Glee and Social Issues (Part Two): Mercedes, Sam and Marley

As previously stated in my first post of Glee and Social Issues (Part One), Glee has two issues they do pretty well (for the most part) bully and LGBT issues (more on the B and T part in the next installment). Other social issues that glee tackles is done to varying degrees of success. 

 
On a spectrum of say one to five with one being the worst and five being the best for how these storylines are treated, let’s put Kurt’s coming out and bullying at McKinley at a five and Quinn’s texting while driving accident at a one.
 
Kurt’s coming out and the bullying he has dealt with McKinley is equal parts thoughtful, engaging, realistic and holds development for the character. The plot line for Kurt’s journey from a boy in the closet to a confident young out man feels realistic. The viewer barely realizes the character’s journey is actually a storyline, which is what makes it work so well. This is what rates it a five.
 
Quinn’s texting while driving storyline is shoehorned in at the least thirty seconds of an episode that already didn’t deal with an issue all that well. We see the aftermath of her accident sure but it…it didn’t really change anything. It just was…there. No one really dealt with it. We just learned not to text and drive. Which people shouldn’t do. That’s not a storyline glee that is a PSA and it is why this gets a one.
 
So let’s go into this week’s topic for Glee and Social Issues: Mercedes, Sam and Marley with Body Image.
 
Before you continue I would like to remind that this is observations and opinions of my own based on a rewatching of the television series Glee. Okay? This is my opinion. If you agree fantastic if not well that’s okay too.

(The following post contains spoilers up to Season Four, Episode Seven “Dynamic Duets”.  So go watch the episode and come back here. Or keep reading. Do whatever you like.  The following post will ALSO talk about sensitive subject matter like eating disorders. So if this makes you uncomfortable then please don’t read.)

Body. Image.

It’s something that we all deal with regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race…It is there. Dove has that Campaign for Real Beauty. The Girl Scouts has one as well. Plus a dozen other various interests or corporations 

However…what is it that forms body image?

According to my interpersonal communication class, body image is a subset of our self image which is how we perceive ourselves based on the perceptions of other people. Has my college knowledge confused you yet?

Okay let me break it down for you.

We have a self image which is based on what other people think of us and a self concept which is based on what we think of us. Sometimes these two (self image and self concept) can bleed through like in the instance of body image. If the culture tells us that we need to be skinny then it will first start in the self image, other people calling us “fat” or “overweight” because you don’t fit that image the culture presents. If we are told this enough times then it will start to bleed through to our core self concept of ourselves and we start to believe it. 

Seriously that’s the simplified version. And I know, I know. But we shouldn’t listen to these people! I should love my body no matter what.

Which is a real viewpoint but honestly it’s not one that a person (or anyone I’ve met) comes to right away. Speaking as my experience as a girl who has always been this side of curvy after awhile you do start to believe this. It took me a long time to accept that I would always be more curvaceous than most and rather than worry about my clothes size I should worry more about being healthy. 

Now when Mercedes tried to diet in season one episode fifteen “Home”, she went about this the right way in the beginning. After being told to diet by Sue in order to wear a Cheerios’ skirt, Mercedes goes for grilled chicken and a salad with dressing on the side for lunch. That! Good job Mercedes! You cut out the junk and go for the healthier options available to you. However, Kurt (also a Cheerio at this point) tells her that she should be eating less to lose weight and that he’s been eating “boiled celery” in order to keep weight. Mercedes then starts to crash diet and do some crazy liquid cleanse that Sue has her Cheerios on. Ultimately she ends up passing out and with some help from Quinn she ultimately accepts her body and stand against Sue by singing Beautiful by Christina Aguilera.

All of this is done in the space of one episode. Um…deep? 

Look I think this is something that needs to be talked about but if you really, really, REALLY want to do this guys. Then it needs to be not over a course of the episode. I suppose that the ultimate message a viewer could take from this is that peer pressure is bad rather than a message on body image. Mercedes was going about losing weight the right way by eating healthy and getting a good workout. It was only when people started pressuring her more to these crazy diets that Mercedes went the way she did in the episode.

I mean…I don’t know. It’s good to talk about weight and body image and you know the realization that people come in different shapes and sizes…but…

Glee, Mercedes plot in “Home” was about peer pressure! Not about body image and feeling at home in her body. Mercedes was plenty fine at home in her body without the pressure of those around her forcing her to go more radical with her dieting. It would have been a more interesting episode if you just focused on that rather than try to awkwardly shove a moral lesson about positive body image with the most cliched song choice imaginable. 

I mean Beautiful? Couldn’t come up with something else. Don’t get me wrong I love the song but it just felt like a cliched end to the story. I mean there must have been another song you could have used there that wasn’t so obvious. Beautiful, if done right, would have felt in much better with season two episode eighteen’s “Born This Way” or hell wait until you wrap up Marley’s plot in season four and have her sing it then! 

On my scale of one to five I give this plot a two. It did get a message across just not the right one. It had development over the course of the episode but just felt rushed and cliched. Plus again the ending song was the most cliched choice of them all.

Now on our continuing journey about body image let us go on a strange journey…to season two episode five’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”.

This episode is going to its own blog post because of…just all of it. It is just so… frustrating because it could have been good if done right. But glee was constrained by an eight pm slot and the fact that they had all these half-assed plots floating around in there.

None more half-assed then what Sam got saddled with.

Oh. Sammy…those early episodesof season two no one knew what the hell to do with you did they? You had dyslexia for two seconds but that was never mentioned again. They just eventually made you a dumb blond. You were a nerd but were cool but were a nerd but not. …Remember you and Quinn getting kind of engaged? Weren’t you supposed to be Kurt’s love interest in some draft? Or like a legitimate rival for Finn? Also where the hell did that homeless subplot come from?

 I…I feel bad for you Sam Evans as a character and Chord Overstreet, the actor. Looking back on these first few episodes I can tell why you left when they wouldn’t make you a regular. Really. I understand.

In “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”, I suppose you can say it’s about Finn’s struggle with accepting his body. But outside of some mean comments from Santana throughout the seasons it never really took off. Finn was insecure yes but never went to any extreme which is what we’re looking at as a social issue here. So we’re going to put Finn aside for this.

No this is about Sam and his brief foray into being a combination gym bunny/manorexic? 

For one episode.

I don’t even know what to say here. It’s just…so…random.  And it only lasts for like two seconds because the writers, in my opinion, are on drugs and don’t remember what they write. Which does lead to the canon being whacky in places and consistency being like unicorn of glee it may appear but it also may just be a horse fake horn glued onto its head so don’t hold your breath.

But yeah it did happen for one episode. So I’m going to talk about it instead of stalling.

Um Sam gets casted as Rocky. Since for some reason New Directions like to stick to the movie versions of shows rather than actual stage shows um Rocky is just this guy who groans and moans a lot (after getting one epic song in the movie which we don’t get to see here) and is like naive but also the hottest guy in the show after Frank N Furter. He also spends a good portion of the show wearing tiny, tiny gold shorts.

So I can understand you know this being a HIGH SCHOOL VERSION (oh God those three words in conjunction with Rocky Horror kills me a bit inside) and Sam being presumably about sixteen…he’s not feeling very comfortable in them. Understandable as he is supposedly “sixteen”. Um but…damn boy.

And he also confesses to Finn, who is nervous about spending most of the show in his underwear, about how he monitors what he eats and works out a lot. Which according to most makes him manorexic, a man who is anorexic. And when he is eventually replaced because he doesn’t want to prance around in those golden shorts by Mister Schue (I don’t even know at this point guys) he thinks its because a bag of Doritos he ate shows and does this. Sam pinches his skin to make sure he’s not fat.

And then after the episode it is never mentioned again.

WHAT THE HELL GLEE?!?!?! You bring this up and then just freaking drop it?!?!?! I mean okay you guys like to do this with Sam but…if you stuck with it could have been something interesting! I mean how many shows actually talk about male eating disorders. You could have substance!!! 

This is just a wasted opportunity and was just played off in a episode that in and of itself was a wasted opportunity. Maybe that’s why I’m so angry about it. You see something that could have been good and either the glee writers come down from their high or are just too scared to develop it any further.

On my scale of one to five…I give this a  point five. Like seriously half a point. This was just awful guys with a character you had no clue what to do with in an episode that had a half baked plot…possibly because the writers themselves were half baked. It gets the half point just because it could have been interesting.

Sigh.

I could mention Quinn and Lucy Caboosey that would have been interesting to talk about but like Sam we’re just not supposed to talk about it again.

I don’t know guys. Maybe glee can’t do a good storyline on body image that is developed over the course of several episodes with a character that does start the journey into an eating disorder but hopefully ultimately overcomes it. Maybe they should just stick to anti-bullying messages…

….

Wait.

Ah. Marley Rose.

Unlike Sam, the writers knew exactly what to do with you. You’ve got a built in backstory with your obese lunch lady mother and the fact that kids make fun of her. Then when they find out you two are mother and daughter they make fun of you.
 
Now out of the newbies for season four, I really like Marley. She’s nice and sweet and humble. I…I can’t remember when we’ve seen that in a teenage girl character in this show. I can also admit that sometimes she can be a bit of a doormat. But…there is just something about here.
 

And you know what? It makes perfect sense for Marley to be the one to deal with body image issues at least to me. As stated her mother is the lunch lady everyone makes fun of because of her weight. She has had to watch her mother be made fun of by kids for from what it sounds in season four episode one’s “The New Rachel” for years.
 
That sticks with a person. Especially if it is your mother, who glee makes sure the audience knows that Marley loves very much and hates seeing people making fun of her. 
 
So of course any astute mean girl like resident bitch with a shriveled up heart Kitty Wilde would know exactly where to hit. Marley’s own insecurity that one day she will end up like her mother. Kitty picks at it rather expertly and even goes as far as altering Marley’s costumes in episode six of season four “Glease” to play this head game with the other girl. Then telling her to be bulimic for…some reason I’m not sure yet.
 
Um…okay glee. I was with you riiiiiight up until Kitty told Marley to develop an eating disorder.
 
Granted. Marley doesn’t seem like the type of girl who would have gone that route on her own. However, she was pretty quick to jump on the bandwagon. Did she not notice that her own clothes fit just fine? 
 
It’s a legitimate question. One posed by many an reviewer and recap-er after this episode aired. 
 
To answer that let’s look at Marley and what we know of her: she’s nice and shy and kind of doormat. She has bursts of confidence in herself but for the most part is fine being quite in the background. She and her mom are poor. And to reiterate kids make fun of her mother and then her!
 
Marley is scared of ending up like her mother she loves so much. Her own mother doesn’t want to end up like her telling her in “Glease” that she is lucky to be thin. If you look at the backstory presented…well OF COURSE Marley would deal with her body image. 
 
The fact that she believed Kitty so easily doesn’t make her gullible it shows her fear of not fitting the traditional image of beauty, of being like her mother. Of spending years watching kids make fun of her Mom for her weight.
 
Why are you complaining about this Internet?! It makes a lot more sense than anything else this show has given us. Kitty was just the key to Pandora’s Box here. Sooner or later this was going to happen to Marley and it was going to be explored with her.
 
And well…despite Kitty’s twisted mind games…I like the storyline.
 
Let me explain because I have reasons for liking it.
 
They actually took time to set this up. In several episodes, we see people taking potshots at Marley’s mom then at Marley herself. By episode five of season four, “The Role You Were Born to Play”, Marley just looked defeated as Kitty went after her. You can only take so much insulting as a person.  

We do see Marley throwing up in the bathroom and having a mini breakdown in front of Ryder in “Glease” where she admits part of the problem is watching how people treat her Mom. Then there is her own shame that was born out of years of watching this treatment. It’s a legitimate fear that has been in her for awhile and bringing out a powerful moment. With some encouraging words from Ryder, it looked like the storyline was over by the power of the love interest. And I was kind of sad because dude…what? I thought it was going to be “Home” all over again with Ryder as the Quinn stand in. Marley singing the reprise to “Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee” and looks to be a confident woman.

And that seems to be the end of it.

But nope. 

In episode seven of season four “Dynamic Duets”, Marley confesses to Kitty that she’s still doing it. They don’t really talk about after that and I like that they don’t talk about it after that.

They put it out casually and let it fester in our minds. Marley is still doing this self destructive behavior. She is still doing this because it is not something you can give a speech to someone and have it be over with. Not even the alimighty power of the love interest.

It is something that does need to be discussed. How our body image is so affected by other people. And glee is actually attempting to do this in a way that does show how someone struggles with it. They seemed to have learn something from “On My Way”, audiences want a lead up to the final confrontation. We want to see the character struggle with a problem and then find a way, if they can, to fight it. That words cannot simply solve what Marley is struggling with.

It is something that Marley herself ultimately has to overcome. She can have people by her side helping her but the only person who can truly help Marley at this point is Marley herself.

And if glee does that right, which it looks like they’re trying to do, then I have hope for this storyline.

Like I said, the things that glee brings up is stuff that does need to be discussed. It is something that the viewers of the show need to consider. However, it is also all in the presentation but I am hopeful that maybe the writers have actually learned something at this point. So to the naysayers, I ask you to take a look at what we’ve gotten before Marley’s storyline and realize that maybe this time we are going to get a story that is actually maybe attempting to thoughtfully tackle this subject (even if the start of it is annoying) and gives a real struggle over a character throughout the season.

Or they may not who knows? But I will remain hopeful until glee either proves it right or crushes it.

NEXT ON GLEE REWATCH PROJECT: A retrospective look at Sectionals in honor of season four’s Sectional episode.

Notes: What do you guys think? I want to know!
Also if you want more updates and maybe some bitchy glee one-liners follow me on Twitter @GleeRewatch

Credit: Glee Wiki (glee.wikia.com)
Glee Season one and two on DVD
Glee Season four on Hulu (hulu.com)
Google Images
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LoveAllSongs4Ever on YouTube
PeRodriguesS2 on YouTube

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One comment on “Glee and Social Issues (Part Two): Mercedes, Sam and Marley

  1. […] I discussed Sam at length in my second installment of Glee and Social Issues where I talked about body […]

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