What Glee Got Right

What makes football players cry? Maybe losing a game, but I haven’t seen that…often. In fairness, that could be because my school’s team has more than their share of experience at dealing with loss.

No, the television show Glee got it right tonight, which is something I have only very rarely been able to say. Finn, the football player and Rachel’s boyfriend–his only two identities–doesn’t know what he wants to do after high school. He’s surrounded by people with dreams, but he just can’t figure out what his next step is. In a heart-rending speech, he admits to his teacher that he doesn’t want to graduate, that he believes he has little talent and that once high school is over, he’ll be lost in the crowd, destined to a mundane life watching others succeed as he lives on past semi-glory.

The actor playing Finn nailed the range of emotions, and the writers got the speech down almost exactly to how I hear it, every year, sometimes multiple times. They were basically right about the context, too–just the senior and the teacher, alone in a classroom, fairly certain that no one will wander in–it’s usually after school, or during lunch, a time it’s easy to predict who’s around.

The first few times I had these conversations, I was stymied; even kids who sit in classes enthusiastically counting down days till graduation with their friends have been among the ninjas who sneak in my confessional to unburden themselves.

I’ve taught 26 years. In that time, there have been very few years that I haven’t had the “I don’t really want to graduate” speech, sometimes from a kid who seems to have the world by the tail, sometimes from a kid who is sabotaging his/her graduation in amazingly passive-aggressive ways. The reasoning and emotions are nearly the same: the kid feels unprepared in some way (intellectually, socially, emotionally, financially) for life after high school–even if there’s evidence that he/she is ready to cope–and the kid feels that his/her high school years may be their peak. It may be the smartest, the most popular, the most talented that they will ever be.

I could whistle a happy tune and tap dance the platitudes that spout like dandelions in May throughout the school, attempting to “encourage” these kids. Instead, I listen, and just listen some more, often as they choke up and look for tissue to wipe their tears–and yes, the males cry in this conversation as often as the females. They cuss and get angry, too–they’re not ready to go on, and they’re pissed that they have to. And I admit to some of them that yes, they probably will remember high school as a golden time, and depending on how they handle the next few years, it could be downhill after they wear their cap and gown and walk across the stage to shake hands and get their diploma.

I have a lot of issues with Glee, and have gone through times of only half-watching because my daughter wanted me to. And I have plenty of comments to make about Rachael’s cover of “How Deep is Your Love” tonight–it was not a perfect show. And I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’ll just say that a couple later scenes with Finn have no ring of truth resonating. But the scene when Finn finally tells Mr. Shue how he feels–that was real.

I could prove it….I’ve had conversations in my room in the last month that the writers of Glee could have been scribing for that scene. Bravo for writing it right…for once.





Orwell Was Right

Note: I wrote this before Edward Snowden, and when the world was more innocent, even post-9/11.  

Clandestine. That’s a word I don’t hear very often any more–a fabulous word with rather seedy, sinister undertones. Civil rights. That’s a phrase I don’t hear very often, either. I think there’s a correlation there.

You doubt me? Consider Chicago. The video surveillance system there is so massive that it’s reasonable to say that most people who are not in their homes (and maybe even then, depending on their windows), are probably under surveillance. The article that I linked to mentions a recent suicide victim whose last 20 minute drive through the city was recreated via a network of public and private video cams.

That bothers me. In real terms, that means citizens have lost the presumption of privacy. Heard of Big Brother? He’s watching, and there’s no outcry–we’re all surfing online, reading facebook status messages and giggling at YouTube videoes instead of decrying our lost privacy. Even the ACLU, which has extensive info on their site about data, internet and biometric privacy, seems oblivious to the intrusion of cameras as we run routine errands…or, yes, have clandestine meetings.

In 1992, actress Joan Collins sued Globe magazine because they had used a telephoto lens located on public property to take pictures of her on private property. The court found that her claim was valid under the intrusion tort, one of the legal ways the right to privacy is delineated. (This piece from the U Penn on celebrities and the right to privacy was fascinating…time for law school applications? Maybe….) The courts have ruled many times that celebrities and other famous people have less legal expectation of privacy; in other words, Sean Penn really doesn’t have the right to beat up photographers in public places if they are a reasonable distance from him and not physically threatening him.

But what about me? Supposing I’m heading to the store at 3 a.m. in my jammies–bra-less and bed head, driving carefully and not indulging in any of the seven deadly sins or breaking any of the ten commandments. Then, I get to the store, realize my purse and my money were still on the kitchen table. I never get out of my car, turning around and deciding that the 3 a.m. run for TP was not happening; we’d use paper towel till the sun rose. The whole time, I’m either on my property or in my property–my Honda–can a picture from a security cam show up on the front page of the newspaper? Even more interesting, can one taken on a cell phone by a student in the car next to mine at a stop light be circulated to all his contacts?

I used that article about Chicago in both my senior English class and my Advanced class last spring, and I was appalled. Even the more thoughtful students were enthusiastic about the spider web of cameras surrounding Chicago, and the cameras that are throughout Lima in places–including our school. The students believe they are in danger, and that the world–even their hometown–are scary places. Almost without exception, they believed they are safer with the cameras watching. Even a discussion about whether the cameras function as a deterrent or as a means for retribution didn’t shake their conviction that they are safer with cameras watching, just as looking at crime data for our city didn’t convince them that their presumption of danger was disproportionate. (No, I didn’t say all that in those words…it took a long, long time to express and discuss those concepts in language that was generally accessible. It’s summer. I get to use my native language.) The arguement that almost bothered me the most was, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why does it matter if there are cameras?”

That’s missing the problem. That’s missing the erosion of civil liberties, and the escalating power of technology as it’s used with little wisdom or thought. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. That’s the concept that is too often lost in the name of progress–and I’m a techie, not a Luddite in the least. Ben Franklin said, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.” Amen.