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Mental Illness

Caregiving: Glee

Good evening, Persephoneers! Yet again I’m here in my pajamas, though at least this time with good reason, which also happens to be the explanation for why I haven’t been around much lately: I’m not well. In fact, the only one in the Juniper Household not to have been unwell is Juniper Puss. The rest of us, meanwhile, have had horribly horrid colds.

So given that a sloth’s pace of life seems positively hectic right now, I’m going to be taking it easy with writing tonight’s article. Which is to say, a while back, @nicocoer commented on the Unexpected article, asking what Mr. Juniper and I thought of the recently aired Glee episode: On My Way, especially given the connection of the episode’s and the Unexpected’s themes. There was, however, a slight hurdle. Being across the pond, we don’t always get programmes right after they’re aired in the states, and in the case of Glee, we had to wait a while.

First and foremost, Mr. Juniper: “I thought they handled is pretty well. Hit a nerve, though!” Persephoneers, that is quite easily the most I have ever heard from Mr. Juniper in relation to Glee. We didn’t actually watch the show together, but after Mr. Juniper had watched the episode, I could see he was a little shaken. He really is okay, but I think we were both a little taken aback at how brutal a look Glee took at suicide.

All right, before I go much further, I knew what this episode involved, in so much as I knew it was Karofsky attempting suicide and I knew who Karofsky was as a character. But as soon as he came up on the screen? Some of you may remember my mention in the Stigma article of Mr. Juniper being like the proverbial brick house. I swore when Karofsky came on screen. He looks so much like Mr. Juniper – albeit not as close to 30. Shoulders out to here, and the combination of t-shirt and shirt, sleeves pushed up, that Mr. Juniper used to wear all the time. So, deep breaths, I carried on watching, knowing that this might be a little harder to stomach than I was expecting.

There was something else, other than the likeness, that caught my attention: Karofsky doesn’t look weak. My wording here is about to be horribly unsatisfactory, and for that, apologies, but so often when there’s a suicide storyline on film or television, the character tends to be physically weak or somehow appears physically vulnerable. I suspect this may be to correlate with perceived mental weakness but there we are. So to see Karofsky being the one attempting suicide, when to all appearances he is strong and capable was really interesting because it challenges what we perceive as weakness. (I am greatly disliking the word “weakness” but it is, right now, the best I can think of – so again, apologies.) Given that Glee is a family show and certainly one watched by a range of ages, this felt like a great opportunity for people to see that physical appearance and capability are not an indicator of someone’s mental state.

So right now? I’m re-watching the episode, and Sugar made a comment about the photo-shopped pictures of Finn, suggesting she would kill herself if photos like that of her ever made it onto the internet. For the moment, I’m going to keep faith with the writers that this comment was deliberate on their part. Either way, it was very interesting to see the flippancy of discussion of suicide shown in the episode, considering what’s to follow. All too often suicide is thrown about like this and it not only takes away from the seriousness of suicide but can also prove harmful to those around as it suggests suicide isn’t something to be taken seriously. To a degree, I may be reading too much into the comment, but it is good to see that they recognize the different ways in which people think of suicide. And also to suggest the different types of things that can and do drive people to consider harming themselves.

And now Karofsky has just walked into the locker room, and Blaine is singing. Albeit in glimpses, it feels very familiar, watching what Karofsky’s going through. The sense of – bewilderment? I’m not sure, but it feels somehow honest. And guess what? Big guys cry! There’s almost this sense of relief at seeing them show this and again, I think it’s because it challenges all-too-often-held misconceptions about suicide and mental illness. Blaine is having a moment to himself on stage, and I think it’s worth mentioning music, too. So often in moments like this, the music gets a little, well, pretentious. The only time I can think of in recent memory where the music has been fantastic in scenes depicting ideation is in A Single Man (go see it; it’s amazing). But here the music feels so right, which feels very unusual. Suicide isn’t (to quote Phoebe Buffay) “plinky plonky” music. It is not a walk in tje park in which little birds come down and eat crumbs from your hand; it’s real and full of emotion. As for the act itself, I’m glad they kept it simple. Everyone knows what Karofsky is about to do, knows what will happen in the following minutes, and no one needs to see it. What matters is seeing the distraught kid climbing that chair. That’s the part that is ignored time and again, the kid simply climbing the chair.

Commercials are over! So the teachers are in the office with the principal. It’s nice to see that teachers are human, too. Again, it’s something often missed: their reactions and also the reminder of responsibility that teachers have toward their students. And there was Karofsky’s dad finding him. That one tiny glimpse of the aftermath, when all too often, film and television go straight from the attempt to the hospital, neatly forgetting that somebody found them.

Principal Figgins: It wasn’t our job to know.

 

Miss Pillsbury: Then whose job was it?

This really struck me and maybe I will find more to say on it later, but it speaks so much of responsibility we have toward others and how we care for those around us. Does it matter only that lessons are learned? Or is it trying to make a difference every day?

Onwards to the prayer meeting. Mercedes suggested praying for Karofsky; Quinn suggested that his family are more in need. Has the father suffered more for having found his son? Or had Karofsky suffered more because he was at a point where he went through those actions? My inclination in situations like these is to think of everyone. I’m a Humanist, so don’t think of prayer, but when it comes to sending best wishes and love, it is to everyone.

Quinn: He wanted to hurt everyone around him.

I’m going to politely disagree with Quinn. However, props to the writing team for putting all thoughts out there on suicide. Oh good grief, they threw in the “I never got to that place.” Excuse me a moment. Oh Kurt, thank you, I love you. Wise words. Well done. Quinn follows this up with saying, “I can’t imagine things getting so messed up you consider taking your life.” I spoke a lot about this kind of thing in the Unexpected article, but all too often, it is a sentiment constantly present with regard to suicide. “Have some compassion,” says Kurt. I did actually laugh a little when Kurt said this’ it’s a phrase I can often be found saying.

Oh Kurt. Again, the writers have, I think, pulled off something quite neat here in that they’re showing how the idea of responsibility is considered by people in relation to suicide. Whether it is the responsibility they hold over another person’s attempt or the responsibility they believe that person holds concerning the consequences of their actions.

I also want to point out something else here: Mercedes asks if Kurt, an atheist, wants to go to the hospital with them, and he was invited there in the first place by one of the boys. It’s where religious differences, to a degree, don’t matter. In other words, it reminds me of the now oft-quoted Aesop:

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

-Aesop

And now Sebastian. The little speech he gives could have gone horribly wrong, but the way the actor delivered his lines came across as being honest. Not a guilt ridden change of heart so much as an admission of wrongdoing and a desire not to repeat aforementioned wrongdoing. I do see a difference, too, between the two. The latter feels as though it was closer to home for Sebastian than simply the fear that the cause of Karofsky’s actions could be attributed to him.

Schuester and the kids are all sitting on the floor and the words that follow Rory’s peanut butter tasting session only just seem right. Perhaps it’s me, but making people promise things with regard to their mental health just seems unhelpful. But it has perhaps been saved by the idea of promising to try in life, which is very different than promising not to make an attempt on their lives. Mercedes’s feeling that no one there would take their life, and that Schuester’s suggestion is a little over the top does feel like an honest reaction. People don’t like to think that those around them might take their lives, but how often have tragedies struck and people have said in the aftermath how unexpected it was? So it feels like a relief to hear Schuester admit that he considered suicide and also for Puck to make the point that the aggravating factor wouldn’t have bothered him, because different things do affect different people in different ways.

Oh goodness. Kurt’s visiting Karofsky in the hospital. Even from when he walks through the door, the Karofsky he’s seeing is still hurting and yet that’s something that so often isn’t seen. And again, it feels like a familiar sight. And the conversation feels familiar, too. Sometimes it does suck. And sometimes it is best to say screw “˜em.

So, to begin to bring this to a close, I have to agree with Mr. Juniper, albeit in a rather drawn out way. I think they did handle Karofsky’s attempt, and all that came with it, well. The episode did also hit a nerve, but I think that goes some of the way toward suggesting that their portrayals were honest and familiar. If anything, I am glad that Glee has covered this topic and did so in a way that challenges perceptions while speaking honestly about a horrible experience.

By way of bringing this article to an end, a song seems only appropriate:

 

G’night Persephoneers.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

2 replies on “Caregiving: Glee”

This is a great article and I loved that you focused entirely on the suicide attempt and not on the rest of the plot line. It’s really bothered me to see everyone on the internet move right past the bullying and onto “OMG wedding!!!1!!”

What really pissed me off? That Glee could start an episode with a very profound look at suicide in the wake of bullying against LGBT kids…and end with a impulsive “marriage” between two straight teens. On the one hand, we have a look at the way that systematic discrimination against LGBT people at the legislative level parallels and influences the bullying in high school; and on the other hand we have two straight kids who don’t think twice about their right to get married because they have never worried that they might not be able to. I just have no words for how inappropriate that transition was.

Am I being oversensitive or did this strike anyone else?

Thank you! Yes, I read a few other reviews and they seemed to all but forget Karofsky.

I have to admit – though it’s perhaps obvious from the article! – that I didn’t give the wedding much thought. It is interesting seeing the connection you’re looking at, or rather, how they were put together by the writers. I’m not entirely sure what to think about the combination of storylines. I do wonder if it is possibly an attempt by the writers to show two “impulsive” teenage actions, on the basis that Karofsky’s attempt doesn’t appear to be premeditated and the wedding has been brought forward. It certainly isn’t the best interpretation of impulsive behaviour and perhaps that interpretation wasn’t the writers’ intention, but I wonder if it might have been part of the thought process that brought about the combination of Karofsky storyline with Rachel’s and Finn’s. Or, in a nutshell, I don’t think you’re being over-sensitive at all!

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