Skip to content

OMG GLEE: The Rocky Horror Picture Show Disastrophe

In Glee’s ongoing mission to swallow large swaths of popular culture and extrude out the pink coils of chicken sludge they call “entertainment,” this week they did Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Don’t dream it, be it” Rocky Horror urges its viewers, and Glee got it half right. Here is a partial! incomplete! list of complaints:

  • The show spent an entire season showing us in great detail how mysophobic Emma is, how devoted she is to staying within her bubble . But now, in the second season, she starts dating John Stamos’ Carl and her symptoms become more manageable. Finally! A vindication of pelvic massage for the treatment of hysteria! I mean, she’s a tightly-wound, virginal woman; of course the problem was her vagina, and OF COURSE the solution was Uncle Jesse’s dick.

  • Early on in the episode Mike volunteers to play Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but a few scenes later he says his parents won’t allow him to play a “tranny.” Mercedes takes the role, delivering a show stopping version of “Sweet Transvestite,” but the word “transsexual” is replaced with “sensational.” For Glee, transpeople are punchlines, not anyone the show needs to actually fucking think about. While doing Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical whose entire message is about accepting people’s sexuality and gender.
  • Can we just cut our losses and rename this show Chord Overstreet in Tiny Gold Shorts? Clearly, he is fanservice and I don’t even care; that man has got some high speed DSLs. However, as much as I appreciated seeing his abs, I didn’t care for the oddly-specific diet regimen he blurts out before showing them or the comically small weight Artie was holding. Artie’s a paraplegic, pushing himself everywhere in his wheelchair, lifting himself in and out of it dozens of times a day, and THAT is the biggest weight he’s lifting? That weight is a clear signal to the audience that Artie doesn’t belong in the locker room and  is only there to provide comic relief. And that is fucked.
  • Then we come to the next bit of fanservice: Brittany and Santana. While I appreciate their including queer ladies in the series, having those queer ladies be high school cheerleaders is a little too on-the-nose. Although, I was really proud of them for working the phrase “scissoring” into last weeks episode. Nothing I like better than implied tribadism on a prime time television show. It moves the image away from sexy ladies fondling their sexy ladyparts while pining for a man, and towards actual, occurs-in-the-world lesbian sex.
  • With all the build-up about Finn being concerned with his weight, his abdominals were pretty defined. Hopefully the show is moving towards an arc about eating disorders, but this episode is essentially about how hideous guys are when they aren’t fanatical about their diet and exercise, but even if they are, that’s no reason for them to stop hating their own body.

Glee has a nasty habit of removing the message from anything it covers, watering it down until it lacks all subtlety and nuance, and then just telling you what the entire episode was about at the end anyway. I actually felt insulted at the pat, “we’re all outcasts” spin they put on the complicated message of Rocky Horror Picture Show, especially after the trans erasure, the ableism, and the assorted fuckery going on in this episode. Like, yeah, a lot of these characters are outcasts. What the fuck are you doing to change any of that?


  1. Abigail wrote:

    Glee‘s been undermining its root for the underdog message from day one, just by fielding gorgeous, talented young people and insisting that they’re the dregs of their high school, or by littering its cast with characters who aren’t straight, white, and able-bodied, then sidelining them in favor of the characters who are. And, as you say, every so often the show pats itself on the shoulder for its inclusiveness, even though it doesn’t really exist.

    Can I, as a substitute for this show, recommend one that I hope you’re watching anyway? This week’s episode of The Good Wife was essentially a Tiger Beatdown post made into an hour of TV.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  2. Crito wrote:

    Garland, this is absolutely wonderful. I’m mad, and I didn’t even see the episode. Succinct, incisive, bite-size. Consider it Google Reader-shared.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Ellie wrote:

    “I actually felt insulted at the pat, “we’re all outcasts” spin they put on the complicated message of Rocky Horror Picture Show, especially after the trans erasure, the ableism, and the assorted fuckery going on in this episode.”

    And: “And, as you say, every so often the show pats itself on the shoulder for its inclusiveness, even though it doesn’t really exist.”

    I told a friend of mine that I wasn’t a huge fan of the show, and his response was, “Oh, you’re one of those people that’s pissed that Artie can walk?” And then he went on a diatribe about how I probably wouldn’t insist that gay actors can’t play straight characters…without ever acknowledging the paralogy of that argument. There are no physical “signifiers” of homosexuality. Physiognomists only wish there were.

    So yeah, I agree with you, Garland, and you, Abigail. But we can try convincing Glee fans of this. *sigh*

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  4. brigidkeely wrote:

    I watched the episode while also running herd on a 19 month old, so missed a lot of like. Like, I had no idea why there wasn’t a man playing Dr. Frank-n-Furter. It made me wonder about the transgressiveness of a confident Black women presenting herself in a confidently sexual way… Black women are so frequently presented as overly sexed jezebel whores, you know? But she was there, she handled it, she has a great voice, her costume was awesome and she looked great in it… but there’s a LOT of dudes in the show. None of them could skew gender roles by playing the part? What about Artie? How transgressive would it be to sexualize a disabled person, who are so frequently presented as sexless and powerless?

    Artie and the tiny weights bugged me, too. His arms are how he gets around. I don’t watch the show regularly so I actually checked to see if he was in a powered wheel chair of if it’s manual.

    I was really creeped out by the male teacher telling the female teacher that her current boyfriend is “what she needs… RIGHT NOW” because of the, you know, healing power of his p-due and also “right now” implies that they will inevitably break up or be broken up, and male teacher will be waiting in the wings, all Nice Guy, to sweep up her broken pieces. Ugh ugh ugh.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Sarah TX wrote:

    “Sensational transylvania”? That. does. not. make. sense.

    It’s like when I was like 9 and doing childrens theater and they’d replace all the naughty lyrics because we were 9 and presumably shouldn’t be talking about how we’re lousy with virginity, so we’d say we were lousy with integrity.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Leah wrote:

    I think your larger points are correct, but I wanted to quibble with two specific points:

    Emma isn’t having sex with Stamos and is not being healed by his magical penis. In fact, his patience and obvious enjoyment at dating her (and efforts to find sensual, non-sex activities like RHPS) is a marked contrast to Will last season. Once he found out Emma was a virgin and wasn’t comfortable having sex with him, he immediately broke off sensual activities and treated her reluctance as an unreasonable obstacle. I’m much happier to see her with Stamos.

    Second, I know Santana and Brittney may be a little fanservice, but, as a bi girl, I’m really delighted to see happy queer girls in prime time. They’re adorable. Not to mention, their lighter storylines do promote the idea that a queer life can be a happy one, in contrast to Kurt’s heartfelt and slightly tragic storylines.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  7. AnthroK8 wrote:

    Oh, I really don’t like Glee, for just these reasons.

    Thank you, for a Tigerbeatdown Takedown.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Meg wrote:

    I could not believe that “tranny” was fine to say, but “transexual” wasn’t. I’m glad you noticed the “tiny weights” thing too; how ridiculous was that?

    I have stopped watching the show, but one of my friends was hosting a Rocky party. I couldn’t believe they didn’t do “I’ll Make You a Man” in the locker room; it was this perfect contrived set up. Then I realized that that would have involved homosexual und… well, overtones, and apparently that’s not okay. How they managed to do Rocky Horror without ever suggesting that men aren’t all straight I will never know.

    I was also super-disgusted by them turning the anthem of female sexual agency and aggression into a manipulative sexual exploitation scene. Way to miss the point!

    I’d love to see Mercedes do the full production, but fundamentally a show about aggressive, bisexual women is never going to have the same capacity to make straight men as uncomfortable as a show about aggressive, bisexual men.

    I’m going back to rewatching Battlestar Galactica on Netflix now. It may not have musical numbers, but at least it isn’t appropriate queer culture and straighting it up.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  9. Sadly, I would love to love Glee. I adore Lea Michelle and the Brittany/Santana storyline makes me all happy and excited and quivery that theirs will end up being the show’s big romance.

    But the Will Schue character creeps me out. The way he inserts himself into sexualized high school performances just… well, wouldn’t he have been sacked long before now?

    Add the rest of the pile of ugh described in this post, and I’m almost done… just… Brittany! Santana! Can’t we please just ditch the rest and have a show about them?

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  10. Sooz wrote:

    “Like, yeah, a lot of these characters are outcasts. What the fuck are you doing to change any of that?”

    Oh, silly Garland, don’t you know that outcasts are that way because that’s how the world works? If we started accepting them, who would we look down on?

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  11. Jennifer wrote:

    Well, the Emma/Uncle Jesse thing’s been covered nicely, so I won’t go there. Ditto Brittany and Santana.

    I was quite annoyed that a girl played Frank. No offense meant to Mercedes, but it was irritating to have that character of all others de-trans’d. Even worse, I read that John Stamos was SUPPOSED to be doing Frank, but then the network didn’t want to let him do it.

    I suspect a lot of this stuff that pissed people off was network-y stuff. Like having high schoolers talk about or play transsexuals or admit that they exist– I could imagine a real Ohio high school having to sanitize that, so it didn’t faze or surprise me. Don’t forget that Sue was also around “changing the script” and being nosy and looking for dirt for her Emmy.

    As for Artie and weightlifting: I can’t speak for what it’s like for a dude to lift weights, but I’ve gone to weights classes for years and most people start out small when they haven’t done it before. Lifting your own body weight is a different experience than doing bicep curls in reps. So it didn’t throw me off as being out of character for someone who hasn’t done it before. Him lifting huge weights in the “Stronger” fantasy surprised me more, but then again, it was fantasy.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  12. Mike wrote:

    It’s getting harder and harder to enjoy Glee by stubbornly focusing on its redeeming qualities and trying to ignore its nagging shortcomings.

    The “transsexual” omission really bothered me. They can show Mr. Schue gyrating on stage for his students and attempting to seduce a women in a healthy relationship but it’s too much to ask for them to NOT erase the trans community. They went out of their way to placate “family values” critics that ultimately don’t even have any influence on the show’s ratings. WTF!? Even if they did get attacked by someone with influence, they easily could have defended themselves by arguing loyalty to the original script (and they wouldn’t even have to acknowledge that ZOMG trans people exist).

    ALSO: This show is supposed to be CAMP and GAY. WHUT is with all of the straight romance? Why is there only one out gay character and why is it that he has to be Forever Alone? Of course there’s Santana and Brittany, but their relationship seems to only give credence to the idea that lesbianism is just “experimentation” and that girl-girl relationships are for the pleasure of straight men (cheerleaders? really?).

    GAHHH. Great post.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  13. Nora wrote:

    I love Glee and the discussion that comes out of Glee, even though I think Glee is pretty crappy sometimes.

    However! I love Brittany and Santana’s relationship. I think it’s because while Kurt feels like he’s supposed to be telling the Gay Experience For Teens, they’re just, you know, fucking around with their, well, slutty bi selves. It also gives Brittany some depth, which is kinda nice.

    Also did you notice they changed a bunch of the lines in Touch-A Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me too? That was weird.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  14. Jay wrote:

    Agh! Yes, all of the above. I want to like this show so, so much, but I can barely make it through an episode any more. The Mercedes-as-Frank thing, while awesome, highlighted something that has been bothering me since the first season: why the HELL does everyone just ASSUME that Mercedes can’t be lead anything? The whole first season was about how everything will completely! fall! apart! if the pretty white kids can’t get their shit together, and the whole time, it’s like, ‘Hello? You have an INCREDIBLY TALENTED female singer SITTING RIGHT THERE.’ And even now, nobody even THINKS of giving Janet to Mercedes; she has to ask Shue, with this really heartbreaking sort of humility, if she can maybe have a part that’s traditionally played by a man. Because that’s the only way she will ever get to be anything but a background singer. AUUUUUGH.

    Also? Can Shue just leave the show? Because he crossed the line from irritating to actually creepy and upsetting a while ago, and I for one am really ready to be done with what.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  15. masagoroll wrote:

    I am hoping so much that the Brittany/Santana relationship will take a turn toward something actually deep and positive. I love their interactions, but I hate how it seems like Santana thinks they are just fooling around meaninglessly/for the enjoyment of guys (i.e. “Buy us dinner at Breadstix and then watch us make out”). I want them to have an actual romance! That does not involve titillating high school boys!

    I was so pissed off/weirded out that they changed “Transsexual” to “Sensational.” I mean, I haven’t even seen Rocky Horror, and I knew that it was “Transsexual, Transylvania.” It’s like the show has these weird mental blocks. Like, GOD FORBID a man dress up in drag. GOD FORBID someone actually says transsexual like it’s a real thing instead of a punchline! GOD FORBID the lead male gay character get any romantic action, because it’s not as exciting/acceptable as sexxxy cheerleaders.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  16. Andy wrote:

    This was probably the worst episode of Glee ever. The omission of “transsexual” from Dr. Frank’s song was probably the moment I went from not minding this episode (which is already bad, I loves me some Rocky Horror, so this should have been my favorite episode ever) to hating it with a violent passion. Way to pretty much miss the point of the character.

    I did LOVE Chris Colfer’s Riffraff though. Of all the people involved he seemed to really get the character and know what to do with him.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  17. I loved seeing Mercedes volunteer for Frank-n-Furter. Not just because she rocked it, but because she asked, and nobody had even considered gender-bending it (well, gender-bending anything. The show, it does not know the ways of school plays.), let alone having her as a lead.

    (I know, the gender-bending in this case is incredibly problematic, because it … put a female character into an already feminized role, effectively erasing the intended ‘whoa!’ of having it played by a man. Considering the way the Glee-verse works though, it still seems like a tiny step forward.)

    It didn’t hurt that she absolutely rocked it. I also loved seeing her sexy and confident (even if I do feel a bit skeevy about the fact that the character is supposed to be in High School. Riley is my age, though, so it’s not tooooo weird), strutting around in clothes I totally covet (the corset! the boots!) and knocking the singing out of the park. She managed to keep the aura of power and unpredictability that makes the character so riveting (even if, yes, it’s still a terribly problematic that she had to be the one doing it).

    Chris Colfer was brilliant playing Kurt as Riffraff, as he is with everything. While Kurt has his issues (which are now being contextualized in a way that acknowledges their problematic nature and has me interested in how they’ll play out), Colfer’s portrayal is always spot on. Then again, the part was written just for him.

    I’m sad that Stamos didn’t get to play Dr. Frank-n-Furter, though. I thought that was where they were going to go, for a moment; have Schue shunt Carl over to Frank-n-Furter and then take the role of Eddie for himself. In a less gendered/sexualized/complex play, he would surely have grabbed the lead himself when it came up, just to show off. I agree that he’s moved beyond ‘sympathetic but interestingly flawed’ to ‘get thee to the HR department, stat, so you can be assigned somewhere more isolated.’ When he’s doing his pure teacherly thing, leading the club in practice and whatnot, he’s usually perfectly fine, but his personal life makes me feel kinda icky, all the way through the screen.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
  18. Emily wrote:

    I’ve been a lover of Glee, though it’s far from perfect. I love it the way I love B-movies, for being terrible and over-the-top. But this had to have been the worst episode ever.

    Nthing everyone’s comments about Mr Schuester being The Creepiest Guy Ever Fire Him Immediately Before He Fondles Another Kid. I was squirming with abject disgust at his behavior for most of this episode. Isn’t he supposed to be likable? He hasn’t been for a while now.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  19. rebecca wrote:

    Can I just say the thing that makes me maddest about Glee that I haven’t heard discussed anywhere – all the (straight) dudes play instruments and none of the women do. Every single straight male main character has picked up an instrument without any explanation as to how or when they learned to play. And while I’ve spotted a lady in the anonymous bands that pop up out of nowhere, I think the closest we’ve gotten with the female leads was blonde guy putting Quinn’s hand on his guitar. I don’t think Kurt’s gotten to play either.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  20. Shobhna wrote:

    Absolutely agreed. And I didn’t notice the bit with the weights Artie was using, good point.

    This show is silly on so many levels, and the fact that thousands upon thousands (oh wait, their viewership is in millions, right?) of teenage girls and boys are watching it week after week, worries me even more about the concepts that the show is teaching these kids. I know defenders of the show have claimed that the show is supposed to be for fun and not a moral lesson, but there is a reason this show is being aimed at a certain demographic and made a certain way, and the producers are quite blatant about it (the amount of contemporary music, for instance, that’s been used in this season. That Chord kid playing “Billionaire” as an audition song? Are they kidding us?).

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  21. Jian wrote:

    And this is why I fucking love feminist critique. <3

    I agree with what everyone has said. Shue needs off. Mercedes and Kurt both noted his ickiness by running over to the Cheerios and I loved that scene.

    But I wish (even through all the problematicness of it all) that they could have focused on Mercedes' fatness too. And she looked -smokin'- in her outfit. She's full bodied, yet no emphasis of it in this episode.

    I'm also troubled by some of the Gleek community. Particularly gay males. I've read some Glee smutt/porn. All contained Finn, most contained Shue, especially Shue/Finn (first season, pre-break up no less) and sometimes throw Puck in. They ignore Kurt who is canonically gay until this one guy wrote something that starred Artie and -every- guy. Even then, he was the only one to mention Kurt existed… Gee, I wonder why the gender normative masculine bodies get favor over the effeminate/disabled bodies… *insert sarcasm dripping off the walls here*

    And has anyone noticed the Beist? (can't spell). I think this is her first role as a not-object. I can't help but be reminded how terribly body fascist TV/the media can be. The unconventionally pretty (I think she looks pretty) woman doesn't get decent roles while the "conventionally" pretty woman does.

    This can easily be broken down into to race/gender expression/ability/class/body size/shape etc.

    Speaking of that, not enough love to Tina that isn't stereotypical! I loved her first season from the little I got from her (gothic, shy, unconventional), but now she's turning into the azn stereotype and it's making me sad… And how they lumped all asians together…

    Dear Goddess, there are times when Glee makes me want to cry…

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink
  22. ree wrote:

    Thanks Garland, I’ve been aching for a review that shared my dislike for this episode. It really didn’t live up to any expectations and although there were a few good renditions of the songs (Mercedes was awesome!) I had the feeling that only the ever-great costumes and decorating departments had even watched RHPS beforehand – the writers and directors clearly didn’t (or they drew really strange conclusions from what they saw). The changed lyrics to sweet transvestite and touch-a-touch-a-touch me really bugged me too – since when would be transsexual a bad word?

    But I disagree about your take on the Brittany-Santana relationship (or at least I hope to, if they ever decide to develop that storyline): as a bisexual woman I had more than my fair share of flings (and borderline realtionships) with girls that wouldn’t mind doing it for the boys. I can really relate to Brittany, and I don’t get why everyone sees her thing with Santana as the “happy queer friendship”. I sure hope they write her to kick Santanas (albeit very handsome) ass and find someone who loves her and doesn’t use her as bait or for recreational sex only.

    Also, I’m pretty sure Artie would have a killer upper-body from pushing his chair around all day (and because the actor is a dancer in real life) – so maybe he’ll take his shirt of someday and we all (and Tina) are in for a surprise.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink