Dear Ryan Murphy: Once more, with Glee.

By | February 9, 2011

The ship that launched a thousand fanfics.

Dear Ryan Murphy,

The last time I penned you a public missive, I had a few people observe that since you had not actually written the episodes of Glee that were receiving my rage, it was unfair to hold you responsible for every little thing that happens on your show. I beg to differ, given your Glee co-creator credit and your position on the tippy-top of the list of executive producers — so long as you are drawing the fattest paycheck for this series, I am going to hold your ass personally responsible even for minor wardrobe decisions. I just want to be clear on that.

However, if I am giving you credit for the negative I must also give you credit for the positive, and tonight’s episode, “Silly Love Songs,” had quite a bit of that. You did write this one, and having seen it, I think it’s safe to assume that you have plans for Lauren Zizes, but which none of the other writers understand, and so we wind up with a bunch of fat jokes in other episodes because how the fuck else do you write about a fat character, y’all? You write about how fat they are, of course! And what they eat.

“Silly Love Songs” begins with a lovesick Puck ruminating on his throbbing crush on Lauren, played by Ashley Fink (whom readers may also remember as Carter on Huge) with her usual tack-sharp comic timing. We get a behind-the-scenes look at their broom-closet makeout sesh — for those who haven’t been watching the show, it was by promising Lauren the fabled seven minutes in heaven that Puck convinced her to join the glee club in a prior episode. It turns out Puck is a lousy kisser (psshhht, I could have predicted THAT) and Lauren blows him off after only three minutes, explaining, “Yeah, you’re not turning me on at all.” Puck is bewildered and enamored. We hear his internal monologue as he stares at Lauren in class, “Maybe it’s because she’s constantly insulting me, like my mother. Maybe I just dig a chick with curves… I am in love with Lauren Zizes.”

The “curves” comment can be forgiven, annoying euphemism that it is, because Lauren is not actually “curvy”. She is portrayed by the awesome Ashley Fink and Ashley Fink is Hot Motherfucking Death Fat, man. This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, her fatness is not fooling around. I simply don’t see many fats so close to my own stature in a permanent role on TV, and it makes me almost deliriously happy. So I’ll let Puck have his “curvy” assessment, because as much as I’d like to hear the word “fat” in a value-free context, it may take awhile before we can call the fat folks fat and have it be no big thing.

Later, in the glee club room, the name of which I would probably know if I watched the show more regularly, we get some tension between Lauren and Santana. Lauren calls Santana a bitch, and Santana asserts, “I’m sorry, but you have just got eyes for my man.” Puck indignantly notes that he is not “her man”, and in the hallway afterwards, Lauren begrudgingly thanks him for sticking up for her. A starry-eyed Puck tells her he knows she is thirty-two flavors of badass and when Lauren agrees, he seizes upon the moment to ask her to dinner for Valentine’s Day. Lauren: “You seriously think it’s that easy? I’m not desperate, so if you really want this, you best come correct — because I spell woman Z-I-Z-E-S and I need to be wooed. You understand me? Wooed.” You can almost see the little hearts circling Puck’s big dumb head. Fat ladies are rarely portrayed in media as anything other than sad and self-loathing so Lauren’s bravado is impressive and likely a total mindfuck for many viewers, but is it bluster? In this episode, if not in any episodes prior, she reads as a remarkably confident young woman who knows she deserves to be treated with respect, and who isn’t about to settle for whatever attention she can get. My worry, of course, is that this is will all be a facade, and I don’t want Lauren to be a facade — I want her to be tough and sharp and smart for real.

Puck’s first effort at wooing Lauren is to use this week’s glee club assignment — choose and sing a “great” love song, says Mr. Schuester, who is wonderfully absent from most of this episode — to serenade her with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”.

I am generally opposed to Queen covers, because you are not Freddie Mercury, young man, and you never will be, but this particular song is topical and Puck (sorry Puck-playing actor, I forget your name) does a surprisingly capable job with it. While he sings, Mr. Shuester rolls his eyes as though he knows a little something about the fairer sex, pal, and telling a lady she’s fat ain’t going to cut it, while the other ladies of Glee look shocked and dismayed, not so much at Puck’s clear affection for Lauren as the way he is apparently making a mess out of things. The subtext of this scene is that we’re all supposed to get that Puck is fucking up here, rocking though the performance may be.

The song ends and the rest of the glee club conveniently files out of the room for no apparent reason. Puck approaches Lauren, explaining that this was his love song to her! He notes that she is “on the heavier side, but I’m kind of into it!” Though I have never found Puck (nor the actor who plays him) to be particularly appealing, his tenative chubby-chaser enthusiasm is adorable and even charming. Lauren says, “That was the first time anyone sang me a love song.” Pause. “And it made me feel like crap.”

Wait, WHAT?

Lauren’s response was baffling to me upon first viewing, as I missed the other characters’ reactions during the song, distracted as I was by the audaciousness of having the stereotypical hot-guy character sing “Fat Bottomed Girls” as a sincere compliment to the fat girl. Frankly, it’s still baffling to me now, because while I’m not saying I would instantly give it up to any guy who serenaded me with Queen, I would certainly be moved to think the prospect over. It’s fucking Queen! It’s fucking “Fat Bottomed Girls”! Give the fat girl some taste, Ryan Murphy, won’t you?

Shortly thereafter we come to the inevitable Lauren/Santana showdown, in which Santana gets her comeuppance via a totally gratuitous altercation in the hall. I can only assume you meant the violence to come across as slapstick, with Lauren literally bouncing Santana off lockers, but it’s actually a little uncomfortable. The best thing to come of this scene is in the lead-up to the fight, when Santana calls Lauren “Poppin’ Fresh”.

I intend to start calling all of my fat friends “Poppin’ Fresh” because it is the most hilarious fat-based taunt I have heard in recent memory. Santana winds up dragged off to the school nurse, and when Lauren turns to Puck to retrieve her glasses, he is so hot for her he blurts, “Please go out with me. Just… please.” Lauren tells him to “make a formal presentation, and I’ll consider it.”

Later, we come upon Lauren and Puck in the library, and when Lauren asks when Puck intends to properly ask her out, he says, “I sang to you.” Lauren: “An offensive song.”

WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA. WHOA. You watch your mouth, young lady. Queen is never offensive. Ryan Murphy, I am baffled. I simply do not buy that Lauren would be offended by this — her character has thus far been incredibly secure and it would be fitting that someone like her might be fine with the word “fat”, or with other people noticing that she is fat, because she is fat, and that is kind of the point, isn’t it? That the stereotypical hot guy is into the fat girl, that this is not something we see on television and not something we see in real life either, probably not because it never happens but because no matter how much you might like a fat girl, the taunts of your peers are probably not worth making your feelings known. Your choice to have Lauren respond to this in a negative way undercuts a huge part of the potential good you’re doing — just let Lauren be fat, let her know it, and let her be consciously okay with it.

[Edited to add: It has occurred to me after a bit o’ discussion that the “Fat-Bottomed Girls” issue could be alternatively interpreted as Lauren setting her own boundaries, and not appreciating Puck’s assumption that she would automatically respond to that song in a positive way. This would suggest that a dude should find out more about Lauren to figure out what song she would find most appealing, rather than take the leap that any song about fat girls would suffice. However, Lauren’s condemnation of the whole song as offensive (“An offensive song”), ostensibly in any context, may contradict such a reading. Of course, this whole scenario would be less murky if you, Ryan Murphy, had been arsed to give Lauren a single fucking line explaining why she thinks the song is intrinsically offensive.]

Lauren tells Puck, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly,” which is cute but ultimately perplexing — is she okay with her size or not? Puck says, “Let’s be honest, you look… they way you look. I’m embracing that. I mean, it turns me on, babe.” Lauren retorts, “I look like America looks. And like America, I need more than just a song to get my juices flowing.” This was the point, Ryan Murphy, where I sighed heavily and wished you had seen fit to workshop this scene with me. Or, better yet, just let me write the character. “I look like America looks” is pithy and meant to be all “unskinny-solidarity, fuck yeah!” and I get that, but it’s also awfully patronizing, bro. Death fats actually only comprise a very small percentage of Americans and you know what? We don’t have to be in the majority to warrant being awesome people who deserve to be treated like respectable humans. This exchange just fell so flat to me, Ryan Murphy. I like to be represented, but I don’t like to be patronized. Learn the damn difference, man.

We never do find out exactly why Lauren found the song offensive, but when Puck kneels and, brandishing a ring pop, formally asks for a date, she consents and sends him on his way. But then, inexplicably, she stands him up. When he confronts her in the hallway the following day, she seems to have forgotten about it. Puck says, “Look, I get it, you’ve been hurt by guys before, but I’m not like that!” Lauren is correctly dubious, and explains that she’s not looking for someone to just mess around with, so if Puck wants to pursue her he’ll need to take it “slow”.

There’s a lot of positive stuff here, Ryan Murphy, even if these characters and this hypothetical relationship is still awfully uneven and contradictory — one minute Puck is openly appreciative of Lauren’s looks, the next he saying, “I’m not into you because you… have curves” but that he actually likes her for her tough demeanor. Can’t it be both? Of course, it wouldn’t be Glee if you didn’t hit some sour notes as well, the most obvious being the fact that Mercedes, another fat character, though less fat than Lauren, is pretty much ignored as a potential love interest in this and every other episode I’ve seen. Not to get too academic on you, but constantly forgetting the fat black female character when everyone else is elbow-deep in romantic entanglements is uncomfortably close to a desexualized mammy stereotype for my taste. I doubt this is intentional, but it’s weird, and off-putting, and extremely obvious.

I’m glad you’ve taken my prior criticisms to heart, Ryan Murphy, and the truth is, rewriting fat stereotypes on television will inevitably be an awkward process. There are literally decades of assumptions to unpack, and it’s not going to happen in a single show or even a single season. But in this episode, we have forward movement, rather than the reliance on tired old caricatures that we’ve seen before.

So I am happy to say you’ve made a good start, and I hope you continue on this path in the future. If my site analytics are anything to go by, your viewers are really interested in whether Ashley Fink will be getting any solos, as they’re googling the question a whole lot. Let’s deliver on that soon, yes?

Sincerely,
Lesley Kinzel
Erstwhile Glee watcher, Death Fat, and compulsive critic.

PS: A note to my beloved non-US readers — I know you cannot watch the Hulu videos I have included here, and that makes me very sad. Unfortunately, there is no other [legal] resource for this episode that is viewable outside the US. If you google around, you may find some disreputable lawbreaking sites that will enable you to watch — but I didn’t tell you that.

PPS: Also check out this marvelous interview with La Fink on TV Squad: “Seth Green has been my ultimate celebrity crush — well actually it was Raphael from ‘Ninja Turtles’ but then I realized I can’t.” This is where I go all <3HEARTS<3, it’s true.


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