I usually ignore (and sometimes abhor) entertainment news. We don’t really need to know what Kim Kardashian wore during her wedding, and neither do we need to know that Katie Holmes was walking to the Sunset Boulevard Starbucks. Shallow – and sometimes unethical – reporting aside, the world of entertainment news (referring to news that features actors and other artists) occasionally comes up with something interesting and worth reading.
Today I stumbled upon one of those stories. It was posted on AfterEllen.com, about an actress on the Fox hit-show Glee. The actress is Dianna Agron, who plays mean cheerleader Quinn Fabray on the show. It all started when she wore a shirt “Likes Girls” in their performance of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, which caused a storm in an industry obsessed with the personal lives of its participants. Questions of ‘Is she gay’ etc. popped up everywhere. The AfterEllen article hits the right notes about pointing out the unnecessary madness the shirt caused, but also the positive consequences and positive message of her action.
This was followed by her own personal blogpost on the issue, explaining that she did that in support of the LGBTQ community. Read her blog post here: http://felldowntherabbithole.tumblr.com/. It is well written and credit is due to her for articulating a complex issue so well.
So why is this important or even relevant?? Well, if you took some time to read those articles or if you’re a fan of Glee, you can see that the consistent message is tolerance and acceptance. And in this context, tolerance and acceptance of sexual identity(ies). This is an important message not only for children, but for the ‘wise’ adults as well. Growing up in a conservative society, you get to see much of the subtle undertones of homophobia (and various phobias against things like dyed hair), and much of it is directed and aggressive. Take my high school for example. I attended an all girls’ elite public school, with uniforms and the whole she-bang. Aside from obvious racial intolerance amongst its homogenous population, socially ‘deviant’ behaviour was punishable by suspension. These included everything from pruning eyebrows to homosexuality. In regards to the rules that govern personal looks, it definitely fostered a more focused academic environment, but when it came down to the details of those rules, you’d realise that homosexuality was punishable by a weeklong suspension and if you didn’t “repent” (sounds an awful lot like the Catholic Inquisition), you could actually be expelled.
Most of the student body took homosexuality to be a part and parcel of growing up, but the undertones of intolerance existed below the surface. Mind you, homosexuality is a punishable crime in Malaysia. But not knowing the consequences of our actions, most of us embraced the institution’s approach and belief towards homosexuality: it was a problem and was a social ill that would destabilise society. I heard no reports of hate-crimes during my 5 years there, but the result is very clear as my peers and I enter our 20s.
The seed of intolerance is planted early and deep. Even discussing the concept of non-heterogenous sexuality amongst my peers and family were met with hostility. But why the hate? It could not be justified with any rational argument, yet the belief was held on to so strongly. Which is where shows like Glee come into play.
While I had to leave my home and enroll in university to learn to accept differences, I see shows like Glee leading the way in the younger generation. The show is syndicated in many parts of the world, Malaysia included. Besides representing different character tropes, five of the characters on the show represent the LGBTQ tropes. Together with the rest of the cast, they deliver storylines and music that not only reveal social assumptions but also empower everyone to learn tolerance and accept each others’ differences. An example of this is when the primary gay character (Kurt Hummel) is bullied excessively for being gay, his friends needed to learn that they could do something about it. A show like this reaches a young audience, and shows them that they need to accept their friends and peers, not marginalise them.
Though Glee’s target audience is probably those below 20, the message of tolerance rings clear like a crystal glass. What we say and do to implicitly or explicitly support discrimination reflects on who we are as global citizens. It is important to remember that what we do today will have tremendous consequences in the next decades, if not centuries.