Are You a Unicorn? Glee and Self-Identity

On the latest episode of Glee, the writers tackled a sensitive issue with a very bizarre conceit. Kurt--the out and proud gay student at McKinley High School--decided to run for class president and audition for the role of Tony in West Side Story. Ditzy cheerleader Brittany was brought on as Kurt's campaign manager and created a series of posters declaring that students should vote Kurt because he's a unicorn. This did not stop every other friend and teacher he liked and trusted from laughing at his every move in auditioning for the musical. Kurt is told at every turn that he's too gay to play straight while being told that he should be proud of being too gay to play straight. The unicorn image troubles and excites me. On the one hand, it could easily be used as a slur. Kurt is so different that he doesn't even exist. He's not a human at all. He's just something that shouldn't exist. That's pretty twisted. I will admit upfront that is a particularly cynical reading of the image. What the show does cop to and aim for isn't much better.

It doesn't get much better when you look at the reasons the kids give him to be proud of a unicorn. He takes pride in his appearance. He likes to stand out from the crowd. He's a unique and cheerful person that people love. But if he's so unique and people like him so much, why are they just trying to pin him into a fancy little box with glitter and rainbows?

The unicorn imagery as decided by Brittany was sweet and complimentary. She compared Kurt to a unicorn because he's a magical person who could do great things for the school. That's a positive image. It could have been spun further than a smile as he hung up campaign posters at the end of the episode, but that wasn't as important as tearing him apart for being too gay to [blank] the rest of the episode.

Kurt is immediately dismissed as a contender for the leading man in West Side Story because he sings "I'm the Greatest Star" for his audition.

He is not dismissed because this is a horrible choice for a West Side Story audition. He's dismissed because student director Artie, Coach Bieste, and guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury decide he's too gay to play straight. He demands he get a second audition to prove he can play straight. He does a perfectly acceptable turn as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet and is laughed at the entire time. Even scene partner Rachel starts laughing at him. He gives a great audition, proving that he can act straight after proving he's the best male singer in the club, and it's still not good enough because he's gay.

Quite clearly, some writer got stuck on the idea of addressing that slam piece about Sean Hayes being too gay to convincingly play he male romantic lead in Promises, Promises (when his performance was perfect for the show and quite endearing). This writer just completely missed the mark in making that commentary palatable.

I know the awkward narrative is intentional. I'm sure it will build to a nice arc on the show. If it was just the dismiss an actor based on his sexuality story, I'd be willing to go along for the ride. It's not. Combined with the unicorn imagery, it's a bit tasteless.

There is a message of empowerment that could have been banged out with the unicorn imagery. It's not. It's pretty handily destroyed in a father/son scene for Kurt. His father tells him that it's great that he's a unicorn and that he should just write material for himself if he can't play straight.

That's not the point at all. He quite clearly played straight at the second audition and they laughed at him because he's gay. People he trusts refuse to look past his sexual orientation to see his talent. Way to knock the kid's abilities and build him up to aim for the role of the other. He'll be a sassy little "oh girl" finger waving unicorn for the rest of his life if he follows everyone else's advice.

How would I have written this unicorn metaphor? Why couldn't Brittany be the one to break through to Kurt? She could have found a way to explain why being a unicorn was a good thing. She could have expressed her admiration for Kurt's talent, personality, and desire to stay true to himself in a school that's constantly trying to shove him aside. She could have explained why she wanted to be a unicorn but couldn't be because everyone just assumes she's normal. This would have gotten the same "build yourself up" message across without dismissing Kurt's potential to have any range in life.

I'm sure that the show will find a way to make good on this odd start. At least I hope it will. Or else Kurt will be mocked mercilessly next week for the unicorn comparison by he other candidates for student council president and just give up on another goal. They like to write this character as a quitter for not justifiable reason. It would be nice to see him fight and win for once. Don't let this unicorn turn into another baseless fantasy.

Thoughts? Love to hear them. Comment below.

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