Sorry, I couldn’t wait for Friday.
A couple of weeks ago, Nancy Gibbs, writing in TIME magazine, tried to convey the spiritual underpinnings of Fox’s hit TV series, Glee.
While her heart was in the right place, she really missed the mark. Maybe the redemptive analogies are just too obvious for her, or maybe Ms. Gibbs is just unschooled in the art of reading theology into pop culture. (If that’s the case, then I would suggest she check out William D. Romanowski’s excellent book, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, for some background.)
This show is jam-packed with redemptive analogies, and that, I believe is part of its appeal. It isn’t just sappy entertainment; it also resonates on a spiritual level.
So let me talk a little theological smack here and share five spiritual aspects of the show. Hey, it’s a long way till next season.
(Warning: the following observations arise from my own Judeo-Christian perspective, because that’s my cultural frame of reference. Apologies to those who follow other paths. You have been warned.)
1. Will Schuester as messiah figure. This is the most obvious aspect that Gibbs somehow missed. I really don’t know how anyone could miss this one. Glee coach “Schu” inspires a dozen misfits from diverse backgrounds — his very own 12 disciples — to follow his crazy dream of forming a glee club. He leads them to the promised land of sectionals and to spiritual triumph over their own personal demons. But, like Moses of the Old Testament, Schu himself cannot enter into the promised land, for he has sinned, as all humans (even messiah figures) do. Moses smote the rock; Schu slept on the mattress. And their sins prevented them from seeing their dreams become reality.
2. Sue Sylvester, antichrist. The sly, conniving coach of the Cheerios, Sue Sylvester, could not be a more fitting adversary for Schuester. She is both Satan the Adversary and Judas the Betrayer. (Jane Lynch should win an Emmy for her role.)
3. Figgins at the judgment seat. The wise Principal Figgins is cast in the role of God Himself — or if that’s too much for you, maybe Solomon. He must judge between the rivals, Sue and Schu, and decide which one falls and which is redeemed. They both sit before the judgment seat, and Figgins thunders: “My word is official. Let it be written!” How much more of a patriarchical godlike statement can you get from a TV show?
4. Finn, the Peter/Joshua figure. So Schu cannot make it into the promised land. But one disciple can: the conflicted, hot-headed Finn. He fights with Puck, is absorbed with self-doubt, and yet he is the one who is anointed by Schu himself to unite the others after Schu himself must step aside. In the final episode, the messiah figure Schu even gives Finn “the keys to the kingdom,” much like Jesus of Nazareth did for his disciple Peter (c.f. Matt. 16:18-19).
5. Don’t stop believing (video link). Isn’t that the biggest spiritual message of all?
OK, Glee fans. Tell me what I missed.
12 thoughts on “Friday Five: the Gospel According to Glee”
Well if the hot tub story had played out, there would have been a virgin birth too ;-)
This is a really great post Andrew. I’m going to be contemplating this one all day…and I’m definitely going to check out that book too!
OF COURSE! The Virgin birth — sooo close. Nice observation, Karlyn.
Awesome post! I’m glad to see someone write this.
I’ve always had a similar perspective of Glee, but I always thought it was because I go to church on Wednesdays and then come home and watch Glee right afterward so I know what everyone on Twitter is talking about the next day.
My two cents…
The guilt Quinn and Finn have after finding out Quinn is preggers is the same guilt we all feel when we recognize our sin. It’s painful, and we have to accept the consequences.
The fact that Quinn never once considers terminating the pregnancy. She honors the life that has been formed.
In the episode last night, Rachel stepped aside to let others shine is a great example of treat others how you would want to be treated.
A Jew (Puck) joining the Gentiles outcasts (The entire Glee club). Jesus said go until all the world the Jew first but also the Greek.
I think I could go on further and read more into the show, but I want to hear what everyone else thinks.
Great post, Andrew!
My only pushback would be the Moses/Messiah section. Even a post-conservative, post-evangelical such as myself has a little bit of a problem with the idea of a messiah who sins. But I think you’re saying a “messiah figure” (which is a fallible human), not a Messiah (sinless Christ), right? In that case, I’m good ;-)
Great post about a wonderful show!
I think there’s also just a thread of redemption and repentance that runs throughout Glee, much as it does in the Bible. Whether it’s characters like Puck, Finn and Quinn dealing with their past as bullies, this cast of misfits being healed by music/Schu (Exhibit A: Every face filled with joy as they listened to Mercedes last night), enemies helping each other, etc. Putting yourself last, i.e. joining the Glee club, brings true joy.
And thanks for the book recommendation – definitely adding that to my reading list. : )
Now what are we going to do until April??? Oh that’s right – Lost starts in just a couple of months! Talk about a spiritual show…
Great post, Andrew. (And I’m glad someone else likes Romanowski’s book.)
I would love it if they would somehow explore issues like doubt, cultural engagement (is Glee/Christianity counter-culture, sub-culture, etc.), and other issues you see every generation of Christians wrestle with.
Oh, and thanks for helping me create an intellectual reason for watching Glee. It’s not just about the music anymore.
Great Post, Andrew – and an interpretation I hadn’t thought of before. It adds a whole new interest to the plot, which was somewhat lacking in the beginning – I’ll admit I primarily kept watching through the season for the musical numbers (being a big musical theatre fan!). Now that I have this to think about, this show could fill the biblical reference void that was left when “Kings” was cancelled!
Oh, and I like that there were no blatant spoilers in your post (and few in the comments), as I have not yet seen last night’s episode. Watching Hulu is apparently in bad taste at work…
Awesome post! The virgin mother was the first thing that came to mind, but you’ve definitely explored quite a few angles. Technically, Brittany the cheerleader is a bit of the Judas, having given Sue the setlist.
Another Peter analogy that fits Finn is that he has denied the club, his calling and (essentially) his salvation. He’s left the club how many times, refused to pose for the picture, etc. Not sure if he’s denied it 3 times, though I wouldn’t be surprised.
I love any post that brings about intellectual discourse through pop culture.
Oh, and let’s not forget the curing (at least pscyhologically) of the infirm. Granted, it’s not like Artie has been able to walk but he has been empowered in so many ways. And we learned of Tina disclosing she doesn’t actually have a stuttering problem, just faking it, but it is the comfort she feels in the club that “cured” her. Wow. I could go on all day.
Wow. I didn’t realize this kind of armchair theological analysis would resonate with so many of you. So many terrific responses and thoughts.
Tim – As for Brittany as Judas: actually the show is full of Judases. Kurt betrays Rachel, Rachel betrays Puck, Miss Pillsbury betrays Coach Ken, etc.
I too could go on all day.
I think there’s a mistake here somewhere. Maybe it isn’t so much that Glee is modeled on biblical tropes as it is that Glee is hackneyed and sentimental in its own right. Not every story that has “redemptive” aspects is necessarily spiritual, but there’s a case to be made that every story that has bland, completely typical characters, themes, and plot mechanisms is similar to the most popular biblical stories. But that’s just because *those* stories are also pretty shallow, and storytellers in the West have been ripping them off for centuries. So to say that Glee has echoes of Christian spirituality doesn’t do much more than point to the fact that it’s pop fodder. What do you think?
Jake – You raise some very interesting points. True, Glee is hackneyed and sentimental in its own right, regardless of any parallels to biblical stories or archetypes. Also true: storytellers have been ripping off biblical stories for centuries. Perhaps our cultural frames of reference is so steeped in the Judeo-Christian perspective that these stories of redemption spring forth like memes without even much conscious consideration of their roots. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to examine the artifacts of pop culture in light of various influences, and I happen to like to draw redemptive analogies. (That in itself reveals something of my own bias, as I have been a bivocational youth minister for years.)
As to the comment that not every story that has redemptive aspects is necessarily spiritual, I guess that depends on how we define “spiritual.” From my perspective, the act of redemption is inherently spiritual. And the idea that the stories that most resonate with humans are at their core “spiritual” stories implies to me that what the theologians call “common grace” is abundant in our human creations, as well as in nature. This, of course, opens up another door for discussion about the sovereignty of God, a topic that’s better discussed over a beer or three. ;)