Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oxygen's "The Glee Project" Walks a Fine Line Between Celebrating and "Othering" Contestants

I have been catching up on "The Glee Project" over the last few days. It's a show on Oxygen where 12 contestants compete for a 7-week guest spot on the hit show, Glee. These contestants have been chosen because they are each unique and as Glee creators and collaborators frequently declare, each contestant is "different in their own special way." This is necessary on Glee because the show is about "people that aren't what you expect and don't fit into stereotypes" (More on that later.)

In an episode I was watching yesterday, the theme of the week is vulnerability where the contestants must choose a word associated with one of their insecurities. They will wear this word on a sign in a public space while shooting a music video to Tears for Fears, "Mad World." The real point is to have the contestants face their inner demons because what makes them vulnerable is relatable to an audience and an essential quality all Glee actors possess. One contestant, Cameron, was chosen in the bottom three because he just was not "insecure" enough. While filming the video, the choreographer shared that, "This challenge was difficult for Cameron because he had already overcome many of his problems and was very confident in who he is." I was starring at the television in shock thinking, "Why wouldn't you want someone on your show that's confident and a good role model for young people?! But welcome to the world of contradictions, a.k.a. Hollywood."

Let's also note here that in the previous week's elimination challenge, Glee creator, Ryan Murphy, told a contestant that he wished he would just "walk on stage with more confidence and own who he is." Apparently on Glee, you should like yourself and give the illusion that you are confident while hiding an inner world of terrible insecurities that can be written into a story line. Are you sensing my frustration? It is ridiculous to me that Cameron would be put down for liking himself and being confident.

It was a painful episode to watch, especially since so many contestants revealed some deep personal issues. I kept thinking, why should they be forced to talk about these things on national television? Yes, they chose to be on the show, but there were so many tears on that episode that it felt as if the producers were "hazing" the contestants. I'm sure the actual cast members didn't even have to go through this to be on the show.

A few questions I have for the minds behind "The Glee Project" are: What is the point in having contestants reveal their insecurities? Is it to celebrate individuality? From where I'm observing, the contestants are just being further labeled as "others." Are you helping them or causing further emotional scarring? Also, let's face it. The cast of Glee is young and attractive. Their flaws are flaws based on "Hollywood" standards. Since I like the show, I'll keep watching but as an active observer.

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