A Professor's (Minimally) Academic Farewell to Glee

At this point, you've seen myriad so-longs, farewells, Auf Wiedersehens and goodbyes to the now-departed, cultural phenomenon of one syllable: Glee.

It spoke to all of us who felt like the outsiders. It sang to all of us who were on the outskirts. It entertained all of us who knew the series jumped-the-shark a few years ago, but still felt a kinship with those rag-tag show choir moppets.

I add my thanks to the chorus of gratitude for one simple reason: Glee made me a better college professor.

Pretty silly, right? But OH so true.

I cannot think of any other piece of pop culture that has facilitated conversation in the classroom as Glee has been able to do for me. Amidst the camp and hyperbole, Glee has provided more fodder regarding contemporary issues, social justice and psychological development than any single textbook has ever provided. Here are just some of the ways that those McKinley High School kids deepened in-class learning (with some corresponding theories!):

LGBT Representation. Yes, it's been written about before, but it really and truly cannot be overstated: what Glee has done to raise up the voices of LGBT individuals is awe-inspiring. Kurt's coming out story from emergence to acceptance to pride is textbook "Sexual Orientation Identity Formation" put forth by Vivienne Cass. Coach Beiste's journey perfectly mirrors Arlene Istar Lev's "Transgender Emergence Model." Even Santana and Britney's relationship has provided a solid jumping off point to dive into "The Layer Cake Model of Bisexual Identity Development."

But apart for the theory, Glee has triggered a meteoric rise in awareness within the perceptions of my college students. Whereas previous generations only had Melrose Place Matt (whose very kiss made the screen fade to black) or Eponymous Ellen (whose groundbreaking tropes were so media-saturated that it almost made a focused conversation impossible), current students have a pantheon of queer and ally characters to reference and apply to dialogue, which is a professor's dream.

Racial Depiction. Far less talked about than LGBT representation, but just as significant within my college classrooms, has been what Glee has had to say about race. And in many cases, where Glee remained silent.

On the positive side, the episode entitled "Throwdown" in which Sue Sylvester creates a splinter Glee squad comprised solely of minority students spurred an intense classroom debate on Beverly Daniel Tatum's seminal work "Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" Seriously, watch the episode and have a conversation about in-groups and out-groups. Great stuff.

On the flip side, much has been made (and rightly so) of Glee's failure to comprehensively address race even when things got all kinds of racial on the show, chiefly the surface-level treatment of Mercedes, Glee's main character of color. In class, we have deconstructed confusing t-shirts Mercedes has worn, microaggressions she has witnessed and just an overall feeling of underdevelopment in her character. Again, incredible access points to discuss critical race theory in ways that no single medium has ever provided my students.

Bridging the Age Gap. Putting theory aside, Glee's embrace of music from a wide array of generations has provided extraordinarily salient opportunities for connection with my students. That I had the opportunity to provide the context for a Judy Garland/Barbara Streisand duet in the very same class that my students taught me about The Band Perry was amazing. That a chunk of them looked at me blankly as I waxed on about Heart felt less significantly less than amazing, but still was a rich occasion to have a conversation about gender discrimination in music and 80's big hair.

Yeah, I'm on that pretty-full-bandwagon of folks who believe that Glee lost some of its magic a few years back. But that's my opinion as a pop-culture, former-outcast geek. As a professor, Glee was pure academic gold and I will miss it terribly.