Monday, December 12, 2011

race, class, and Glee; or, how the rich see diversity

We've been Netflixing Glee for the last few weeks—we're through Season 2. We'll probably wait for the official release of Season 3 before we watch more, so please, no spoilers. For those who haven't seen it, don't worry about me spoiling it. This post is about race and class, not plot.

Much as I enjoy the show, I'm struck by its bourgie idea of diversity. Here's the racial, ethnic, gender, and class mix of the glee club through Season 2:

Rachel Berry: white, Jewish, middle/upper class
Tina Cohen-Chang: Asian-Jewish, class unknown
Quinn Fabray: white, middle/upper class
Mercedes Jones: black, class unknown
Santana Lopez: Hispanic, lesbian, working class
Brittany S. Pierce: white, lesbian, class unknown
(2nd season) Lauren Zizes: white, class unknown
Artie Abrams: white paraplegic, class unknown
Blaine Anderson: white, gay, upper class
Mike Chang: Asian, class unknown
Finn Hudson: white, working-class
Kurt Hummel: white, gay, working/middle class
Noah Puckerman: Jewish, class unknown
(1st season) Matt Rutherford: black, class unknown
(2nd season) Sam Evans (2nd season): white, working-middle class (homeless)
That inspired my recent post, wealth in the USA by race, religion, and gender. If the cast of Glee "looked like America", there would be more working class kids, more black and Hispanic kids, and a Muslim or Hindu kid. There would be fewer Jewish and Asian kids, and fewer gay kids.

Now, it's a glee club; it's not supposed to "look like America." The arts traditionally attract a high percentage of GLBT folks, and extra-curricular activities reflect class privilege in America because they usually come with extra expenses. Glee shouldn't look like America.

But if you want to know the disproportionate nature of privilege in the USA, Glee reveals it. It's white, Jewish, and Asian. It's concerned with ending oppression within the class system, so civil rights matter, but it doesn't question the class system itself: note that Glee is set in a high school where no one's politics are more extreme than right-of-center Obamaism.

That said, it's a fun show within its mainstream broadcast limits. I may be tempted to catch up on Season 3 before Netflix gets it.

ETA: Considering where Glee's set, Wikipedia's article on Ohio demographics suggests its percentage of Hispanics may be reasonable, but its percentage of black folks is still off. (Not that Hollywood cares about local demographics, mind you. Where were the Hispanics in Roswell, a show set in a town that's nearly half Hispanic?)

ETA 2: In the comments, serialbabbler adds, "According to the internet, Glee is set specifically in Lima, Ohio sort of.

So this would be the demographics you'd be looking at."


  1. Most high schools aren't going to be demographically representative for their state either. You get a lot of smaller towns and cities in the rust belt that don't have very many Jewish people or Muslims or really anything other than variations on Chritianity, some schools have mostly middle class students while others are almost entirely working class, urban schools have vastly more black students, and so forth.

    According to the internet, Glee is set specifically in Lima, Ohio sort of.

    So this would be the demographics you'd be looking at:,_Ohio

    And if they were trying to be realistic, the characters would be almost entirely working class/75% white, 24% black, 1% everything else/probably fairly conservative politically. Except that Lima has four high schools so there might be some variation there.

    (I've only watched a couple of episodes of Glee. Didn't really like the plots, but the singing was pretty good.)

  2. Make that 72% white, 24% black, and 4% everything else. I rounded up a little further than I intended to on that first one. :)

  3. serial, thanks for those links!

    We're suckers for musicals. Also, it may be a show that benefits from having a lot of episodes available, because the plots are a bit rocky. The first part of second season is especially slow.

  4. Hope y'all haven't missed the Emmys' opening of Born To Run, sung by Glee and led by Jimmy Fallon (five points for every celebrity you spot, autotune or not). Even though it's even whiter than the usual Glee.

  5. Hadn't seen that. Yeah, extra whiteness and, well, an odd song to treat as a comic piece.

  6. Especially since "Born To Run" is a blue collar anthem about economic desperation. But hey, it's got a catchy beat, and you can dance to it! ;-)

    However, "Glee" is not alone. One New Jersey legislator recently proposed that "Born To Run" become the new NJ state song, apparently not noticing that it's a song about getting out of New Jersey.

  7. I can't stomach Glee at all. I found it terribly cliched and I'd rather listen to the original songs.

    But Roswell did introduce a Hispanic character towards the end of its run, played by Adam Rodriguez who went on to appear on CSI Miami. Of course, it's still nowhere near the actual percentage of Hispanics in the actual Roswell.