Let me start by saying that I cannot believe I am writing this post. Up to this point I have maintained a strict segregation between my status as a gleek and my academic-ish blogging.
But, yes, I watch Glee. While I would normally push past that so we could stay on point while I offered poignant theoretical and sociological insights into the human condition, I do believe coming out of the closet on this one requires a bit of discussion. I don’t generally watch television. In fact, the only show that I watch is Glee. It’s fun and poignant and bitingly real and garishly surreal. The writing and storyline are uneven to be sure but the music is generally loads of fun and some of the characters are quite compelling. I was in China during season 1 and started watching bootlegs of the show while there. It was just the dose of real/unreal Americana to balance out my life. Since my return from China I have maintained my glee habit, generally enjoying the way that the writers construct a litany of characters who are exactly what you would expect them to be and then some. Now that I am in Sweden, I have the Glee Season 3 Pass on itunes.
So that is enough of that. Let’s get to the point.
This week on Glee, Finn Hudson, a high school senior who realized that the one thing he had going for him was his relationship with fellow senior Rachel Berry, asked her to marry him. It was a bit of shock to the viewer (and to Rachel as well). I do not follow the show on twitter or read up about it in blogs, etc. However, I imagine that the proposal has probably created a bit of a stir with people asking what Finn (and the writers) were thinking. I suspect that people would say that they are too young, that people don’t really stay with their high school sweethearts anymore, that Finn needs to find some direction in life and that direction can’t be following your high school girlfriend around while she pursues her own dreams of Broadway stardom. I imagine all these conversations out there in the ether (or maybe I am just channeling my own memory of my dad telling me that it was a mistake to consider my high school sweetheart in my college plans. I didn’t by the way).
Of course these aren’t real people we are talking about but, all the same, I think it is time to consider the reality of the unreality here.
How unrealistic would it be for someone to go all Lloyd Dobler on their apparent soul-mate? Let’s consider a few only mildly vetted stats…
Probability of U.S. military personnel dying in Iraq in a given year (2003 – 2006) 1 in 255
Probability of high school athlete (in major sport) becoming a professional athlete 1 in 24,550
Probability of Rachel realizing her Broadway dreams (this one was much tougher to pinpoint since most actors never make a living in the job, most people who dream of performing never manage any kind of break into the business, and the world of acting does not end with Broadway and Hollywood but instead includes loads of folks who work in smaller markets and theaters) the odds I turned up (all exceedingly problematic) ranked the odds of making it big anywhere from 1 in 100,000 (for everyone who has the dream) to 1 in 23 for those who get representation, union membership and live in New York or LA. Broadway is all the more elusive.
Probability of Rachel and Finn staying married 1 in 2 (you could adjust this more by taking background factors into account but it is never going to be much worse than 1 in 2.5)
So, Finn has placed a pretty good bet when you consider the situation.
It also seems to me that it is a bit of an American thing to want to prioritize future dreams and relationships over a well-lived present. This forward-looking tendency doesn’t always serve us well (for example in the case of American students who simultaneously have very high educational expectations and lower educational performance than students in many other countries). We need dreamers, to be sure, and Rachel Berry is just such a dreamer. But we also need people to be stable and true and grounded in the present. It seems to me that, in Finn Hudson, the writers of Glee have created just that type of person.