Saturday, August 17, 2019

Glee challenges the media’s traditional portrayal of masculinity




Media has always played a significant role in our societies. Nowadays, media, through its various platforms (press, television, radio, books and internet), has gained some power over people. This power can be qualified as manipulative. Indeed, media has been successful in influencing people’s attitudes and opinions about everything; even their identities.

I have, for so long, trusted that media, or to be specific in my case: TV, will always give the correct information. All I have to do as a viewer is watch, trusting that TV shows will always convey the right message. I was clearly on the wrong path. Taking a gender class last year, widely opened my eyes to being more critical of what I was watching.

In my gender class one of the topics that we discussed was masculinity. As an introduction to the topic, we watched the movie, “Fight Club”, which featured Brad Pitt. We followed the movie screening with an interesting discussion of how masculinity is defined through media. Masculinity in media is usually confused with gender. Being masculine or feminine doesn’t make us less of a man or a woman. Some of the ways shows are put together may convey that single wrong message about masculinity or femininity instead of promoting the right or brain stimulating.

After my class, I went back home to watch my two favourite series: “Gossip Girl” and “Glee”. As I was watching, I was stuned when realizing how media can shape our perception of things. Masculinity is being confused, in most cases, with gender and looks which are associated with male physicality and strength.

I love watching “Gossip Girl” and “Glee”. A lot of my friends do too. I remember that both Gossip Girl and Glee had great success when they first came out. With approximately 3 million viewers for “Gossip Girl” and an average of 9 million viewers for “Glee”, one has to admit that these shows are not only a delight but also an influence on how we view our society.

Throughout high school, I could see the reflection of the “Gossip Girl” script in my daily life as a teenager: how people dress, talk and behave. I am again in love with “Gossip Girl,” but sometimes, shows can unwittingly transmit a wrong message or rather a narrow view on a topic. Many teenagers who watch the show enjoy it but are put in a small narrow bubble where they are not brought out of their comfort zone. “Gossip Girl” doesn’t give room to critical thinking when it comes to masculinity for instance.

In “Gossip Girl,” I couldn’t help by distinguishing one definition of masculinity: Chuck Bass. Chuck is a rich, handsome, powerful businessman who has three important things in life: sex, alcohol and power. He is a strong, authoritative, intelligent and aggressive heterosexual man. Chuck is able to get any girl he wishes in his arms, which is another trait of the masculinity portrayed.

Soon, another character arises in the picture. Dan was introduced as a different kind of the masculinity. He is a thin, sensitive, middle-class male, who is not a business man or a politician; he is a poet. He is a romantic and shows his emotions and feelings to others.

However, Dan’s image of masculinity lost its value as soon as he got introduced to the “manly” world when he became Serena’s boyfriend. Instead of challenging this traditional image of masculinity (Chuck Bass), he incorporates himself in it and tries hard to be like Chuck Bass: a rich, powerful and good-looking man. This journey is highlighted in the series to show the importance of fitting in the right mold of masculinity.

In the same show, we find another representative of the male gender: Eric Van Der Woodsen. Eric is not pictured as a man but instead a mature boy. Being gay and sensitive challenges the traditional masculinity concept in the series. He is the actual renaissance of a new perspective that masculinity should incorporate in its definition. Yet, his role is not upgraded during the whole series and therefore does not argue for challenging the traditional masculinity. On the contrary, the series implies that, men like Eric should be bullied and can’t exist in our society because there is something wrong about them. “Gossip Girl” therefore sends the false message about what masculinity is about. It first associates it with men only, and also gives it specific attributes: money, power and a good body.

Masculinity, as many other concepts, has been stripped from its true meaning and has been channeled to serve financial and status purposes. Media has helped a lot in shaping this flawed meaning, and it is through it that, we could be able to reconstruct the idea of masculinity, away from discriminations and illusions. There is no such thing as the perfect body, or the perfect charisma or the perfect man: the images are creations of special computer effects. These false impressions create a low self-esteem in men and lead to serious issues like suicide and domestic violence, since men feel the need to show that they are strong in a way or another and often take it out on women and children.

However, I believe media has already started challenging the traditional image around masculinity through numerous shows. One example would be the series “Glee.”

At the beginning of “Glee,” the dilemma of masculinity was brought up by two main conflicts: first, McKinley football players are not comfortable with Kurt being gay and they are showing him what he should be like by bullying him; and the second is, boys joining the choir group, usually associated with females, and therefore losing their masculinity.

The first stand against the traditional view of masculinity comes up when Kurt joined the football team and led them to their first win. By doing so, he showed that he is as strong and intelligent as the other “masculine” guys but in his own way and nothing will make him less of a man. The second one was when all the football team was forced to sing Beyonce’s song “Single Ladies” and they loved it and that showed that they weren’t less of men. However, the masculinity dilemma never got resolved because there will always be another character bully who is ready to set up that traditional image of masculinity. “Glee,” nevertheless, showcases this tragic challenge, confusion and brainwash the classic media used to transfer through its different stands, by challenging the traditional image.

On another note, “Glee” disputes the traditional view of masculinity, by not attributing it to a single gender. Some of the common traits of what masculinity is defined by, are seen in the personalities of two women: Coach Shannon Beiste and Coach Sue Sylvester.

Being masculine women, both coaches are often mistreated and are given this image of repulsive, weird women who are not supposed to embrace masculinity. However, as the series develops, the characters accept them and that puts in the viewers’ perspective the following questions: is masculinity a gender term? Is masculinity a predefined term? Are we masculine when we are born or do we choose to be? This kind of diversity in views is not illustrated in “Gossip Girl” by any character. In fact, the more a character in “Gossip Girl” is away from being strictly a feminine woman and a masculine man, the less of attention the character gets in the show.

I think media is recovering slowly from the role it chose, to be a dictionary where everything has a definition, or where you could find what you want to become. Media should be a tool that challenges people’s preconceptions, builds their confidence and makes them comfortable with who they are. In the case of masculinity, I think our role as individuals is acknowledging the masculinity concept and miss interpretations, then standing up to people who bully others because they think they are less of a man and finally taking up initiatives that defeats this brainwashing the media has installed. I believe that “Glee” is an example of how we as viewers and producers can utilize and develop our critical eye and embrace diversity.

This essay was written for a first-year writing course with Professor Irene Papoulis.

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