My wife and I watched the first episode of the popular teen show Glee a few years back. We enjoyed it. I cycled through a few episodes of the first season around the time they were aired, but then stopped. I’ve only recently returned to the show now that I’ve become a Professor of Youth Ministries.
Upon second viewing, I found I liked the show quite a bit. In my new role as a youth ministry educator, many of the themes and situations implicit in the show had immediate applicability. The show’s central premise involves a high school teacher passionate about show choirs and his desire to mold a ragtag (and surprisingly diverse) group of teenagers into a functioning and winning glee club.
My first thoughts: its a church youth group…without the church! The main teacher, Will Schuester, is clearly a secular youth pastor, and some of the situations he faces remind me of the calling with which I’m acquainted. For instance, here’s a great example of the importance of boundaries with students:
Then, of course, the big issues of adolescence are dealt with: alcohol, teen pregnancy, peer pressure.
One of the characters is gay, and provides some important insights into the often-bullied plight of those who are different within the high school world. In the midst of all this, their parents, friends–and yes, their youth pastor/teacher is present to counsel and accompany. I’ve used Glee in conversation with students and shown clips in class. I commend its viewing for all youth pastors.
Well, at least the first two seasons. I’ve been watching the episodes so far this season, and been rather disappointed. Many of the major characters have become grating (Finn/Rachel), mean (Santana/Quinn/Mercedes), or uninterestingly bizarre (Puck, Brittany, the new Irish guy). The hilarious Sue Sylvester has become shrill, and Will Schuester seems much more disconnected from his adolescent charges. It has been an unfortunate turn.
In short, I don’t like these people anymore. They have become caricatures of themselves, in some ways, and so negative and overwhelmingly angsty that there is little joy remaining. I like people, and I find teenagers to be rather exciting. I’m just not sure these characters are teenagers. Or even real people.
What will come of this? We’ll have to see this season. I hope they can right their ship, because at its best, Glee can be a powerful snapshot (and driver) of the modern world of teenagers. If I’m right about it being like youth ministry, it might even give us some pointers.