Posts tagged music
I posit that Glee is a fantasy television series, in that it can be fruitfully evaluated using a focus on its non-mimetic narrative style to both comment on the traditions of the musical genre (especially the Hollywood Musical) but also in discussing “Music as Magic” and the way that said magic can be transformative, liberating, and revelatory.
From the ubiquitous piano player — “He’s always just around” to the fact that in Glee, seemingly everyone can instantly learn arrangements and choreagraphy and the elaborate fantasy sequences which bleed in and out of the diegesis, we have what could be described by some as Slipstream, some as Urban Fantasy, and possibly even Magical Realism (though less so on that one, given what I see as a lack of a definitive tie to the fairly culturally-specific tradition of Magical Realism).
Why does this matter?
1) If Glee is a fantasy series, then the places/times when it diverts from realism can be seen not as a violation of believability inspiring a rolling of the eyes, but a demonstration of the times when life is not enough and extra-normal storytelling is required. This brings back my beloved Etienne Decroux quote:
“One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage.” — Etienne Decroux
And to paraphrase my former professor John Schmor, Musicals are a complaint that life should be more marvelous — why don’t we just burst into song when mere speech can no longer contain our emotional intensity?
2) It allows Glee to be more easily analyzed in the context of other SF/F musicals such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling,” Fringe’s “Brown Betty” and so on.
3) It allows the use of the scholarship regarding the metaphors of the Fantastic to be applied t the series. It also enables scholars to bring to bear Samuel R. Delany’s notion of SF/F as a literature that allows for the “literalization of the metaphor” — music is soul-healing, music is empowering, music enables people to express themselves in ways they had previously/traditionally not been able.
These are merely preliminary thoughts. Look for more in time, as I believe this approach is the one which allows me to most effectively analyze the series.
FOX’s new offering Glee debuted a pilot episode earlier in the year and made it available online throughout the summer, and responded to initial positive responses with a very strong and pervasive advertising campaign which continues even now.
It’s impressive to think that a weekly musical television show could get this positive a response, but there are a lot of reasons to love the show.
1) If you are a musical theatre fan, the chance to see it on network primetime is inspiring and delightful.
2) If you aren’t a musical theatre fan, the show offers constant laughs with compelling laughs.
3) Jane Lynch portrays the shows main antagonist, the coach of the national-attention-winning cheerleading team (aka the Cheerios). Lynch is given reign to cut loose and portray a vicious competitive scheming selfish heel of a character — and she revels in it. Lynch’s Coach Sylvester is one of the strongest parts of the show.
4) The way that the musical numbers are integrated into the show are mostly diegetic, given the focus on a glee club, but there are some breakout fantasy numbers, such as “Bust Your Windows” when diva-licious Mercedes is rejected by the fashion-forward Kurt, or head Cheerio Quinn’s crazy-go-nuts anthem railing against her treatment by her boyfriend and others in general
5) The showrunners and writers keep on finding new ways of eliciting laughter and delight from the audience. Last week, we had Jane Lynch in a zoot suit, “I Could Have Danced All Night” sung in a dress shop by the adorable Jayma Mays while dancing, and the glorious Slushee War.
6) The show’s musical selection ranges from classic rock “Don’t Stop Believing” to contemporary hip-hop “Gold Digger” and a strong but not overwhelming sampling of musical theatre numbers such as “Maybe This Time” and “Tonight.” Upcoming numbers include “Defying Gravity” from Wicked (not the TV show by the same name — that’s another blog post).
7) Characters originally introduced in an antagonistic role are frequently fleshed out into sympathetic characters, including head cheerio Quinn, coach Tanaka, football bully “Puck”, Will’s wife Terri, and even the dread Sue Sylvester has her pensive moments. Few characters are universally good or universally villainous — our protagonists are flawed, lie and cheat for understandable if misguided reasons, and generally act like high schoolers — even the adults.
8) Despite this ambiguity, it’s very hard not to root for the Glee kids, and most see the dissolution of Will’s marriage as an inevitable precursor to the more-inevitable union of charming Glee coach Will and adorably OCD guidance counselor Emma.
It’s Both Good and Popular! Amazing!
There are more reasons to love the show, and Glee’s popularity is written nearly everywhere — critical praise abounds, it consistently trends in the top 10 topics on Twitter the nights of its episode airings, and most importantly, it’s ratings are consistently strong, consistently earning a 4.X rating and 7 share and a 3.X/9 among the coveted 18-49 demographic. The show was the first new show of the season to (publically) receive an order for the back 9 episodes — and the first DVD set (collecting episodes 1-13) has already been solicited). Another important facet of the show’s success is that the musical numbers from the show are made available on iTunes and consistently reach best-seller levels in that market. The show is another example of Most Repeatable Programming (ala Steven Johnson), where small moments/reaction shots may be missed without multiple viewings, and it’s easy to see why people would watch and re-watch (including Hulu) given the selfless-smile-inducing musical numbers.
If Glee is able to maintain its current balance of drama and humor, delightful musical numbers and ridiculous antics, it’s likely to survive for several years. In times of economic and social instability (recession, massive conflict over health care reform, gay rights, etc.), a happy, inspiring show is an easy pick for success.
After all, as the dearly departed Irene Adler, long-time coach of the McKinley Glee Club (inc. during Schuester’s time) saif,
“Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy.”
I’ve maintained for a few years now that the world needs more high-profile musicals. It’s certainly due to my own bias, but every so often, a show/film/whatever that reminds me why I love the genre.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes about creating art, from Etienne Decroux, known for his Corporeal Mime style:
One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage. — Etienne Decroux
In addition to its own argument, any musical can be seen as an argument that we need more music and wonder in our lives — by positing a universe where people are able to delve into emotion and express it through song and dance.
Glee achieves this effect not by the unrealistic approach of expecting everyday people to burst into song in unison and perfectly execute choreagraphy that didn’t exist five seconds before, however. It contextualizes the musical theatre genre within actual musical theatre — in this case a High School Glee club in the fictional McKinley High School of Lima, OH.
The members of the Glee club are outcasts and outsiders who don’t fit in anywhere, as well as the odd-man-out for the outsiders — Finn Hudson (Cory Montieth) the quarterback of football squad, who has cultivated a love of music from an early age.
The show is quirky, cute, fun and inspirational, with compelling oddball characters well cast and well-performed. Especially outstanding are Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, the coach of the socially dominant “Cheerios” cheerleading squad, Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, self-styled ingenue, and Jayma Mays as Emma Pillsbury, the cute OCD school counselor with feelings for the Spanish-teacher director of the glee club.
In what I can only hope will be a tradition for the show, two pieces from the Pilot are available as iTunes downloads — a rival glee club’s rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and the McKinley glee club’s version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, well-chosen for its ability to be a theme not just for the pilot, but the whole show.
Glee is a quirky, oddball show full of underdogs. Initial response to the show is very positive, and there is a lot to be positive about. I encourage readers to look for the pilot episode on Fox.com and Hulu, then watch the show as it continues this fall.
The Cake is a Lie.
Underneath a clever physics game is gleeful homicidal glee with a cute voice. Valve’s Portal, originally packaged in with Half-Life: The Orange Box, is a gem of a game that earned countless accolades last year.
Portal takes the simple idea of a two-way portal gun and makes a whole (if short) game around it, showing off their physics engine and their dark sense of humor.
In Portal, the closest thing you get to a weapon is the portal gun, which can shoot at a plane and create a portal on that plane, which connects to the other end of the portal, which you also deploy. This lets you get up high to push buttons, or to send plasma balls around corners to activate switches, or to jump through the portal so you can jump through the portal again and use the accumulated velocity to jump up to new platforms. The game is a clear test of the user’s physics knowledge and critical/spatial problem solving skills.
I also think it should be used in Physics classes world-wide, as possible. The idea of vectors, conservation of momentum, and many other principles of physics are at work in Portal.
But if Portal were just a physics tutorial in game form, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun. Along the way, your guide/host/jailkeeper is GlaDOS, an erratic computer that talks you through the early puzzles, unraveling to reveal its sadistic streak and its nature as the architect of countless attempts on your character’s life. Physics experiments to test the portal gun and human ingenuity give way to the increasingly dangerous tests, where the player is prompted to design complex plans of layered portal use, planning several steps ahead.
Portal is the exact kind of video game that Steven Johnson (of Everything Bad is Good For You) declares as laudable — not only does the player have to explore and probe the world of the game, they are forced to think critically, implement their spatial awareness/intelligence, and are rewarded for their cleverness but also their curiosity, as occasional glimpses behind the curtains reveal previous test-subjects desperate scrawlings on the walls between the test areas, writings that indicate GlaDOS’s hidden agenda, the virtues of the companion cube (a weighted cube that is used as the only other tool at the character’s disposal), and most of all, that
The Cake is a Lie.
“Still Alive,” the game’s theme song, has become a geek music classic, makings its way through the livejournal/blogosphere shortly after the game’s release, and helping to catapult Geek Rocker Jonathan Coulton (who wrote the song) into the limelight within the subculture. Another indicator of “Still Alive”‘s fan appeal can be seen in the fact that it was released as a free downloadable track for the game Rock Band.
The game is now available for download on XBox Live arcade, which is how I played it. It is more than a mere tech demo wrapped in a thin game shell, and that elevation is thanks to tone and style– if GlaDOS had been unironic and uninflected, she/it would have been just another stereotypical computer-gone-evil. Instead, she has earned a place as an iconic computer-gone-evil, appearing beside favorites such as HAL9000
Everything interesting about Portal adds up to a charmingly demented game that will make you laugh while you’re running around trying not to get blown up and figuring out how to arrange portals so you can get to the next room.