Wednesday, August 25, 2010

V and Glee, Religious?

By Monica Leonard

Clark suggests that “entertainment media are one element of a culture that shapes and constrains religious identity”(794). The media can also provide social functions that are found within institutionalised religions, “providing both moral and spiritual guidance and a sense of community” (Hjarvard 9). Hjarvard argues that this can be done primarily through the use of supernatural phenomena within entertainment media (9). In particular the media of television. However, presenting moral and spiritual guidance is not restricted to only supernatural genres. Religious and spiritual ideas, representations, and symbology are present in most television genres. This leads audiences to consume (knowingly, or unknowingly, positively, or negatively) certain religious subtexts. This mediatisation of religion (Hjarvard 10) causes religion to be moulded and shaped by the media in a secularised and normalised way.

One way that television engages with religion is by constructing the concept of the ‘other’ with in shows. V and Glee are two examples of programmes which explore notions of the ‘other’. This relates to religion through representations of character and narrative structure. Both shows use the ‘us versus them’ approach to promote, or subvert the minority, or majority group of the ‘other’.

V portrays the arrival of an alien race to Earth; known only as the Vs (Visitors), who are constructed as the ‘other’ with in the series. They are presented as a close knit hive community controlled by one leader; that is their queen Anna, who uses a chemical called ‘bliss’ to induce a euphoric feeling which creates obedience in the hive. Arguably, if the Vs are seen in terms of a religious ‘other’ this ‘bliss’ chemical could be a representation of transcendence in experiential religions. However, this idea is problematic due to having negative links with a dictatorship, and perhaps the idea of ‘bliss’ is more political than religious within the show.

The Vs present themselves to humanity as a peaceful and helpful race, and do this through healing humans with their own technology. Ironically, in V the media is represented having a large role in promoting the Visitors to humanity. The character of Chad; a news reporter, is dependant on Anna for his own popularity, and personal gain within the news industry. While, Anna exploits his ambition, and promotes her own species. This parallels the way religion and media work together with in our own society. Arguably the show takes a negative view towards the ‘other’ as the audience is aware of Anna’s malicious ulterior motives towards the human race in the first season.

The ulterior motives of Anna in V causes the emergence of The Fifth Column. With in the show the media (which Anna influences) describe The Fifth Column as a terrorist cell bent on destroying the ‘peaceful’ relationship which the Vs have with humanity. Therefore, by using the ‘us versus them’ narrative framework in the television show, ideas of fundamentalism can be explored.

On one hand, The Fifth Column is portrayed by Anna through the media as a terrorist group. The fictional media attack on The Fifth Column is reminiscent of how religious fundamentals and extremists are negatively presented in most Western media. On the other hand, and ironically the Fifth Column is presented to the television viewer as a group of freedom fighters; Vs and humans working together to rid the Earth of Anna’s tyranny. It is through the representation of one religious member of The Fifth Column that religious morals and values are presented.

The character of Father Jack is representation of an American Catholic priest, and his views on the arrival of the Vs is, therefore, framed in a religious context. He preaches the importance of following God and not worshipping the Vs, as they are seen by him to be false prophets. However, after the mistaken bombing of a V shuttle, Father Jack is resolved in promoting non-violence as the answer to the Vs occupation of Earth. The priest who is head of Father Jack’s small congregation however, views the Vs as angels sent by God to be the saviours of humanity. In this case, religion is represented quite obviously through the views of Father Jack. Through the use of narrative structure and characterisation, the television show V presents ideas concerning religion and spirituality and secularises them using supernatural phenomena; aliens.

Glee was arguably one of the most successful television shows in Australia in 2009 with just under 1.7 million viewers for the final episode(Dyer). In Glee the main group represented as the ‘other’ are the members of Glee club. The members of the club are measured, and measure themselves against the hegemonic norms of McKinley Highs peer groups. In episode 8, Season 1 the members of Glee club are attacked by the ‘cooler’ kids with grape slushies. This also highlights the ‘us versus them’ framework present in V. However, in Glee the viewer is positioned to empathise with the Glee club members, or the ‘other’. In this way Glee challenges the hegemonic norm, as well as notions of collective intelligence, and its occasional use of violence against the ‘other’. Glee is, therefore, a medium which forms a negative commentary on how society can negatively treat the ‘other’, or rather other religions outside of hegemonic norms.
Attempts to conform to the norm within McKinley High, is carried out by most Glee club members. However, most episodes resolve, with the characters adhering to their own inner beliefs, and the guidance of Will Schuester; choir master, ‘to be themselves’.

Glee also provides the viewer with religious representations, messages, and morals via narrative structure and characterisation. One example of religious characterisation is that of Noah Puckerman (Puck) a gentile Jew. Arguably, the Jewish representations in episode 8, season 1 is a fairly stereotypical one. In this episode Puck has a dream (after watching Schindler‘s List) involving Rachel (the other Glee club member linked to Judaism) who is wearing the star of David. Puck later sings a song in the episode by Neil Diamond who is Jewish. In this case, Glee uses the Jewish stereotypes, and symbolism as a reference to Judaism, giving the religion a voice in the show, as a form of the ‘other’.

Lastly, Glee also includes within the storyline a chastity club; part of McKinley’s high school clubs, of which pregnant Quinn is president. This serves as another site for discussion over religious morals. It is not only the clubs existence, the promotion of chastity before marriage, but Quinn’s ultimate decision to carry her baby to full term, which is promoted in the show as the right action. Any ideas of abortion in the show are silenced, and pro-life is promoted. Quinn’s decision involves a highly contentious issue which is present in institutionalised religion. Therefore, Glee secularises religious views and popularises them, through the success of the series.

Religion is clearly present in popular television today. By using narrative structure and characterisation Glee and V, present the viewer with moral guidance and ways of viewing the ‘other’. As Hjarvard argues the media therefore performs a social function one previously exclusive to religion (9). Problematically however, the media usually fails to construct a holistic representation of religious groups and uses stereotypes. Nevertheless, an audience can consciously recognise a religious or spiritual presence with in a television show, however obvious or embedded they may be.

Works Cited
Clark, Lynn Schofield. “U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the ‘funky’ Side of Religion” Journal of Communication. 52.4 (2002): 794- 811.

Dyer, Glenn. “MasterChef, Glee Assure Seven of a Poor Night.” Crikey. Ed. Sophie Black. 9 July 2010. Private Media. 23 July 2010.
Hjarvard, Stig. “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change.” Northern Lights. 6 (2008): 9-26.
Works Used
V. Dir. Yves Simoneau and Fred Toye. Writ. Kenneth Johnson. ABC. Nine, Brisbane. Mar. 2010.

Glee. Dir. Scott J., Murphy R., Falchuk B., Keene E., and Barclay P. Writ. Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy. FOX. 19 May 2009 Ten, Brisbane. 17 Sept. 2009.

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