Glee does Hole’s “Celebrity Skin,” from the episode airing this Thursday. (H/T Vulture)
This is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. Both of these people are scarier than Courtney Love. What is happening. Does the whiff of familiarity mean I had a nightmare like this in high school. The “hooker/waitress” part. Is Glee remixing our minds. The American flags. Is this not a song about having more life experience than everyone on that stage combined. What could possibly be the context for this. Am I going to watch this like I watched the Rocky Horror episode, because my curiosity outweighs my horror. Is some guy going to break up with some girl in the next episode and sing “All Apologies” a cappella to win her back. Can we go back to celebrating the Baby Boomer generation’s cultural achievements into meaninglessness. Is this what it feels like to be old.
Aaah aah aah. I’m like the last person in the world who actually enjoys Glee, but that’s because I never really took it all that seriously. I mean, when I say enjoys, I mean, like, in a camp way. Like, there’s just a completely ridiculous amount of artistic hubris involved in basically every song choice they make. I used to think it was funny, and kind of like a joke about how teenagers think of their feelings in these grandiose, epic pop song terms (I mean, who am I kidding, I still do this); but then I realized how well Glee versions of songs were selling, which, like, is terrifying. Like the Whitney episode is maybe a lovely tribute to a gorgeous legend who died too young (and some of the story stuff it did about the kind of scary parts of the end of high school were actually pretty decent) — but it was also basically a cynical cash grab aimed at people largely too young to remember the young, regal, gorgeous, gifted Whitney, and it also featured Darren Criss singing “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay”, which. You guys.
But this, this is like, can we start embracing Glee as so bad it’s good? Because this is so bad, it’s amazing. The flags! The shiny, shiny blonde faces! The total, utter, just basic misunderstanding of the song! The way it would be depressing if it weren’t so hilarious! …Right?
I for one never know what they’re going to do next.
Totally agree that we shouldn’t take this too seriously, anxious as I get about signifiers becoming detached from signs. As we have all learned from our parents’ generation, getting too high and mighty about the music (etc.) of our youth is not a good look.
The question is, does the clip qualify as camp and thus deserve “so bad it’s good” status? I wish it were, but I don’t think it is because Ryan Murphy seems so cruelly aware of what he’s doing. He knows how terrible he’s making everyone look. He understands that having high schoolers sing Courtney Love’s lyrics is macabre. You don’t have to tell him that “hooker/waitress” is about a million miles from where these kids have ever been. There is a sweet naivete to true camp that isn’t part of the equation here because — if there’s one constant in all of his shows — Murphy is so misanthropic. He doesn’t cover it up in Nip/Tuck or American Horror Story, but it’s clear even beyond all the layers of saccharine in Glee (and now The New Normal).
[Apologies in advance for how long this got, all my submerged Glee opinions seem to have crystallized in this conversation.]
I don’t really think that Glee hides the misanthropy very well — I’ve never understood its image as saccharine, because I have seen every episode and it is not a nice show. (And I think it’s probably totally fair to suggest that Ryan Murphy knows exactly what he’s doing by having these characters sing this song, and it’s basically trolling people.) (I do like American Horror Story though, I think Ryan Murphy should only make horror things, it’s totally his lane.)
I do hear you on signifiers being detached from signs, but I really think the ship had sailed on that one way before grunge ever meant anything to anyone. I mean, now it’s happening to our stuff, which is kind of weird and vertiginous in a way I didn’t really expect, but I’m trying to roll with the punches.
But to the camp point, I don’t really think of Glee as camp exactly (I probably shouldn’t have tagged it as camp, that was imprecise, it’s more that it’s camp-adjacent and so I wanted in my camp tag) - and I don’t think camp has to be naive, I don’t think, say, The Pirate was naive about what it was doing, I just think that it was working on a level that most people didn’t understand but I also think Judy Garland’s hats speak for themselves - I tend to think that camp’s more of an attitude than a label that you can apply to specific works. (It’s an attitude that’s about really specific things that are really politically/aesthetically important to me, like embracing the artificial over the natural, the trivial over the serious, etc.)
What I think about Glee is that it’s trying really hard to be campy, but it lacks camp’s basic generosity. Some people say that nothing that’s trying to be campy can ever work, but think about people like John Waters or Pedro Almodovar. There’s nothing naive about their work, but it still works in the camp vein because it’s 100% sincere and and it’s 100% illuminated by love for the people it’s about and for, which means that it never really treats them as absurd. So what I’ve taken a really long time to articulate is that my version of watching Glee (which is admittedly idiosyncratic and I don’t expect other people to do it, I get that it’s super-annoying and morally really problematic in a few different ways) is that it’s kitsch, maybe a new kind of kitsch. It’s failed so badly at being campy that it’s actually hilarious.