Work on TV: Glee-ful portrayals of bullying at school and work

Glee, Fox TV’s musical comedy-drama about a high school glee club in Ohio, has been tagged the new “feel good” hit of the Fall season.  With an ensemble cast recruited largely from the Broadway stage, it mixes sharp humor, the pathos of high school life, and plenty of song & dance numbers.

Glee also gives us a big helping of school and workplace bullying.  The glee club members are bullied mercilessly by some of the “in” kids at school.  Members of the football team routinely give “slushie facials” (dumping or tossing Big Gulp-ish frozen drinks) to glee club kids, including to teammates who joined the club because they happen to like both football and singing.

There’s more bullying at the faculty level, where a messed up cheerleading coach obsessively plots the demise of the glee club and their director.  Just like many real workplace bullies, the coach’s destructive activities at work are fueled by dysfunctional aspects of her life in general.

Mainly through humor (some of it hilariously over the top), Glee gently tackles topics such as peer pressure, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability.  And because the glee kids happen to be pretty talented, they ultimately become the stars, performing with enthusiasm, skill, and heart.

On occasion Glee takes a time out to make a point.  In the most recent episode, the football team’s quarterback, who also is in the glee club, has been given an ultimatum by his coach:  It’s either football or glee, but you can’t do both.  The young man approaches his coach and says:

I see a future where it’s cool to be in glee club.  Where you can play football and sing & dance and no one gets down on you for it.  Where the more different you are, the better.

It’s a nice scene, delivered in an understated way.  If you’re long past high school but remember what it was like, it may make you wince to think how many kids have been pressured into making choices that ultimately denied them a chance to explore all of their intellectual, artistic, and athletic interests.

In the real world, life is not a musical; bullying at school and at work cannot be brushed off with a rousing closing number.  But that’s no reason to dismiss the feel-good messages of Glee, including the importance of pursuing one’s passion even if others aren’t into it.  Now there’s a lesson for kids and adults alike.

(Perhaps art does indeed reflect life: New episodes of Glee will return following the World Series on Fox.  Go Yankees!)

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