Say what you want about Glee, but the show has tackled quite a few important, and messy, topics in its almost two seasons on the air. We’ve seen the show address bullying, homophobia and the pressures faced by gay teens, teen pregnancy, underage drinking, peer pressure from a variety of sources and tyrannical cheerleading coaches.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that it’s handled most of those issues poorly. Messages about hope or acceptance or standing up for yourself against an authority figure who wants to launch you out of a cannon are mostly glossed over so Glee can do what it does best: outrageously auto-tuned songs featuring ridiculous production values that may or may not tie into each episode’s theme but are nonetheless catchy and well produced enough to sell 15,000 copies on iTunes for $1.29 apiece.
But on April 26th, in an episode about loving yourself for who you are, Glee went and did something surprising: It treated an issue with respect that up until last night had been played mostly for laughs
Jayma Mays plays Emma Pillsbury, the guidance counselor at the show’s fictional high school. Thus far she’s been known for two things: her complicated relationship with the show’s main character, and her uncontrollable fussiness. Emma dons surgical gloves and washes each grape in a bunch until their cleanliness reaches her standards. She packs each portion of her lunch in tightly-sealed Tupperware. She uses an electric toothbrush to scrub the counters in the teachers’ lounge until they shine.
You’re probably thinking, “Hey, that this sounds a lot like obsessive-compulsive disorder!” Everyone else in Glee’s audience has long thought the same thing, but it wasn’t until this most recent episode that Emma was finally diagnosed. Check it out via Hulu (which is only available in the U.S.; sorry international readers):
Now obviously there are a lot of problems with this scene. Are we to believe the doctor watched Emma clean a chair for 48 minutes and didn’t say anything? Would she really prescribe medication after a two-minute conversation? Why is it so dark in that office? Has the doc heard of overhead lighting?
Problems aside, this is still an important scene for anyone who cares about how mental illness is perceived. Last time I checked, about 14 million people watched Glee every week. Compare that to this blog’s first-year traffic of just over 14,000 site visits, and it’s obvious what kind of impact this scene could have. Hopefully some of those 14 million viewers will take the scene’s anti-stigma message to heart.