Saturday, April 13, 2013

'Glee' School Shooting Episode Aired at the Right Time

Earlier this week I wrote about how effectively Grey’s Anatomy beamed information about struggles of the Syrian civil war into American living rooms, thereby raising our awareness about the escalating situation in that country.

Now, a week after that Grey’s Anatomy episode aired, another prime time TV show showcased a major issue with chilling effect. Though some reactions to this week’s episode of Glee, titled “Shooting Star,” have been negative, I believe this episode depicts an important message that aired at a critical and appropriate time.

Like each of the series’ other episodes, this Glee entry starts off with song and cheer. The cast of teenage characters go about their daily lives, eager for glee club practice after school. But halfway through the episode, the sound of gunshots sends the characters—and the audience—into panic.

The next ten minutes are the tensest moments I’ve felt watching a television show since Grey’s Anatomy featured an episode on the same theme several years ago. The lights are dim, background music and sound effects are gone, and we only see and hear the character’s anguished sobs as they hide from an unknown assailant.


By the end of the ordeal, we find out there is no shooter. Rather, the gun—which is brought to school by Becky Jackson, a student with down syndrome who is scared of change—is set off accidentally and does not hurt anyone. Jackson does not mean to shoot anyone, and apologizes to her coach and longtime mentor for bringing the gun and for its accidental discharge.


The Daily News states that this episode could have been done at any time and accuses Ryan Murphy, the series’ creator and show runner, of creating this episode now because “it had [the recent] Newtown [shooting] as a raw, visceral reference point.” The article expresses disappointment that we experience the ordeal by focusing only on the main cast of characters and concludes that the series “us[ed] [the] tragedy for its own advantage.” It claims that the accidental discharge is “just an unfortunate mistake by someone who didn't fully grasp the consequences of casual firearms use. But for viewers who didn't know this, it was a setup, a way to scare us at a moment when we are most vulnerable to being scared.”

While I agree that this episode could have been made at any time in the series’ four year run, I think it is most effective now in the wake of the events in Newtown. The Newtown shooting is an unimaginable horror, but it brought the gun control debate to the forefront once more (giving it more attention than it got prior, at least in my opinion). In its wake, the Obama administration started paying attention to gun control and even congress is working on the issue. Nevertheless, gun loving people across the nation refuse to budge an inch—some even want to nullify federal law to escape gun regulation. Glee’s depiction of the suspense and fear felt by its characters is exactly the kind of visceral representation that can engage people’s minds where written words and news reports fail.

It does not matter that the episode is a setup. That’s the whole point. It presents the viewer with a powerful ‘what if’ scenario. And how many school shooters can be said to “fully grasp the consequences” of firearm use? At the end of the episode, the audience is relieved that none of the characters we care about are hurt. And maybe we walk away considering the consequences of a situation like this occurring in real life, especially when the gun is used intentionally.

Glee airs Thursday nights on Fox.

1 comment:

  1. The point of tv shows is entertainment. If it can evoke certain strong emotions or provoke active discussions of important issues, even better. Glee has never shunned away from covering controversial issues. I am glad that on top of staying current with its musical numbers, Glee is also staying current with an issue that have been actively debated and should continue being debated. Considering its high viewership, especially following American Idol, and also being on the very republican Fox, its duty to create awareness with its far outreach is important. I applaud glee for demonstrating so simply, that even though intentions can be innocent or even good, gun control is necessary, because when used wrongly, intentionally or accidentally, it can cause a lot of pain and suffering.