How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Accept My Love For ‘Glee’

There's no shame in loving 'Glee'.

Glee Netflix

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Accept My Love For ‘Glee’ was originally published in July 2019.

Glee is newly on Netflix… and I feel conflicted about it.

It starts out innocent.It’s during a casual conversation with friends over drinks or brunch, when someone mentions the forbidden four-letter word.

Or its standing in the middle of the pasta aisle on an unassuming Thursday night, when the song about midnight trains going anywhere filters through the tinny supermarket speakers.

This reference, this reminder that it exists is almost like a challenge, like someone out there is mocking me.

Immediately, my shoulders tense. My eyes dart around me desperately, to see if anyone else has noticed. I laugh awkwardly as I try to control my panicked breaths.

For five long years, I have run away from my past. My youthful indiscretions and the resulting trauma hang around like a dark cloud in the edges of my mind. But you can’t run away from who are forever. Eventually, it catches up with you.

Every time someone suggested it was time to revisit, I shut that shit down fast. Hell to the No, I was not ready. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be ready, but now it’s being added to Netflix, so I think it’s time I finally stopped running.

My name is Claire White…and I was a Gleek.

You Brought Me To Life

In case you don’t already know, “Gleek” is a term used for fans of the teen musical dramadey TV show, Glee.

It’s a show about a rag-tag group of outcasts and their high school glee club (aka show choir, which apparently is a thing in America) called the New Directions.

Glee burst onto the scene ten years ago with their harmonised “ja, ja, ja, ja”’s and matching red-tshirts singing Don’t Stop Believing by this band called Journey.

The show boasted diverse characters for you to relate to, preached acceptance, was full of super-hot people and featured seven or eight highly produced songs each week as the New Directions sang through their complicated teenage feelings and conflicts.

It ran for six seasons, had its own world concert tour (which did NOT come to Australia, smh), and a reality show called The Glee Project to win a spot on the show (this is where Everybody Wants Some!!’s Blake Jenner came from, btw, and recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award! The power The Glee Project has!)

Glee embraced the misfits, the outcasts, the weirdos and the losers who don’t feel like they fit in or felt like they never belonged.

It also was not afraid to tackle the big issues like sexuality, body image, teen pregnancy, disability, racism, sexual assault and homelessness — all while working its way through every throwback, Broadway and Top-40 hit to exist.

Really, Glee was more than a show: it was a phenomenon. It was a mindset. It was my life.

Feel Like I’m Living A Teenage Dream

I’m about to tell y’all a secret, something I have never told anyone — last year, when the Australian-made documentary I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story came out, I told everyone my excitement and intense hard relate to the boyband fangirls in the film was purely because of my long-lasting love for The Jonas Brothers.

This is only partly true.

You bet your ass I love the stupid cute Jonas Brothers, but what I really saw when these fangirls described how their boybands of choice made them feel — how their music can lift them up, all the trivia and facts they know, how they would analyse each song and know exactly what was up (and cry) — was actually my relationship with Glee.

When I was a teenager, Glee was what I lived and breathed.

I live-tweeted, participated in the discourse, and keyboard smashed my feelings across the internet. I knew every episode like the back of my hand, each cast (and crew) member by name, all the trivia, and ‘Glee Cast’ was the most prominent artist on my iPod.

When I fell in love with the Dalton Academy Warblers, the acapella group from the rival all-boys school of the same name, I knew all the names of the Warblers too. Even if they didn’t have character names, I knew the actor who played them, and referred to them as such as if we were BFFs.

Never Don’t Stop Believing

So yeah, Glee was a big part of my life in high school, and I didn’t really hide it all that well — but also, I wasn’t ashamed as much then.

It was a time where Darren Criss, who played the dapper Blaine Anderson, was the intense love of my life, and the Broadway-bound, ambitious show tunes-singing Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) and Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) were my inspiration and best friends.

I even had a ‘DON’T STOP BELIEVING’ necklace custom made for me to wear to my Year 12 graduation.

When I went off to University, there was still two more seasons to go, and I was still committed, but less publicly so. Glee got weirder (What Does the Fox Say? Really, we doin’ this?) my investment started to get exhausting, and I was getting older, less dependent.

By the time the series finale aired in 2015, I was ready to let it go. Friends of mine had dropped off, but I stuck with it to the bitter end. Once it was over, I locked that part of me up and threw away the key.

With the sweet smell of freedom, I was determined to leave that hell-fire behind me.

Let’s Run Away And Never Look Back

So why, despite my love for it, was Glee so traumatic?

There was never really anything quite like Glee at the time it was airing. It was praised for being socially empowering and progressive, but in its pursuit to be edgy and relatable it also had its fair share of weird, uncomfortable and, frankly offensive moments.

There was an episode where Mr Schuester (Matthew Morrison), who is a general mess of a human adult male, thought he could defeat his nemesis Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) by seducing her then standing her up?

Or another when the guys from the football team used the image of their female coach Bieste as a turn-of from sex while making out with their girlfriends?

Quinn Fabray (Diana Agron) tried to regain custody of her baby (after giving her up for adoption in the first place) by attempting to frame Idina Menzel with cannibalism?

The entirety of seasons five and six?

If the storylines and the show was bad, the fandom was worse.

At one point, the Gleeks were known for being one of the worst fandoms ever, and it made Tumblr in 2010-2013 an absolute war zone. There was no unity, no family. It was ship (relationship/romantic pairing) versus ship: Klaine (Kurt + Blaine) vs Brittana (Brittney + Santana), Finchel (Finn + Rachel) vs Faberry (Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry), etc.

Everyone fought. There were all-out riots over which ship was better. Everyone had their faves and heaven forbid you dare to think that hey, maybe you shouldn’t ship Kurt and Finn together, because they’re step-brothers, or think a storyline was bad. That was a one-way ticket for anonymous hate messages in your Tumblr inbox.

I wish I was joking.

For a show all about acceptance, you would really think the fandom would have been nicer to each other. Alas, you never really know the true depths of just how plain disturbing people can be until you have been part of an online super-fandom.

Honestly, it gives me PTSD just to think about it.

Things Got Kind Of Heavy

Watching Glee again is all kinds of hectic.

You get to see Cory Monteith again — the actor who played Finn Hudson, the bumbling Quarterback and leader of the New Directions — who died during season five from a drug overdose after years of struggle with substance abuse.

(Sidenote: The day after Cory died, a guy from my class came up to me at school and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Being a Gleek was my worst kept secret.)

It is double hectic watching now, knowing Mark Salling, who played the mohawked bad-boy, Noah Puckerman, committed suicide early last year after he was found guilty with child pornography charges and was set to serve a prison sentence. Yikers.

No Regrets, Just Love

All this aside, if I’m truly honest with myself, what I was really running from was this deep sense of shame and embarrassment, which accompanies any pop culture phenomenon which is intensely adored by fangirls.

Glee could be a trash-fire of a show, but it was my trash-fire of a show.

So, here’s what I (finally) came to tell you: RE-WATCH GLEE.

I’m up to season 3 in my rewatch and plot twist, I’m having the time of my life. When pregnant head cheerleader Quinn goes into labour after performing at the Regionals show choir competition alongside a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody?

Iconic. Poetic cinema. Nothing beats it.

Watching Glee is like I can turn back the clock, be a teenager again and forget about any other adult responsibilities I might face like paying bills and booking doctors’ appointments and doing my washing or buying milk.

For so long I didn’t want to revisit, talk or even think about Glee anymore, because I didn’t want to be that scared and lost teenager who lived on fandom Tumblr and put her life in the hands of some TV show. I was afraid that I would have to relive those years of intense fan-wars and awful, embarrassing storylines again.

But here’s the thing: I am not that person anymore.

And That’s What You Missed On Glee

Since Glee ended, I made my dreams come true, and I have grown as a person. I can watch all six seasons again, scream over how cute the Warblers are as they step-touch their way back into my heart, cry when Mike Chang’s (Harry Shum Jr) father disowns him for wanting to be a dancer, and rank each competition episode based on outfits, song choice, and dramas.

When it’s all over, I can move on with my life because I don’t need it to guide me anymore.

I stopped letting Glee define me, and so there is less pressure now. The fandom no longer exists, and I can just enjoy it for what it is: a show which is wild and fun, as heart-warming as it is heartbreaking.

Life is too scary and serious right now. I suggest you sit back and put on some Glee, laugh, cry and sing along. Don’t be afraid.

Because by its very definition, Glee is about opening yourself up to joy.

Claire White is a writer, bookseller and Greta Gerwig wannabe. She still owns her “Keep Calm and Warble On” Glee t-shirt. Follow her on Twitter @theclairencew and @teencineteq.