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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Glee Matters To Me

Tomorrow night, the TV series "Glee" quietly exits, its series finale shoved away on a Friday night, seemingly just moments after its last season began in January. I can't say I know many people who will publicly admit to watching the show anymore, especially 37 year old mothers of two with an MBA, but I am a loyalist: once hooked, I tend to stay with things to the bitter end. I don't feel that way about Glee though; I am truly, truly sad to see it ending, though I know it's definitely time to move on.

The central theory of Glee is that being part of something special, makes you special. It's a refrain said many times throughout the series, and if someone had told it to me when I was an eighth grader, it would have found a prominent place in my quote journal. I probably would have posted it in my locker too. Because back then, I knew exactly what that meant.

In eighth grade, in my own middle school in Ohio, I ate lunch everyday in our school's choir room with Jenny, Robbie and Marc (not my husband, though I might have wished this Marc was my boyfriend at the time) and our choir teacher. He was no Mr. Schue, but he was the closest thing I ever had to it. In seventh grade, he selected me as one of the 9 best female singers in our grade, and for the next two years, we were a choral group called Small Girls. That group meant so much to me; it meant that this awkward girl was actually good at something. I could sing. At the end of seventh grade, our choir teacher gave me the sheet music to "The Phantom of the Opera" and said we'd be singing it next year, and I spent a summer obsessing over every note and immersing myself in as much Broadway as I could find. Those choir room lunches in eighth grade were my pinnacle of cool. We sang every day. We endlessly discussed who would get which solos. I remember basking in the heightened atmosphere, of how it all mattered so much, and yet, we were just kids. Nothing was ever that serious. No matter what happened, we were all going to be okay.

Amazingly, one of us did make it to Broadway, but it wasn't me. By ninth grade, I guess something had changed, and I was never in the Glee-equivalent group at my high school. Or, well, I really don't think anything about me had changed, but my plus-size status wasn't what the high school choir director wanted, I guess. Because I could still sing, still can sing. I tried out for years, until I didn't, unable to withstand another rejection, and I had gone on building my life elsewhere. But the bitterness still stings that I was never a part of all that, when it was something I so desperately wanted.

In the magical world that Glee inhabited, those plus-size girls did get to be in the group. Maybe their choreography wasn't as tight, or they altered their outfits a bit, but they were there. And the Jewish girl was there, singing Barbra Streisand with abandon (I think I last auditioned with this song). All of the misfits were there, the literal mis-fits, people I would have loved to be friends with. There were even moments when it felt like the show was talking directly to me, when after some Sue Sylvester-induced disbanding of the Glee club, Brittany looked right into the camera and said "I'm a finance major at Brandeis. It turns out Glee club was really holding me back." I have to say that this Economics major at Brandeis (they don't have finance!), who never made the Glee club, had to admit to loving that one. Because even if I'm bitter about it still, life has worked out despite that disappointment. Maybe it made me stronger.

I can't say that Glee has been perfect. I'll never understand why the show still has a ton of fat-shaming despite its portrayal of some many different body types, but Glee has never been as perfectly tolerant as it seems. The school shooting episode still ranks as one of the worst hours I've ever spent in front of a television. Plot lines were sometimes dropped almost as soon as they were introduced, and characters were shoved aside. But then they handled the death of Cory Monteith so well, or the new-new-New Directions win at Regionals, and I'm back to loving all of it.

After the second season of the show, I went to see the Glee concert tour. It was one of the most indulgent things I've ever done, going with a group of women I barely knew, because I wanted to go that badly. I remember being struck by the way the cast all seemed just so happy to be there. They were supposed to be playing their roles on the show, not themselves, but they all couldn't wipe the grins off of their faces. They genuinely took in the moment, thousands of screaming fans around them, like it was still the first time it was happening to them, despite it having happened the night before and the night before that.

And there are moments like this, which, well, I'm not going to bother to explain, but oh my heart.
I know Glee picked up "Don't Stop Believin'" at an opportune moment in time, and I recognize what a cliche it's become. But the other day Hannah told me that her fifth grade choir is preparing it for their last concert of elementary school, a moment manufactured to make me weep. I might have cried at her performance anyway--I tend to do that--but I know I'll be crying about much more than fifth graders leaving elementary school when I hear it.

Thanks Glee, for all of it. I'll miss you.

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