Message in a Bottle: Glee S02 E14

"It tastes like pink! It tastes like piiiiink!"

Last week I came to the realization that children, especially Justin Bieber-obsessed little girls, are watching Glee. This week I’m just confused. Yesterday’s episode dealt with alcohol awareness, the key word here being “awareness.” Instead of generally denouncing all forms of alcohol, this episode of Glee quite literally depicts glee club members becoming aware of the dangers of alcohol. Students are never explicitly told not to drink, but rather they are informed about specific issues like drunk driving, binge drinking, and underage drinking.

So I liked the message, but my internal Marshall McLuhan wants me to ask about its delivery system, specifically the children’s television show that dedicates 3/4 of an episode to entertaining and exciting depictions of alcohol, and only about 1/4 of an episode to the actual consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. When I think about the musical numbers, visual effects, and general sense of amusement that permeated this episode, I have to wonder if maybe the message was lost. Or at least buried under layers of saccharine, candy-coated fun.

When Rachel throws a boozy party and designated driver Finn discusses the “drunk girl archetypes” (I’m shocked he even knew that word), doesn’t it look like a great party? The glee club members are a little tipsy, but no one’s blackout drunk, vomiting into a house plant, or damaging the gay dads’ property. Hell, if I were still a teenager, that’s the kind of party I’d want to go to (and probably have attended–shout out to my unusually named bud from high school! Your parties were the best!) Near the end of the episode, in the drinking-can-have-horrifying-consequences scene, Brittany inadvertently vomits on Rachel during a Ke$ha song and dance number. But since this scene is played as comical rather than instructive, the message becomes obscured.

Even when glee club director Mr. Schuester addresses the members, his sobriety pledge is half-hearted. He tells the students that they shouldn’t drink to excess because it’s dangerous and illegal, but then he says they only have to adhere to the sobriety pledge until after the national glee competition. This is a confusing message that still doesn’t offer a solid stance on teenage drinking.

Now I don’t think a television show for kids needs to be didactic to be successful, but it probably shouldn’t encourage kids to raid their parents’ liquor cabinets either. Even the recent cocaine subplot on Gossip Girl tended to discourage drug activity, but FOX just aired an entire Glee episode whose songs and characters extol the awesome qualities of the sauce. Children barely listen to their parents, so why would they listen to the anti-alcohol segments of an otherwise enjoyable television show?

Honestly I don’t care if Glee wants to promote or discourage alcohol consumption among teenagers, but at least have a consistent message. Glee shouldn’t espouse a particular literal message if its wholly different visual and auditory context will contradict it. That strategy just creates a generation of Justin Bieber-listening, pop song-butchering mini-alcoholics whose greatest thrill is the imminent release of Radiohead-produced Kidz Bop album. Stay tuned!

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