Friday, April 12, 2013


I'm disgusted with last night's Glee episode. I could just spit.

A faux Sandy Hook-style plot shows ten harrowing minutes of terrified students and teachers, who believe a shooter has entered the school and fired two shots. The choir room locks down. Students text, weep, profess their love for each other and their families, and especially worry about the friends out of the room. A SWAT team explores the building.

The next day the school is set up with x-ray machines and scanning wands. No one complains about this.

What benefit could this type of story on this type of entertainment show possibly offer, only four months after so many families were devastated?

How is it that that horrible tragedy can be reduced to a 40-minute script?

In the end, it's revealed that Cheerio Becky has brought the gun to school. "I was scared, Coach, about graduating, being out in the real world. With no one to protect me. I wanted to be prepared and protect myself. I need help." The gun goes off and Sue Sylvester protects her by claiming the gun is hers, which costs her her job (but somehow she's not arrested).

"The safety net of the public mental health system is gone. Parents with troubled kids are too busy working three jobs to look after them," Sylvester says.

Because there wasn't an actual shooting and no one was shot, the plot line is supposed to be "okay"—it all was just a misunderstanding, right? But what about the harm to our understanding of society, of each other? Why are we all okay assenting to the creation of a culture of fear with shows like this—such that an innocent like the character of Becky feels that the only tool she has for protection is her dad's gun, which she doesn't even know how to use?

It's no wonder that people who watch more television are more likely to be fearful of the world around them. When television offers a menu of fear, and without offering solutions to combat it—and when you consider Americans spend 34 hours per week in front of the tube (maybe more if you factor in the Internet), what else would people think? (Incidentally, children under age two average 53 minutes per day of television. Why not indoctrinate into the fear culture early?)

Aren't our real lives filled with stress enough? Why should we allow our escape time to magnify the worst moments our community can create—and with little commentary or solution? Glee's episode last night dangles in two salient points, but allows them to flutter away quickly:
(1) Kids are scared. Scared of how big the world has become. (You know, that world we adults have created and supported, and propagate in the media and television, and socially, by not allowing kids to walk to school alone, or play in the yard unsupervised.)
(2) Our mental health system is challenged and overloaded.

However, the show spends so much time focusing on the terror of the students, that their fear is glorified and made as an acceptable part of high school life. Is this really the picture we want to create of school culture, something that just happens one day then in the next episode, is forgotten? Maybe we really will homeschool, after all.

It's not Glee's responsibility to offer an idealistic school environment to aspire to, obviously. It's an entertainment show, not a parenting class or local government. But as a culture, why have we embraced fear to such an extent—given away our personal power—that tragedy and trauma are offered as the fabric of our daily lives? Or is that the commentary Glee offers, through Becky's fear?

We need to actively focus on building our own supportive communities, both locally and at large. Each of us. In our homes, in our neighborhoods, within our favorite small groups. And I would guess this was one of Glee's intents, in the episode, to show the support of friends within the choir group. We all need to empower our children to feel secure with themselves, to give them the judgment skills to both avoid tragedy and to endure it.

But just a blink of an eye after an entire community was under siege, first graders slaughtered within their safe school community—this show comes on too hard, too soon.

This episode of Glee underscores one of the reasons why we haven't offered TV to Starboy at all. (All he has seen has been in restaurants and Target, where it's impractical for him to wear a bag over his head to avoid it.) We want his stories to come from his imagination, rather than adult-written scripts that can gloss over solutions (or offer impractical ones), while focusing on fear and tragedy. That offer stereotyping, both new and stale. We want to focus on problem-solving rather than victimization. We want to offer Starboy security and a solid foundation of real skills—not snappy comebacks—to handle tough situations with grace and courage.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts—about the show, about the media, about community building.

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