Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yeah, I'm talking about GLEE - what's it to ya?

Because I’m married to a heterosexual woman, I am, on a weekly basis, subjected to Glee. This would happen were I married, legally or no, to a homosexual man, so really there’s no escaping it short of a divorce or a sex change.

As far as television goes, it’s no more or less ridiculous than most shows on the air. It has an atmosphere that feels fresh and while I don’t have a favorite character, I don’t have a least-favorite either. I’m not as enamored of Jane Lynch’s psychotic “Sue Sylvester” character as most of the world seems to be, but then again the show in general will throw any character under the bus in order to propel their plots, so if she’s inconsistent from one episode to the next (in which I mean more over-the-top one week and almost-rational the next), it can be overlooked if not forgiven. Even Buffy and Angel were guilty of out-of-place characteristics once in a while to keep the story going, even if those were so few and far between and largely David Fury’s fault that they’re hardly worth mentioning.

Since I possess well-rounded and complete DNA, I actually enjoy musicals. Not all of them; I’m not a fanatic. I cannot turn off Singin’ in the Rain if pops up on TCM, but I’ll gnaw through my own leg to escape The Sound of Music. So the frequent nondiegetic intervals of Glee bother me not in the slightest and I enjoy them more often than not. As the songs are always covers, the familiarity is comforting (unless they’re singing something that came out in the past five years—or, in some cases, minutes—then I’m completely at-sea as to what that song might be) and on average I end up liking the Glee version better than the original because the actors on the show are real singers and dancers, hired away from Broadway or elsewhere due to their musical ability. True, some of them are “auto-tuned” well-beyond droid-speak, and there is the occasional electronic distortion employed that would irritate Peter Frampton. Lea Michelle is clearly the standout on the show and they make not only good use of her voice but her endearingly-insufferable character as well. On the flip side of that, Cory Monteith, who appears to be older than most of the teachers and may well have an AARP card in his wallet, is electronically enhanced for every song to the point where he might as well be singing into a fan.

While I successfully managed to avoid their tribute to Madonna and only watched the illogical Britney Spears love-in with half an eye, I was actually looking forward to their Rocky Horror episode in a perverse way. I discovered RHPS in the very early ‘90s when I was in high school myself, back when I was the age of the characters (rather than now, when I’m the age of the actors). As the ostensible head of our Drama Club, I actually pushed to perform Rocky as our Spring production, partly because I loved the music and the phenomenon, but because I knew it would upset parents and teachers and anyone god-fearing who happened along.

Photo Copyright 20th Century Fox Television

When you’re 17-18 years old, Rocky Horror is subversive and taboo. You feel like you’re part of a secret club, venturing out every Saturday midnight to swear and dance and yell your head off. If you were straight, you felt like a crusader for equal rights because you knew gay friends. If you were an outcast or a misfit, as you invariably were if you were drawn to the movie, RHPS was the place you fit in. A room full of freaks who accepted you as a new member of the family. At its best, RHPS is a large group of square pegs.

Granted, somewhere along the line, everything that was cool and obscure and underground has been moved into the light, placed on a display at Hot Topic next to the Twilight merchandise and had all the awesome drained from it by corporate mosquitoes. And RHPS is no exception. The minute I walked into a Spencer’s Gifts and saw a Rocky Horror lunchbox sitting right next to a Bettie Page clutch purse, each sporting $20 price tags, I knew my young adulthood was over. To purchase my first Rocky Horror t-shirt, I had to take a bus into downtown Pittsburgh, walk several blocks to the incredible and incredibly seedy Eide’s Comics and Records, run the gauntlet of the homeless outside and the seemingly-homeless inside, and scour the racks of uniformly-black T-shirts sporting band names I hadn’t yet heard of to find the one I was looking for—one lonely shirt with its silk-screened pair of lips, most likely a bootleg courtesy of one of the employees.

If I want an official RHPS t-shirt now, I go to Amazon. Two clicks and it’s at my door in 3-5 days, depending on how much postage-rape I submit to.

The same goes for any of the myriad of different soundtracks—the coveted foreign-cast albums of the stage play that we’d bootleg for and from each other, or the extremely expensive 4-disc CD set released for its 15th anniversary. And then there were the nth-generation dubs of the movie taken either from Japanese Laserdisk or the grossly-expensive “official” VHS, from which we practiced our slavishly-replicated moves for our various shadowcast performances. We were devotees of Rocky Horror, both the movie and the play, and loved all of the incarnations, debating if the “Roxy Cast” L.A. recording was superior to the original London cast album or if the original mono soundrack of the movie was better than the stereo track that arrived on VHS and the almost-brand-new film print at the theater. This is what “cult” meant. Those who weren’t in the cult—parents, friends, relatives, clergy—didn’t get it, wouldn’t get it and refused to get it. And that made the cult that much better.

So I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the Glee take, but not for the reasons many Rocky and Glee purists seem to be. I didn’t care about the changes they made to the “suggestive lyrics” (although, for a show that depicts two cheerleaders in an ongoing casual bisexual relationship, replacing the phrases “heavy petting” and “seat-wetting” from “Toucha-Touch Me” just seemed silly). I was even able to get past the obvious lunacy of a) a Middle America high school attempting a performance in the first place (which the show addressed) and b) the manufactured hysteria of (a) about the play’s raunchy nature. Although that the ultra-conservatives who arrived to stir up the controversy were played by RHPS’s Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf was inspired casting.

(As a digression, I am not one of the legions of folks who found the Glee GQ photo spread offensive or, as the Parents Television Council put it, “borders on pedophilia”. “Tacky” is not the same as “offensive”. Neither are likely to bring about the end of civilization, either, so dial down the hysteria, Mrs. Lovejoy.)

What disappointed me the most was that, with the sole innovation of casting African American diva “Mercedes” (Amber Riley) as Frank N. Further, giving the character a Tina Turner spin that was just fantastic, the arrangement and the choreography was all directly-inspired by the movie. As versatile as the endless stage performances have proven this show to be, and for a show that more often than not thinks outside of the box when it comes to its covers, to simply imitate the movie, down to costumes and sets (with some bizarre—*cough*Columbia*cough*--exceptions), struck me not only as lazy but pandering.

If it was done simply to satisfy the die-hard Rocky purists, surely the producers would know that’s impossible. Unless the Tim Curry from 1975 was cast as a guest star, there would be no satisfying the hard core. For many of us who’d “come of age” with the movie, who found our identities—or, at least, the path to our identities—through the cult of depravity and subversive wish-fulfillment, it’s the reinvention of the show we’ve come to look forward to. If we wanted perfect mimicry of the movie, we could just leave the house on Saturday night and go to any number of theaters across the country.

For those of us already in irreparable culture shock from seeing the film broadcast uncut on VH-1 in 2005, having a mainstream television show devote an hour to the silliness of Rocky’s drag and sexual misidentity was already tragic enough to comprehend.

Yes, the argument has and will be made that the trial-by-fire of RHPS is the dead-on replication of the movie by the shadowcasts. Only after that perfection are the performers permitted to make the characters and the film their own. Non-conformity through odd conformity.

But the cast of Glee aren’t outcasts, they merely play ones on TV. So I expected a bit more innovation from this revolution. If you’re going to thrust my underground cult into the mainstream, at the very least give it a jolt that I haven’t seen hundreds of times before. 

Photo courtesy Molly Alvord's Facebook Gallery


Pamela Dobrowolski said...

Thank you for that thoughtful and provoking piece, Mike. I especially like how I can place myself throughout in time and place. . . I'm hearing you talk about RH in high school, I'm participating in the high school play -- the Creature Creeps which I assume was the alternative SRSH settled for, I'm walking into Aides for the first time, scared, I'm watching two high school cheerleaders talk about scissoring while making out on t.v. at 7 p.m. central time. . .

I love GLEE with all of my heart, but I would sign a petition to have it moved to 9 p.m. in a minute.

Tricks said...

Found Footage