Youth Culture Window
Prior to May 19, 2009, the word glee was obscure, nothing more than a right-click synonym for happiness or delight. But following American Idol that Tuesday night, the word glee became the buzz on campuses.
“Did you see Glee last night?”
“The music was awesome. I downloaded two of the songs on iTunes before I went to bed.”
A year later, the show would blow everything else away, with 19 Emmy nominations, more than any other TV program. The 2010 Emmys became Glee-afied, with a memorable opening number in which Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Betty White, and other popular television stars joined the Glee cast in song and dance performing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
The show is now one of the most watched, most downloaded, and most talked-about TV programs among young people. The 2010 Teen Choice Awards were hosted by Katy Perry and the Glee cast. The MTV Video Music Awards used the Glee cast to award Lady Gaga a VMA for best pop video. Glee characters Rachel, Finn, Kurt, and Quinn are household names and pop-culture icons.
Each episode is probably one of the most creative and entertaining hours of television on any given Tuesday. The storyline is hilarious yet gripping, the 15 characters are both real and memorable, and the musical numbers are well performed. (When I was growing up, we had Fame. Rachel is the new Cocoa.) There’s more talent on this cast than almost any year of American Idol’s top 10. After the show airs, the songs go on sale on iTunes and are immediately catapulted into to the top 10. I’ve seen Season 1 CDs three times this week at three different stores and the DVD’s on display everywhere in anticipation of the Season II Premier coming this Tuesday, September 21.
Looking for Answers
So, what content are young viewers absorbing from this show?
Glee deals with real issues that teenagers face today, showing consequences and hurt. The writers tell it like it is, warts and all. Name it: teen pregnancy, bullying, self image, and equal rights. But at the same time, the show sends mixed messages. It’s often coarse, laced with sexual humor, and preachy in support of the homosexual lifestyle. (One of the show’s writer/creators, Ryan Murphy, is gay, several of the cast members are gay, and the show has a huge LGBT following.)
Christian parents always ask me: Should I let my kids watch Glee?
Even though I could possibly offer some guidance toward the answer to that question, I hesitate to answer it because my response would negate the purpose behind it.
Allow me to explain: The answer to that question is, Parents must help their kids figure out for themselves if they should watch the show. The process itself is much more important than the answer. In other words, if I or some other author or radio personality were to simply say, “No, don’t let your kids watch it,” I’d hate to think that parents would default to just answering, “Sorry, Jonathan says ‘no,’ so that means the show is bad.”
Parenting isn’t that simple. And I don’t mean to make a cliché with that phrase. Truly, parenting is anything but simple. The fact is, most teaching opportunities take time, effort, and thought. And if parents are truly living out that Deuteronomy 6 passage (Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up... Deuteronomy 6:5-7, NIV), then we’ll be dialoging constantly with our kids about the influences around them, the temptations they face, and the decisions they make. These conversations will require a lot of guidance with younger kids, slowly leading to more freedom as they get older. After all, when they’re 18…it’s really up to them, isn’t it?
This means that my 15-year-old and 17-year-old might be able to discern right and wrong in a situation better than my 13-year-old. Last month Alec, my 17-year-old, and I watched a movie together. After the film he told me, “Dad, I think the filmmaker was trying to make the main character a hero, but I had a problem with a lot of what he did.” Alec went on to name several bad decisions he observed from the main character. I asked him how he knew those decisions were bad. Before we knew it, we were talking about biblical principles.
As we walked by some movie posters in the theatre, we had conversations about other films and why we would or would not watch them. That conversation demonstrated that Alec is on his way toward making some good media decisions on his own.
In contrast, my 13-year old, Ashley, heard a Lady Gaga song while we were walking through Wal-Mart and commented, “She’s bad, right Dad?” I asked her why she figured Lady Gaga is “bad.” Ashley said, “Because she’s a freak!” Funny as that was, she couldn’t give me one example of why Gaga is “bad.” From that comment and others like it, I realized that Ashley’s not ready to make a lot of media choices on her own.
We need to teach our kids to think biblically about the media they encounter. They need to know what distracts them from their relationships with God, and what helps them draw closer to God. Our kids don’t need a Gaga…bad, Lil Wayne…bad, Toby Mac…good list.
All Good, All Bad
What about Madonna—good or bad? Okay, now what about Amy Grant—good or bad? Easy, right? The kosher Christian response is that Madonna is, of course, bad, and Amy Grant is good. Duh!
Oops. Hold on a sec! (Shhh. Don’t spread this around, but Amy Grant got a…divorce! So, now is Amy Grant bad, too?)
Where do we get off making those judgments? Yesterday I gossiped about somebody. (Honestly, I did, just yesterday. There’s a woman who drives me—and a lot of people—nuts, and we found out she’s moving down the street from a friend of ours. I made jokes to that friend about how “lucky” they were to have her for a neighbor now! We had a good laugh.)
As soon as I hung up, I knew what I’d done. I gossiped, slandered…you name it. The Bible has hundreds of references to this kind of activity, always with the words, “Have nothing to do with…” placed in front of it.
Yet, I did.
I guess my daughter should ask my wife, “Mom, is Dad bad?” Lori would have to respond, “Yes. In fact, we all are. We all need Jesus!”
That’s just it. We’re all bad. You should actually stop reading this article right now because the author is bad.
Or, better yet, perhaps we should stop calling people in the media “bad” or “good” and start thinking biblically about our media-usage decisions. In other words, “Should I watch HBO’s True Blood?” Well, what does the Bible say about it?
I tried 15 minutes of True Blood once in a hotel on one of my speaking trips. In that 15 minutes I saw two graphic sex scenes and enough sensuality to jump start a Ford Pinto. (And most Pintos are beyond the aid of jumper cables.) So, should I watch True Blood? In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells me to literally “flee” sexual immorality. If I happen to see other people having sex on TV for longer than it takes me to avert my eyes and change the channel, I know for a fact I’m not fleeing sexual immorality. Frankly, the only question I have is, “Why didn’t I turn off True Blood sooner than 15 minutes?”
Case closed. Using biblical reasoning, True Blood isn’t for me.
So what about Glee?
Thinking Biblically about Glee
I watched the pilot episode of Glee, Season I with my 15-year-old daughter. The show was tame by comparison to much of what’s on TV. No sex, nothing really profane—in fact, quite the opposite. The pilot episode showed real kids facing tough decisions and taking a stand for what’s right.
In one scene, Finn, a quarterback, was tempted by his football buddies to bully a handicapped Glee Club kid. Finn not only stands up to his misguided teammates but joins the Glee Club despite what others would think of him. Finn tells Glee members Rachel and Kurt about his decision. The dialogue in that scene is powerful and humorous:
FINN: I don’t want to be the guy that just drives around throwing eggs at people.
I had no problems with the pilot episode at all. I actually believe it provoked good discussion about self esteem, bullying, and doing what’s right, even when it costs you popularity.
RACHEL: That was you?!
KURT: You and your friends threw pee balloons at me.
FINN: I know.
KURT: You nailed all my lawn furniture to my roof.
FINN: I wasn’t actually there for that…but I’m really sorry. Look, that isn’t who I am, and I’m tired of it. This is what I want to be doing, with you guys. I used to think that [Glee Club] was, like, the lamest thing on earth, and maybe it is. But we’re all here for the same reason, ’cause we want to be good at something.
Unfortunately the rest season isn’t so tame. The second episode, titled “Showmance,” provides a pretty authentic portrayal of the struggle the Glee Club kids face trying to fit in. Fearing rejection, they don’t want to perform a corny musical number in front of the school. So Rachel has an idea.
RACHEL: I have another idea for the assembly. We’re going to give them what they want. Sex.The next scene is the assembly, and the Glee Club is introduced. The members do a ridiculously raunchy dance routine to Salt-N-Pepa’s late-80s hip-hop hit, “Push It.” The scene was absolutely hilarious, really making fun of how risqué student-run performances can be. And believe me, it was more accurate that you may realize. Cheerleaders at my high school performed a sexualized dance routine to that very song in the late 80s and caused community outrage.
Mr. Schuester, the teacher in charge of the Glee Club, had a word with the kids after the sexualized performance:
MR. SCHUESTER: I know how much you care about Glee Club. And I understand why you did what you did. But I don’t like the way that you did it.In another episode Puckerman is encouraged by his mom to find a nice Jewish girlfriend, so he begins pursuing Rachel. So he and Rachel get alone in a bedroom to practice music, and Puckerman’s voice-over narrates: “Rachel was a hot Jew, and the good Lord wanted me to get into her pants.” So Puckerman asks Rachel, “Wanna make out?” to which she responds, “Sure.” And they start rolling on the bed kissing. Rachel stops it after a few seconds, questioning Puckerman about his life choices.
As I watched this scene alone, I thought, I’m glad Ashley [she’s my 13-year-old if you recall] isn’t watching this with me. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t have hesitated in the slightest to have my 17-year-old watch it with me. I actually would have appreciated the opportunity to talk with him about the decision to be alone with a girlfriend, an action that most TV shows portray as no big deal.
Glee also has two cheerleaders, Brittany and Santana, who are obviously experimenting in same-sex relationships. The show has made subtle references to them having sex together, and in one episode the two of them walk hand in hand and ask Finn out on a date—the three of them. This pales in comparison to numerous other TV shows (looking for a ratings boost) that show on-screen threesomes and bi-curious teenagers acting out, but the subtle message is clear.
Yes, Glee is messy. The morality isn’t black and white. In one moment it encourages viewers to love others, but in the next they’re watching a risqué dance routine. The show is filled with our culture’s thinking and reasoning, both good and bad.
Is it true? Is the content real? In other words, Are the show’s creators lying to us?
Again, very messy. On one hand, Glee espouses good values about caring for people who’re different—a biblical principle, indeed; but it also proclaims that homosexuality is natural and should be embraced—clearly against biblical teaching. Glee touches on the subject of authenticity and lying when Finn needs a job to help his pregnant girlfriend Quinn, but he lies (posing as a disabled person) to get the job. And…no consequences. So, does that mean Glee endorses lying? When Tina lies to Artie about her lisp, Artie doesn’t seem to think lying is acceptable; it takes him a long time to forgive Tina. Definitely consequences. So is it taboo to lie to friends, but okay to lie to “the man”?
Will our kids deal with these issues and struggles in the real world? Absolutely. So now, parents have two polar points of view to consider:
- Wouldn’t it be better for our kids to encounter these sorts of philosophies and worldviews and values with us sitting next to them on the couch so we can discuss the show’s content with them afterward?
- Do we really want our kids absorbing this stuff?
No doubt, Glee is consistently Grade-A prime fodder for provoking discussion. Not long into the season, Quinn—one of the Glee Club members and president of the Celibacy Club (a real club in the show; clearly a jab at Christians)—gets pregnant. This creates quite a stir and is dealt with in several episodes. While Quinn is kicked off the cheerleading squad, Glee Club members embrace her. Additionally, she’s rejected by her “Christian” parents…but accepted by Finn’s mom.
So, for youth workers and parents whose kids are already watching Glee, I encourage you to watch it with them and dialogue with them about the numerous topics it covers each week. If you’re a parent who’s trying to decide whether or not to let your kids watch the show, the decision is really up to you. But make sure you back it up with biblical truth. I promise you, if you raise your kids with too many, “Because I said so, that’s why!” reasons, then your kids could rebel. I’ve seen it happen just like that way too often.
Looking for Biblical Guidance
Christians always seem to quote Philippians 4:8 as a catch-all verse about what’s “good” and what’s “bad”:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)You can’t argue with the beauty and truth in that verse, but I don’t know if it’s the best one when it comes to backing up our decisions to rule against our kids digesting certain media. Specifically, yes, it’s good to think about praiseworthy things…but does watching Glee actually keep you from thinking about praiseworthy things? An affirmative response would be a hard one to defend. So, let’s instead look at the whole of the Scriptures—not just one passage—to communicate truth.
I believe Colossians 3 goes a step further than the Philippians verse, encouraging us to set our minds on things above, not earthly things. It even provides a list of stuff we should “rid ourselves” of and what our “new self” looks like when we allow Christ to take control of our lives.
The more you dive into God’s word as a family, the more you’ll find passages that shed light on day-to-day decision-making.
Recently our family finished 1 John together. (We try to read the Bible together after dinner a few times a week.) After its reminders about what God’s love looks like in us, along with its call to obedience, 1 John ends with this verse:
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (5:21, NIV)But I happened to be referencing the New Living Translation when I read it with my kids:
Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. (5:21, NIV)Powerful, eh?
That said, I’m not claiming that Glee will take God’s place in your kids’ hearts. But we do need to be careful of distractions.
Steering Clear of Harmful Content
I mentioned my 13-year-old earlier and her attempt to discern whether Lady Gaga was appropriate or not. My daughter is smarter than I’m probably giving her credit for, but she’s also a sponge, absorbing information all around her and trying to discern truth from lies. Her emotions are in high gear, and everything in her life is “drama” right now. (She’s already observing peers “living for temporary thrills,” so I want to make sure to saturate her with as much truth as possible.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics just released (August 30) its brand new study, Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media. This report examines media messages teenagers are absorbing and how those influences affect their well being. In other words, when my daughters watch Glee, does it make them want to make out with their boyfriends or get pregnant? That's what the AAP sought to discover. Here are some of the facts from that study that jumped out at me:
- More than 75% of prime-time programs contain sexual content.
- Only 14% of these incidents mention any risks or responsibilities of sexual activity.
- Talk about sex on TV can occur as often as 8 to 10 times per hour.
- Between 1997 and 2001 alone, the amount of sexual content on TV nearly doubled.
- The media may function as a “superpeer” in convincing adolescents that sexual activity is normal young-teenager behavior.
- Listening to sexually degrading lyrics is associated with earlier sexual intercourse.
- Of nine studies seeking to determine if “sexy” media contributes to early sexual activity, seven of these studies have shown that exposure to sexual content on TV and other media in early adolescence can as much as double the risk of early sexual intercourse.
- Early exposure to sexual content doubles the risk of teen pregnancy.
- Bedroom TVs are associated with greater substance use and sexual activity by teenagers.
The AAP summarized its findings well: “Clearly, the media plays a major role in determining whether certain teenagers become sexually active earlier rather than later."
But there’s some good news from the report as well:
- Teenagers whose parents control their TV-viewing habits are less sexually experienced.
- Adolescents whose parents limit their TV-viewing are less likely to engage in early sex.
The messages from this report are loud and clear: Media affects our kids. So parents, help your kids make good media decisions. That’s a pretty clear mandate.
And the latter is just one of many reports like it. I’ve talked about other reports in numerous articles and blogs. The fact is, most teenagers are absorbing way too much sexual content in media, and it’s affecting them big-time. Studies that show 1 in 4 American teenagers has contracted an STD are difficult to dismiss.
One thing I appreciate about Glee, however, is that it seems to frequently depict the consequences of bad decisions. Hurt is a real emotion, and we see it portrayed often on Glee. Quinn’s pregnancy is anything but glorified. Most other shows (Two and a Half Men comes to mind) are completely irresponsible in this regard. Therefore I believe we must guard our kids from destructive messages.
It’s Up to You
So…to Glee or not to Glee? That is the question. But if I decided on an answer for you, I’d have robbed you (and your kids) of the process.
The process seems to be this:
- Get into God’s Word. Find opportunities for your whole family to bathe in biblical truth so they receive solid foundations for dealing with media choices. After all, how can they think biblically if they don’t know the Bible?
- Consider their age. Should we talk with our kids about mature subjects (e.g., sex and drugs) when they’re still young? Absolutely. Never hold back the truth. At the same time, however, guard them from the media’s lies. Our boys are becoming desensitized and our girls are becoming sexualized way too soon. Which leads me to my final point…
- Watch out for the media’s lies. Consider the just-mentioned AAP report that also reveals only 14 percent of TV programs revolving around sexual content mention any risks or responsibilities tied to sexual activity. So, does this mean turn off all media? No. But teach discernment. Co-watch with your kids and talk about what you saw. Use the pause button and discuss issues as they happen.
Last week I asked my blog subscribers to chime in with their two cents on their opinions about Glee. I asked the question, “Should our kids watch it?” The comments in that blog are fascinating, with numerous points of view.
Almost all the comments seem to have one common denominator—the same common denominator I’ve seen from most of the reports and opinions about kids’ exposure to media: Parents, talk with your kids about influences like this.
Isn’t that exactly what Deuteronomy 6 asks us to do?
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new
Should I Just Smash My Kid's Phone?
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a
World of Isolation
, and the award winning book
Do They Run When They See You Coming?
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across North
America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his
. You can follow Jonathan on
, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help.
Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live
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