Touchdown

Posted on February 7, 2011 by

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I don't know a lot about football, but I'd know even less were it not for Tom Brady's involvement. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Super Bowl XLV: A Victory for Green Bay, “Glee” and gay rights.

By Meryn Fluker

And so closes another media maven Christmas. I’m not a huge football fan – I have no idea what special teams are and what they do, though I do love anything Tom Brady and I’m pretty sure a lot of people think Ben Roethlisberger might be a sexual predator – but the day of the Super Bowl is one of my favorite holidays.

Once simply a football championship, the Super Bowl is now a full-scale consumer celebration. There’s the movie-quality commercials, the epic halftime shows and after it all, some beefed-up episode of TV’s hottest show.  For someone whose favorite brawls take place in the Nielsen ratings and not on the gridiron, I love the Super Bowl because it’s the confluence of both. Case in point: Last night’s airing of “Glee.”

Selecting “Glee” for the prime post-game spot was simultaneously the most- and least-obvious programming decision Fox could’ve made. Typically, each network picks its hottest show – Friends, Survivor and Grey’s Anatomy have each held the prestigious programming place – to follow the big game.

Not exactly the most intimidating or gridiron friendly crew, yet this ragtag bunch of Gaga wannabes managed to score broadcast television's most precious programming slot: immediately following the Super Bowl. (Image from the Glee Wiki at glee.wikia.com)

There’s little question that “Glee,” coming off a surprising (and undeserved) second Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical, is one of the hottest shows on TV (and certainly on Fox), so it would make sense to slide it in after TV’s biggest sporting event. However, the show’s subject matter and audience are in many ways antithetical to those of the Super Bowl. After all, “Glee”‘s two breakout stars are openly gay actors Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer, the latter of whom plays a gay character on the show who is frequently bullied because of his sexuality. In case you’ve been living under a rock in a very red state, “Glee” focuses on the day-to-day dramas of a high school show choir. The show is geared toward teens and does a great deal of speechifying about acceptance and tolerance. These touchy feely messages, on a show where the football players are often demonized as testosterone-crazed bullies, doesn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl Synergy.”

But there “Glee” was, in all its singing and dancing glory, moments after yet another Green Bay Packers Super Bowl victory. Sunday night’s episode wasn’t particularly strong or even star-packed (though I appreciated the completely out-of-place Katie Couric cameo), but it tackled the issue of bullying head on. Within the first five minutes, self-absorbed diva Rachel Berry insulted pigskin star Dave Karofsky as a “known homophobe” before protesting his joining of the glee club. Without going too far into the backstory, Karofsky has tormented many of the members of the show choir, none more than Colfer’s Kurt Hummel, who Karofsky targets due to his homophobia.

(This is the football team viewers saw after the big game ended.)

From there, the episode addressed the jocks’ hatred of glee club and its members and confronted what it’s like to be bullied for not conforming to traditional gender roles. Now, because it’s “Glee,” the show dealt with the issues through trite slogans, over-emoted mashups and a whole lot of quippy one-liners and meaningless B-plots. Those flaws aren’t the point.

The point is this: America’s most popular broadcast network aired its most popular program after America’s most popular sporting event, and the episode’s main story was a strong takedown of homophobia and bullying. The show that followed the Super Bowl wasn’t about a bomb trapped in a patient, or a bunch of famous people playing against type – the show was a 44-minute lesson in tolerance, delivered to what may be one of the year’s largest television audiences (not only is the Super Bowl audience grand, it’s diverse, spanning boundaries of age, race and income). That’s progress, and while I’m sure it was a profit-motivated decision on Fox’s part, it’s still one worth lauding.

Glee's newest will they/won't they couple features Darren Criss (right) and Chris Colfer (left), who snagged the Jan. 20 cover of Entertainment Weekly and significant mentions in the cover story. (Image courtesy of jaylenalexander.tumblr.com).

It says a lot about America that so many people are willing to wholly embrace a show that is so clearly gay-friendly (created by Ryan Murphy, who is openly gay). However, this is still a nation that is divided on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay marriage and gay parenting. This is a country where it’s a big deal when two girls want to walk together at coronation. We live in an age where we need It Gets Better videos, where a film about a family headed by two women is nominated for Oscars yet a young fellow Hawkeye still has to courageously justify and defend his two moms’ relationship to the Iowa House of Representatives.

Today, pundits will probably spend a lot of time parsing ratings, debating the merits of commercials and arguing about the content of the “Glee” episode. Oh, and I guess some might even talk about the actual football game.

I’m interested in all of that, too, but the biggest takeaway for me from Super Bowl XLV isn’t a play, an ad or a song (no matter how botched); It’s that the broadest and biggest television audience in America sat together and to receive a (heavy-handed) message about the evils of homophobia and the importance of acceptance. Until we have openly gay active, not retired, professional football players; a post-Super Bowl episode of “Glee” might be the best ambassador we get between the “straight” and “gay” worlds, and while it might not be a touchdown, it’s certainly better than a fumble.

Meryn Fluker

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