Does Kurt Hummel Hurt or Help The Gay Cause?


Regular readers of Remote Patrolled will know I write about Glee a lot!

At its best Fox’s hit high school series is easily one of the top shows on TV with sharp writing, Sue Sylvester stealing every scene and some truly transformative musical moments – just witness the cast’s recent terrific rendition of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. And since its return at the start of April the show has been on a ratings high – almost doubling its previous recordings and dominating singles and albums charts.

But for me one of the best things about Glee is just how unashamedly gay the whole enterprise is. Unlike that other bastion of teen musicality – the High School Musical series, which paid lip service to diversity (‘We’re All In This Together’) but couldn’t even comprehend the idea of a gay teen in its cast (yes, Ryan Evans, that means you!) – Glee has always had a sly and subversive streak from the start.

With an out married lesbian as the show’s biggest star (Jane Lynch – glorious on screen and off), a gay man as its newest heartthrob Jesse St James, out show creator Ryan Murphy and the playful bisexuality of BFF’s Santana and Brittany – Glee is clearly a very, very gay show.

But at the center of the gay Glee universe is Chris Colfer as Kurt – the out teenager with a penchant for fashion, musicals and moisturizer.

And there’s the rub you see – because as much as I love Kurt (and equally Chris Colfer himself who just sparkles in interviews) I worry that one of the most important gay role models on TV is rapidly becoming a rather unlikable stereotype.

Like so many gay characters on TV (see my recent Modern Family post – FUNNY UNCLES), Kurt plays the ‘role’ of the sassy gay friend (with Mercedes as the sassy black friend) who loves all the things gay men are supposed to love – the theater, dramatics, bitchy one liners. Make him Latino and suddenly you have Justin from Ugly Betty. Hmm – doesn’t sound too diverse does it?

In recent storylines we’ve had Kurt giving Sue and Rachel makeovers (because of course that’s what all gay men specialize in!), camping up the football squad (since obviously a gay man couldn’t really play football) and dressing like Beyonce in the ‘Single Ladies’ unitard (how long until Kurt actually cross dresses in an episode I wonder?)

All fine in their own way – but for a show as subversive as Glee I wish it hadn’t opted for such obvious storylines and resolutions. How refreshing it would have been if Kurt’s makeovers had been disasters, or if he’d turned out to be a darn good football player and actually enjoyed the game? Now that’s different.

Above all else I want the writers to kill off the truly horrible Kurt The Stalker storyline. Having Kurt mooning over and manipulating Finn, probably the most heterosexual character on the show, isn’t just sad – it’s downright weird and kinda creepy. And worst of all it reinforces another key stereotype that’s been used for decades now – that all gay men are out to ‘turn’ all straight men. I honestly worry about the messages this storyline sends out and hope it doesn’t play out much longer.

I hate to put pressure on the Glee producers as they should undoubtedly be commended in many, many ways. But all gay characters on TV are hugely important and carry a lot of weight – especially with young viewers. For a generation of teenagers Kurt is going to be the most identifiable gay man on TV for the next few years – and unfortunately he isn’t massively advancing the cause.

Sure he’s one character and can’t be expected to embody everything but I just wish Kurt could be a little less Jack McFarland at times (Will and Grace) and a bit more Jack McPhee (Dawson’s Creek). Less show-tunes and more swagger please…

But what do you think? Are you a Kurt fan? Do you think he perpetuates a stereotype – or subverts it? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

And don’t forget – for LOTS more GLEE coverage just click on the tag in the right hand side bar…