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110529 Glee and the Pro-Life Message

Glee and the Pro-Life Message

Almost invariably, I watch new hit television shows and movies a couple of years after their release, so my entertainment opinions typically come a day late and a dollar short. That was definitely true when I just watched the first season of Glee (which aired May, 2009 through June, 2010) on Netflix.
What struck me immediately was, of course, how oddly entertaining it is to watch Jane Lynch yell at people, which comprises a sizable portion of the show. However, what then stood out was something that may have gone rather unnoticed: Glee is a strongly pro-life show.
The head of the high school’s abstinence club, Quinn, becomes sexually active, and the whole season spans her unwanted pregnancy and resulting ostracizing at school and home. She rules out abortion immediately and never really revisits the decision despite a mounting number of reasons to do so.
Meanwhile, Glee focuses on two other pro-life messages. First, it emphasizes fatherhood. For several episodes, both Finn (Quinn’s chaste boyfriend who is too dumb to realize that he is not the father) and Puck (with whom Quinn was unfaithful) compete to take care of Quinn. Being teenagers, both do this awkwardly, and neither really knows how to be a father and partner to a pregnant woman. Nevertheless, they both unambiguously see the role as honorable, and each is jealous of the other, in one episode actually fighting over who can pay more child support. Second, Glee takes the unusual step of putting on its cast two actors with Down syndrome: Jean, the older sister of Lynch’s character and the only person to whom Lynch is loving, and Becky, a student on the cheerleading squad. Neither are regular characters, but both are clearly there to send a message of respect.
All in all, the show is something of a nightmare for our pro-choice friends since it depicts an abortion-free world in which people make up for their increased struggles with increased kindness. Abortion probably could have erased half of the challenges facing the characters, but that road is instinctively foreclosed to them. While the show never actually says that abortion should be illegal, its total absence is the functional equivalent.
Of course, Glee is not pro-chastity (although several main characters specifically remain chaste), and there are odd sexual encounters between the students and within the faculty. The show is not perfect. However, these are not necessarily seen positively. Besides, we sometimes forget that pro-lifers and pro-choicers do not really disagree about pregnancy prevention. The pro-life and pro-choice philosophies compete only in the context of an already-occurred unwanted pregnancy (whether it is unwanted at all or has created a child with an unwanted physical condition).
Given all this, I am disappointed that the show has not received more acclaim within pro-life circles. The reason for this, however, is unfortunately obvious: given U.S. citizens’ present preoccupation with bundling ourselves into arbitrary groupings of beliefs, it is untenable to support a pro-life show if it is simultaneously a non-heteronormative show, and Glee is certainly that. Kurt, a persecuted homosexual, is a main character, and all of the glee (musical performance) club members are regularly accused of being LGBT. The show emphatically and repeatedly criticizes this and backs up non-heterosexuals.
There is an important lesson here for pro-lifers. I will never forget attending the major annual pro-life walk in San Francisco a few years ago and watching the counter-protesters rather ridiculously chant at us, “right-wing bigots go wayracist, sexist, anti-gay.” Just a few seconds of reflection on this makes obvious that conservative, heteronormative, white men comprise somewhere around just 10%-20% of the voting-age population, so the strength of the pro-life movement reaches far beyond that little niche. The first two charges—of being racist and sexist—were facially wrong even at that moment, given the large number of women and non-whites in my crowd. However, the third—of being “anti-gay”—was at least more interesting. Certainly, one could not visually tell how the sexual orientations broke down on both sides, so it was harder to disprove.
Glee, however, has now done so, demonstrating just how natural it is to be pro-life and non-heteronormative. This is a good thing because polls are clearly now showing that heteronormativity is in decline, and within a generation, it may well be that the pro-life community will be majority non-heteronormative. Glee’s first season is facilitating that transition. Notice, for instance, this exchange between Burt, Kurt’s dad, and Finn after Finn uses the word “faggy” in Kurt’s presence:

Burt You use the “N” word?

Finn Of… of course not.

Burt Yeah, how about “retard”? You call that nice girl in the [cheerleading squad] with Kurt, you call her a “retard”?

Finn Becky? No, she’s my friend. She’s got Down syndrome. I’d never call her that. That’s cruel.

Burt But you think it’s okay to come in my house and say “faggy”?

Finn But that’s not what I meant…

Burt I know what you meant! What, you think I didn’t use that word when I was your age? You know, some… some kid gets clocked in [sports] practice, we tell him to “stop being such a fag; shake it off.” We meant it exactly the way you meant it: that being gay is wrong and it’s some kind of punishable offense.
This captures the generational shift, but it also ties itself right back into Glee’s pro-life ethic. Recognizing the validity of an LGBT individual and that of someone with Down syndrome is a very viable context into which the pro-life argument can exist going forward. The same certainly cannot be said on the pro-choice side where an LGBT person’s prospects are quite bleak if they are grouped with Down syndrome individuals. Perhaps the day will come when we can genetically detect a fetus’s sexual orientation, and then under what philosophy will LGBT people thrive, the pro-life one or the pro-choice one? This is not to say that pro-choicers are themselves necessarily heteronormative, but just as they have sanctioned the proposition that Down syndrome fetuses may be spared existence, perhaps the same favor will be extended to LGBT fetuses. If being bullied in high school or growing up in a more heteronormative society elsewhere is just too painful, perhaps a third party should step in and erase that experience. So goes the pro-choice narrative. At that point, maybe the only way to be pro-gay will be to be pro-life.

We pro-lifers should take our victories when we get them, so let us declare victory on Quinn’s pregnancy (to a girl named Beth who gets adopted). Of course, I have not seen the later episodes yet (and will be waiting on Netflix for that), but at least I know that for one year, a major pro-life message was out there for all to see. I tip my hat to Glee.