It is appalling that Fox’s Glee (Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m. ET) would engage in
a plot involving a sexual relationship between a student and teacher that is
reprehensible and exploitative. Instead, the show treats the topic
blithely, painting the student (Puck) as the eager, heroic aggressor and the
teacher (Shelby) as the weak-willed, swooning object of affection. In the
process, the November 29th episode has rightfully earned the title of
Worst TV Show of the Week.
In a previous episode, Puck expressed his infatuation for Shelby in a
fantasy-musical number of Van Halen’s “Hot for the Teacher.” In this episode, he
basically serenades her with his classroom rendition of Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m
the Only One.” Shelby rebuffs his advances until a medical emergency sends her
reeling. Puck comes to her rescue, comforting her at the hospital after her
adopted daughter (Puck and Quinn’s child) needs stitches due to an accidental
fall. Suddenly, in Shelby’s vulnerable state, Puck ends up in her bed. Post
coitus, Puck tells her, “You know, the advantage of a relationship with a
younger dude is that I still got four more rounds in me before I need a steak
sandwich and a Coke Zero.” Shelby immediately regrets what they’ve done and
ushers him out.
Student-teacher sexual abuse has been spotlighted in the news lately due to
recent legislation passed in Missouri designed to curtail contact between
students and teachers via social networking. The Amy Hestir Student Protection
Act, named after a student who was repeatedly assaulted by a middle school
teacher, was signed into law in July, and has prompted school districts across
the country to reconsider their social networking policies amid a rash of
high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct between teachers and students.
Just this past October an Ohio gym teacher, Stacy Schuler, was convicted of
sexual battery for having sex with five male students.
Against this backdrop, the Puck-Shelby storyline is the height of
irresponsibility. The show tries to skirt the legal issues by stating that Puck
is 18 years old. But the show glosses over the inherent power imbalance of a
student-teacher relationship. Regardless of who is the aggressor, any sexual
relationship between a high-school student and a teacher is exploitative.
Rather than treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves, Glee feeds
into the notion that male students who have sex with female teachers aren’t
victims. In the vast majority of real-life cases, the teachers were the
aggressors; and based on the research, the students they preyed upon may suffer
for years with this trauma. According to the study Long-Term Consequences of
Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim (Dube, S.R., et al.), “Female
perpetration of [child sexual abuse] upon boys was common (40%), and increased
the risk of behavioral and social outcomes among male [child sexual abuse]
victims… less is known about the long-term effects on the lives of boys. By
presenting the effects of [child sexual abuse] side-by-side for men and women,
this study demonstrated that the effects on the risks of multiple behavioral,
mental, and social outcomes were nearly identical.”
Gleethrives on feeding into and feeding
off of the zeitgeist. When the show isn’t referencing popular culture, it
makes every effort to become part of it. Glee’s success rests on whether
viewers perceive it as tapping into popular sentiment or sapping it.
Therefore, it is reprehensible that show creator Ryan Murphy’s take on topic of
student-teacher sex doesn’t better reflect the reality…especially in light of
the sincere, heartfelt way the program has tackled other issues like anti-gay
bullying. The show would have been better off if it sang a different tune: “NOTfor the Teacher.”
For its irresponsible depiction of a student-teacher sexual relationship,
Glee has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.
Parents Television Council,
Clean Up TV Now, Because our children are watching, The
nation's most influential advocacy organization, Protecting
children against sex, violence and profanity in
entertainment, Parents Television Council Seal of Approval,
and Family Guide to Prime Time Television
are trademarks of the Parents Television Council.