter on another post) is the Principal’s decree that they could only sing songs off of a very limited, church-prescribed list (they’re all Jesus or balloon-related, remember?). If the writers mention this again, I’ll apologize. But they haven’t yet, have they? And that was the SEASON PREMIERE. Doesn’t that seem a strange thing to introduce and forget about?