Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paving the Road to Hell, Show Choir Style.

Oh, the best laid plans of mice & (rich, gay) men: how often they go So. Terribly. Agley. Case in point: this past week's Glee, which was a tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show—or, at least, it was supposed to be.

The basic conceit of the episode is that Mr. Scheuster, in pursuit of his lady-love, Emma, decides to mount a production of The Rocky Horror Show, after hearing that she & her new boyfriend Carl (played by a surprisingly not-repulsive John Stamos) frequent the local midnight screenings. Of course, this presents a plethora of problems—the least of which being, at a high school where Kurt is afraid to sing a duet with another boy for fear of fall-out, there is likely to be precious little acceptance of the queer-proud, sex-infused Rocky. Anyhow, chaos ensues, &, because this is corny-as-a-corn Glee, we're all spoonfed some super-precious pearls of Wisdom.

So, what have we learned by episode's end?

1) Never wear lingerie in public, because Finn almost got suspended—or even onstage, as evidenced by Sam's change to a gold basketball uniform in the final number.

I mean, I understand (as would anyone who's not a character on a TV show) that walking down a high school hallway in your boxers is probably not the world's greatest plan—especially if, as we've already established, the intolerance of this high school is a weekly plot device—but Sam's costume change (&, hey, even those initial gold boyshorts—as opposed to the original) was just a bummer, & a frustrating final say.

2) It's okay for women to objectify men because of internet porn.
Yeah, I'm really not sure how that got in there either. Suffice it to say, Sam, Finn, & Artie start talking at the gym, because Finn is all self-conscious about "not having abs" (which is an expression I always find funny: we all have them; it's just that some people's stick out like dinosaur scales), & the response of Artie & Sam is that it's imperative for all boys to put themselves through impossible levels of self-deprivation & physical exertion, because girls now objectify them just as much as they objectify girls—because of internet porn.

We'll leave that last bit for a second, & focus on the idea—which is a personal pet peeve—that because men objectify women, it's the job of women everywhere to objectify men (which, of course, leads to the corollary that since men sleep around without emotion, it's the duty of the liberated woman to do the same). I mean, of course all women can say & fuck whatever & whomever they want (respectively). But can't we all agree that we would prefer these horrible, ridiculous, eminently mockable beauty contest constraints not be imposed on anyone? That serial, emotionally-detached sex can be kind of lame? That, now that boys are feeling the strain, the solution isn't to encourage them, to revenge them into the same superficial corner—but rather to make them recognize the insanity they've been imposing on us since the beginning of time, so ultimately everyone can just get over themselves?

If both genders could somehow have a caucus & agree that trying to measure up is exhausting, so we can both just cut it out, the world would be an eminently better place, I think. (Also, we don't objectify each other because of internet porn. It's because of advertising & our subsequently hyper-aestheticized value system, I say.)

3) Men dressing like women is not okay.

Really, Glee—there's no other way to read that one. Every available man was offered the chance to dress up as Frank, & each one—while emphasizing that they're totally fine with the idea of it, man, yeah, no big deal—turned it down. Even Kurt, who just last week did a number about "embracing both the male & female sides," declined. It is perhaps telling, though, that the number he's referring to was from Victor/Victoria, which, though undeniably fabulous, is yet another instance of female-as-male-as-female "drag." & thus we arrive at Amber Riley, & her, well, interesting turn as Dr. Frank N. Furter.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love her voice. I'm obsessed. I also think it was hearteningly in the Rocky spirit that she, in all her bodacious glory, pronounced confidence at looking hot a risqué costume. (Though what she wore was also far more covered than the original—but such quibbles are for nit-pickers.) What I absolutely cannot abide, though, in this little gender re-reversal, is that—well, first of all, they didn't change the gender of Rocky, as is customary at the midnight shows when there's a female Frank—but far more troubling was the alteration they made to Frank's introductory anthem, "Sweet Transvestite":

I'm just a sweet transvestite from sensational Transylvania.


First of all: "transsexual" is not a dirty word. In fact, it's a fucking technical term—far less colloquial or potentially "offensive" than the show's lengthy discourse on (& hyper-repetition of) "faggy"—let alone the wheelhouse of tired clichés they make these wilting plastic caricatures recite week after week. ("Puck-zilla"? Really, now.) Sure, you could make the argument that they switched it out because Amber Riley is not transsexual—but 1) she should have been (i.e., this part really should have been played by Kurt or some other technical XY), & 2) they just let her refer to herself as a "sweet transvestite" when she is showing no signs of transvestism in all that tacky pleather. So, I'll say it again: "transsexual" is not a dirty word, & to treat it like one is mind-blowingly offensive—ESPECIALLY in Rocky Fucking Horror of all contexts: utterly renouncing the central conceit of this paragon of genderfuck & outsider comfort.

Aside from that tirade of transphobic frustration, it's also just insanely lame—as were all the lyrical castrations: "I need a friendly man" instead of "you need a friendly hand"; "bad fretting" instead of "seat-wetting;" "if anything shows while you pose," not "grows"; on & on. ("Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me" was honestly just embarrassing.)

4) Rocky Horror, while perfectly liberating for adults, like Emma, should not be accessible to children—or if it is, it shouldn't be because adults "led them there."

It's a Don't Ask, Don't Tell kind of situation, I suppose—because while both Sue & Scheuster ultimately come to the decision that it was inappropriate for him to impose all this crazy sex stuff on these high school kids, they both agree that the point is prob'ly moot, because it's not like these kids don't know about all of this & more by their third year of high school. It's frustrating & more than a little patronizing—if not "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING"—to assume that any of this would be a revelation for these kids (who, in this very episode, have a discussion about the pervasiveness of internet porn)—a revelation in any way that isn't positive. I distinctly remember Rocky Horror being one of my first concrete understandings of alternative sexuality; the first time I went to the midnight show was perhaps the first time I was allowed to feel sexy, that my now-out friend dressed in drag. It's a show about liberation, of which teenagers (tangles of confused frustration, all) are absolutely in need.

Now, though I disagree that adults should never expose youth to anything sexy—because otherwise, the blind lead the blind, & norms are formed on ignorance & assumption (e.g., social life in middle school)—I do agree that what Mr. Scheu did was uncalled for, not because he led his students, Pied-Piperish, into a world of debauchery, but because he did it to advance his own personal agenda. For the second time this season (see, the Britney episode), the show has included a plotline about Will joining in the Glee performances in order to impress Emma—& both times, it's been equally sketchy, because both performances have been expressly sexually charged. Now, don't get me wrong: I've had my fair share of teacher-crushes, & Matt Morrison has to have something to do on this show—but extrapolated to real life, the situation verges on (or, is) creepy & ought to be far more noteworthy to the school board than, say, a subversive play.

5) Never put on a musical to impress a girl.

This is, in fact, true.

We'll end at the end—because, on this poorly written cookie-cutter power hour, that's where the moralizing always comes:

"Rocky Horror isn't about pushing boundaries or making the audience accept a certain rebellious point of view. ... It wasn't for envelope pushers. It was for outcasts. People on the fringes who had no place left to go, but who were searching for someplace, any place, where they felt like they belonged. Sound familiar?"

So says Morrison, with his scrunchy, saccharine face—& we are meant to sigh, & nod a sage nod: "The Glee kids are outcasts, too! How perfect this show is for them to perform!" Of course, some of us hardcore Rocky-ers might disagree—would assert that we rabidly want to push a genderqueer, sex-positive agenda, while squirming a little at the "someplace, anyplace"—the implication that Rocky could be a car wash club, that we're so lonely & desperate, we'd happily jump on any bandwagon—but these, again, are more a product of shoddy craftsmanship than anything else. (Every time that commercial quoting the review "Someone give these writers an Emmy already!" airs, I guffaw.)

The point is, the show seems to finally get it in these final moments—to understand that The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show is about finding yourself; about recognizing the queerness in all of us & celebrating those who are brave enough to bring it out; about expression & pride & not dreaming it, but being it. So, what do you say, Mr. Scheu?

"We're not doing it for an audience. We're doing it for ourselves."

Aaaaand, there it is. This—this—is the note they choose to end on: that Rocky Horror & its subject matter deserve to be hidden. I suppose the Glee writers think themselves mighty clever, of course—because even though the club isn't performing for the school, they're still performing for us, har har—but that's just the same puritanical doublespeak approach to sex & sexuality that our culture has always had—&, moreover, that Rocky Horror is directly lampooning. I mean, even when the John Stamos character turns down the role of Frank N. Furter (though, apparently, that's not what he had in mind), he explains it's because he only feels comfortable "getting freaky in the privacy of my own home." How many times has that very phrase been trotted out in service of a conservative agenda?

I guess my point is this: if you're doing a tribute, do a tribute. But if you're going to end up utterly & embarrassingly castrating the very soul of what you're attempting to glorify—either by performing it at a censoring, conservative high school or, ahem, on The Fox Network—then maybe it's better to just stay home & leave the canonizing of Rocky to those "outcasts" who use their Saturday nights as a hard-won escape from the judgment of heteronormative, body-conscious, underwear-as-outerwear-haters; who will fucking scream the word "transsexual," whether you like it or not—write it in blood & whipped cream across the backs of your eyelids—& never say they're sorry.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Sweet Transvestite—Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It's all part of the healing process... I'm seriously considering frequenting New York's midnight show this Friday to cleanse myself of all this "bad fretting"—though I worry that may only remove the cause. (But not. The Symptom!)

ALSO: This is how you make a proper tribute. (I recommend the entirety of The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show in the utmost.)

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