Episode 19: Ought White Boy to Play That Funky Music?

Matthew Wrather and Jordan Stokes consider funk, otherness, identity, and sex in the latest episode of Glee.

Matthew Wrather is joined by Jordan Stokes to overthink the funk episode of Glee. Topics covered including the re-Africanization of popular music, music as a mark of group membership, otherness and identity, the unwed mothership connection, territory, class and crappy jobs, and the instrumental value of sexual agression.

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

→ Download TFT Episode 19 (MP3)

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Recommended Reading

Arthur Bartow, Training of the American Actor

Parliament, Chocolate City

Slavoj Zizek, “The depraved heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood” (The Guardian, Jan 10 2006)

12 Comments on “Episode 19: Ought White Boy to Play That Funky Music?”

  1. Pasteur #

    Small-town Ohio seems to be either lacking in diversity or genuinely diverse, with very little in-between.

    I studied French, largely due to the influence of the Oulipo and Saint-Exupéry, but also because the first time I was offered the option, there were six Spanish classes and one French class. Now I regret the decision when it hinders me from reading Borges.

    I hate to say it, but one thing I noticed when I was much, much younger was that the DVDs I watched offered French as an alternate language, where fast-food menus offered Spanish.


  2. cat #

    I also took French in high school. When I first signed up for it I did so knowing it would be less practical and for the simple reason that my mom was pushing for that choice and I really didn’t care either way. I stayed with it through my senior year at the AP level which really didn’t do me much good other than allowing me to be extremely pretentious when the instinct struck. From that I would say that the main difference in my experience was that people who stayed with me in French at a higher level took to language more easily. We actually picked up accents and learned something as opposed to people in the Spanish classes at the same level who could hide in the larger classes and had no real desire to learn or aptitude (for the most part). Of course, there were some issues with the quality of Spanish teachers at my school during that time so that might have also played a role.

    (spoilers) I think there’s something interesting about the role of the Spanish teacher in Glee and Community not only as the role one assumes when one’s dreams have died but as something easy. It’s more overt in Community where we learn that he’s been getting by with the rudimentary knowledge he’s gleaned from (I think Sesame Street). I think this both speaks to what you were discussing as the pervasive nature of this language as a real second language in America (You can’t help but pick up a few things) and something else which I can’t quite grasp. It’s something one can do without a great deal of effort. The students don’t regard you highly and aside from the existence of the study group in Community and Will failing some Cheerios, the course doesn’t seem to difficult. Then again, maybe this is countered by the substitute coming in and the fact that people are failing. Maybe it is just as difficult and deserves as much respect as other courses but the students and faculty do not give it that respect. Even the substitute is…ah…”bribed”.


  3. stokes #

    Here’s some more recommended reading for y’all:

    Fela Kuti – Shakara

    Sly and the Family Stone – Luv N’ Haight

    Lyn Collins & the JBs – Mama Feelgood

    Bootsy Collins (no relation) – Munchies for Your Love

    Funkadelic – Cholly (Funk Getting Ready to Roll)

    Curtis Mayfield – Little Child Running Wild

    Earth Wind & Fire – Let’s Groove

    Zapp and Roger Troutman – More Bounce to the Ounce

    E.U. – Da Butt

    Cymande – Bra

    Betty Davis – Steppin’ in her I. Miller Shoes

    Average White Band – Pick up the Pieces

    Isaac Hayes – Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic

    The Brides of Funkenstein – Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy

    It’s interesting that with all this out there – and more, this being but the tip of a very funky iceberg – the show runners for Glee didn’t use more funk in the funk episode. I’m not saying there weren’t good reasons for doing that. I mean, funk is NOT a style that translates well to show choir. Rather, I’m saying that this proves that the writing staff finds the “theme episode” business as obnoxious as the audience does.


  4. lee OTI Staff #

    The next best thing to talking about musicology with Jordan Stokes (aka my Funk Soul Brother #1) is listening to Jordan Stokes talk about musicology in a podcast.

    Great stuff. I may actually watch this episode of Glee to see what the fuss is about!


  5. Gab #

    Only a week late, right?

    Wow, so Puck is Batman. Hm.

    I took Japanese in hs. Talk about impractical in everyday American comings-and-goings.

    Class: I thought Kurt and his dad have a lot of money because of the business the dad owns. The SUV Mercedes trashed was bought by Kurt’s dad.

    The “Loser” bit was sung very, very well (and I wish they had done the whole bloody song!!!), but I found it (potentially) rather disappointing in how it can be perceived as upholding the notion that working a job like that inherently makes a person a “loser” at all. On the surface, it was hilarious and awesome, but underlying the comedy was something a lot more tragic, which is what makes the show _Dirty Jobs_ such a revelation. Those “losers” are actually heroes, for they keep civilized society rolling for the ones labeling them as “below” in the first place. If those “losers” weren’t working at Linens ‘n’ Things, the upper-class people like the old glee club director (Mr. Arson?) would have to find their own damned sheets- they’d have no one to bitch at and act superior to. Society’s middle-and-upper classes pass negative judgment on them, even though if it weren’t for those “losers,” those passing the judgment wouldn’t be in the position to do so in the first place because they’d be too busy doing the labor themselves. Of course, one can take the whole sequence as *negative* commentary on the status quo, rather than an upholding of it- showing the judgment to bring in mind the hypocrisy of it- in which case, rock on.

    And the word “loser” gets used by a few different people during the whole scene, in different ways, apart from the song itself. Terry calls the boys losers first, “I only hired you two losers because I’m desperate to increase my quarterly sales, and you two would work for less than immigrants.” Then the guy already working there says, “I have seniority over you two losers, which means you have to do what I say.” And finally, Mr. Arson says, “Did they change the name of this place to ‘Losers and Things?'” Terry’s use is indicative of desperation that makes them losers, losers like her, implied by the elaboration about what low wages they’d work for. They’re losers to *her* because they need money so badly that they’ll work for next-to-nothing- but so is she, for she explains why she’s working there to them, after all. The other worker, his comes from a feeling of superiority because of the seniority he claims to have over them because he worked there already. This comes from hierarchy and a different desperation, one of a desire to feel “better than” someone because of so often being “less than” everybody else, i.e. Mr. Arson. And then Mr. Arson is implying that the boys and everybody else working at Linens ‘n’ Things is not only below him (“Apron boys!”), but incompetent- “Did everyone in the whole world die, so they had to give these jobs to you two morons?” He’s attacking their capability and intelligence, calling them “losers” because he perceives them as stupid and useless.

    I believe this is another one of those scenes easily interpreted in a few ways, this time being either they’re losers for having the job or they have the job because they’re losers. _Glee_ is very good at leaving things quite open at times, after all.

    Sue: So maybe last time she was looking for a real relationship, it was kind of out-of-place, but I thought this time it made sense because it was a “traditional” desire in a very UN-traditional way. I took her desire “for a man” as a very *masculine* version of the desire for a spouse. She wants “someone to come home to every night,” yes, but, as she said it, she wants a “trophy *husband*” (emphasis mine). In traditional marriage dynamics, the man comes home to the woman waiting for him, ideally with dinner prepare, by her (perhaps with a scotch and a pair of slippers, too, and maybe a pipe)- the man is the one out of the house, so he’d be the one “coming home.” And the concept of a trophy WIFE is much more widespread than trophy *husband,* since the idea of a woman being the dominant party in the relationship is so new-age. And she talks about being feared instead of being loved in the way a lot of men that have their own “moment of sensitivity” in movies and such do, often fathers in relation to their kids and likely in comparison to the other parent (something like, “Love? They LOVE you, but they’re SCARED of *me*, wifey!” during some argument about one or more of the kiddies). Indeed, the entire scene screamed, “OMG! Gender-role-reversal!” at me. Will, acting as the woman, enters Sue’s domain to comfort her and make her feel better, and Sue, acting as the man, is uplifted by the appeal to her sentimentality and inner softie, expressing a desire her public persona necessitates her to hide.

    During the “seduction” part, Will is the aggressor, yes, but this, too, is part of the role-reversal of the two, since Will is usually the passive one when they deal with each other. So Sue gets turned on by the uncharacteristic demonstration of assertion by Will.

    Final Note: The mention of the vehicles the New Directions members messed up made me think of something, though: they were bought by Vocal Adrenaline’s budget. I immediately drew the parallel with the Cheerios. The Cheerios themselves may not necessarily be wealthy, but Sue’s petitioning, bribing, extortion, etc. gets the group exorbitant amounts of money. Vocal Adrenaline’s members were bought cars with the GROUP budget, so are they the elite at their own school, the equivalent of the Cheerios?


  6. Dez #

    @Gab: I thought Kurt had money as well, given the preponderance of luxury items he’s regularly seen sporting. A McQueen sweater? Yeah, you can get those at Target, right?

    Also, it depends on what level of wealth you’re used to operating under. Mercedes has made reference to the fact that her father is a dentist. In a small town, that’s a big money kind of job. The only really lower-middle class families I ever identified were Finn (single working mother, can’t afford her home. Finn’s house and mother are by far the most realistically small-town items on the show), and possibly Puck (who started his own business to afford his frivolous items). The other kids don’t have a lot of obvious class markers, or we’ve never seen their homes and families (Tina? I mean, goth gear isn’t cheap, but it’s not as expensive as it once was).

    Now, yes, compared to Gossip Girl’s level of conspicuous wealth and privilege, these kids are hopelessly destitute, but by the standards of the Midwest they’re not. Even Will, who has several storylines about moving and how tight money is lives in a palatial apartment.


  7. Sheely #

    @Dez- Well actually, Alexander McQueen had a capsule collection at target, so it is still totally possible that Kurt isn’t super-rich.


  8. Dez #

    @Sheely: Where was I for that?

    I won’t say that I think anyone in the cast is super-rich, but nobody’s poor either. In this week’s episode even, Sue makes fun of Will’s car and implies that it’s a POS…but it’s still a relatively new car. The cars I’ve been in that I’d consider shitty are rusty or dirty, that make weird grindy noises when you try to stop, or that you have to shift to drive (if it’s an automatic; true story). Will’s car appears to run fine, and it has a CD player. While it’s not a status symbol, it’s far from the bottom.


  9. Megan from Lombard #

    this was my third episode of Glee and I feel like it wasn’t their best. Maybe because it was because the Unwed Mother Coalition number was kind of weird or that the Will/Sue shipping during the episode felt forced but I feel like they could have done ‘funk’ diferently.

    However the Marky Mark number amused me to no end.

    @Gab: I agree with you on the Vocal Adrenaline/Cherrios analogy. I’ve noticed that they seem to walk like they feel that they’re far better/superior than everyone else and that seems to translate to their rides as well. I haven’t seen any back episodes yet but I’m sure that the type of car New Directions would use would be a station wagon or even a beater car (or quite possibly a school bus) and not have a Range Rover for each memeber.

    Also if a series hasn’t been selected already I suggest the new series ‘Pretty Little Liars’ that premired this week. It’s ripe for overthinking.


  10. stokes #

    @Megan – there was actually an episode a while back where they had to scrape money together to buy a wheelchair ramp for the school bus so that Artie could go to competitions with them. So: not only a school bus, a school bus that’s not up to code.

    @Dez – Glee’s relationship with money is a little schizophrenic. (It is not alone in this: elsewhere on this site we’ve talked about this same problem with regard to Friends and The Simpsons.) We’re told that the school is dirt poor, that they can’t afford the Glee club at all, right? Well maybe they could afford them if they didn’t have a new set of numbers each week, complete with new costumes, special lighting design, a full symphony orchestra playing live backup (even during rehearsals), wind machines, and occasionally pyrotechnics. Kurt’s outfits are the same thing. It’s not a question of him actually being able to afford the stuff, it’s a question of the show runners wanting him to look fabulous.

    Usually money isn’t mentioned, and everyone does/wears whatever they want. But whenever money IS mentioned, it’s in the context of not having enough. That’s why I’d say there are clear class lines being drawn between New Directions and the suspiciously posh Vocal Adrenaline.


  11. Dez #

    @stokes: So money in the Glee universe is like that old joke about how fast the Enterprise can travel (as fast as it needs to for the plot point)?


  12. lee OTI Staff #

    So I went back and watched a bunch of musical numbers from “Glee” after listening to the last few podcasts. A couple comments:

    1) the only way I can watch “Glee” is by skipping past the plot to get to the musical numbers. I still find the melodrama to be often cringe-worthy, which is why I stopped watching the show originally. Thank you, Hulu, and your very skip-and-seek friendly video interface.

    2) I only made it through the first half minute or so of Quinn’s performance of “Man’s World” until I gave up. Auto-tune just killed it and killed it hard. It’s not that “only James Brown” should sing this song–that’s rarely ever the case with a pop song–no, it just takes serious pipes for any singer, man or woman, to be able to pull this song off convincingly.

    Proof: Christina Aguilera, 2007 Grammy’s:


    3) Hating aside, most of the musical numbers have been highly enjoyable to watch and listen to. But damn, somebody please dial back that Auto-tune–not just for Quinn, but for everyone.


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