When we sit idly by

Warning: Spoilers for Fox TV’s “Glee”

Tonight was the midseason finale of Fox’s hit TV show Glee. It was an emotional rollercoaster, even for a non-fan like me. There was the much anticipated Regionals competition, Finn and Rachel’s wedding, and Quinn… in a car accident. Wait what? Yes, the character Quinn – the very same that in the show had been admitted to Yale – is seen to be hit by an oncoming truck, and the episode ends.

As tragic as it is to know that the fate a character is uncertain, what struck me most was how this episode began. David Karofsky, an athelete that had previously tormented Kurt for being gay – and as we find out later, Karofsky is gay too – was bullied in school after someone had found out he was gay. The following scene detailed the fictional Facebook comments and online jibes at his sexuality, cumulating in Karofsky attempting to take his own life. Although one can argue that suicide features prominently in many different facets of media, the fact remains that what he went through and what he tried to do is real for many people around the world.

The fact that one’s personal life is amplified on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr was what made that scene so difficult to watch. Information on the internet can be posted without your consent, and yet it is you who has to deal with the consequences. We have seen this happen time and again to public figures, be they celebrities or politicians, but it is in recent times that this phenomenon has spread to the wider populace.

And herein lies the reason why I even watch Glee and why this episode struck me so strongly.

Anyone who watches Glee knows that they have a terrible track record for keeping with story lines, pairing and breaking couples like its nobody’s business and having characters say the most absurd things. Most times, their saving grace is the music. However, regardless of anybody says about the consistency or quality of the show, no one can deny that Glee deals with issues that scares most of society. Teen suicide? Sexuality? These are issues that crop up intermittently on the entertainment radar, but rarely does it permeate a wide consciousness.

Glee decided to put a face to what happens to people around the world when they reveal non-heterogenous sexual preferences. What Kurt and Karofsky went through, the bullying, name calling and rejection by family and society, are not fabrications of an overactive imagination. They are real. The consequences are equally real. That is why we have organizations such as the Trevor Project and Suicide Hotline. Like I said before, Glee was not afraid of pushing what is ‘appropriate’ to be discussed on national TV.  On the front of sexuality they have done exceptionally well.

The episode also contained the crux of the situation: When someone decides that they can’t take it anymore, whose fault is it? Does it rest solely on the tormentors? Or upon the bystanders?

Everyday we hear passing comments or statements regarding people’s sexuality, sexual preferences or how they do/do not conform to appropriate gender norms. Sometimes we participate, sometimes we ignore them, sometimes we combat them and sometimes we stay silent. On many occasions I myself have maintained silence, either for the sake of not starting an argument at an inappropriate time or with an inappropriate person. But it sucks. It sucks to have to stay silent when everything your friends/family/peers are saying are most likely applicable to someone you know. It sucks to know that while someone is pulling the name of someone you know through the mud, all you can do is sit by and watch.

This is complicity and it is almost as bad as being a perpertrator. The idea of complicity is common in many areas of knowledge, especially in Politics. Jewish elders were complicit in allowing the Nazis to round up working class Jews in WWII Germany. Expatriates were complicit in standing by while the Rwandan genocide carried on. We are complicit in inequality when we accept homophobic or racist comments without issue. Complicity exists everywhere, and is by no means an easy issue to tackle.

Nonetheless, I’ve learnt that with this specific issue of sexuality, complicity comes at a very real and high price. At my age, peers left and right are trying to figure out who they are, and many of them face confusion. Some have found who they are and are coming to terms with what that means. In a position such as mine – and that of EVERYONE – complicity could mean a friend becomes the subject of torment and insensitivity for the rest of their lives. Complicity can – and has – mean(t) death.

Whether is on the topic of sexuality, or religion, or race, complicity plays a great role in determining the outcome and its effects on those involved. Which is why the next time someone says something particularly insensitive regarding sexuality, gender or marriage equality, I’m going to speak up. Speaking up indicates the courage to stand up and defend others that deserve our respect as equal human beings. Speaking up could mean someone’s life does not become a living hell. Speaking up – especially in the presence of a younger audience – could mean that the prejudices of the old guard fall apart.

I’ve stood by long enough to see that my silence does more harm than good. I can never know if what I say makes a difference, but I can certainly try.

I hope you begin to speak up too.

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