Ever wonder what our nation looks like to folks from afar? Here we look at how a uniquely American story--the kind of news we have trouble explaining even to ourselves--is being told overseas. Want to see a particular topic covered here? Let us know.
As Glee ramps up after mid-season break, Gwyneth Paltrow singing her last song and Gleeks everywhere looking forward to Nationals, admit it: you'd love to know what Europeans think, watching this bopping-twirling extravaganza. Fun it may be, but an entire nation of TV-watching adults rocking out to Journey isn't something you see every day.
We've got you covered. With promising headlines like "Le phénomène «Glee»" (for some reason we get this image of Foucault scrutinizing the Britney Spears episode) and "Wir sind Loser, Baby, aber wir können singen," ("We're losers, baby, but we can sing") Continental papers have been busy explaining Glee to European citizens for months. The German press unrolled their introduction in January, when Glee became the latest American import to hit Teutonic televisions. Take a look at Die Welt's coverage:
An irritating egocentric Jewish girl with two fathers. A fat black. A bespectacled guy in a wheelchair. A stuttering Asian with weird taste in clothes. A mentally lazy football player. And an ephebic gay. This troop is hardly what the American mainstream imagines as TV show heroes. But precisely these six and their experiences of self-discovery at William McKinley high school in Lima, Ohio are being cheered by viewers as what is essentially a musical in continuing episodes. Surely it doesn't work.And yet it works--and how it works.
Manuel Brug, writing the profile, goes on to detail Glee's commercial success in the States. "America likes its winners," he writes, but sometimes you just "want to sing along in front of the TV." Good thing, too--given, as another Die Welt article notes, the transmission of "Glee-fever" (a.k.a. "'Glee'-Fieber") to Germany.
Thomas Winkler, searching for the key to Glee for Die Zeit, dives deeper. "The time for musical series seemed past," he writes. "Since the Patridge Family in the sixties and Fame in the eighties all attempts to resurrect the formula have failed. To add to this, Glee doesn't copy the success recipe of the High School Musical films out of which the Disney company fashioned a profitable franchise. ... In contrast to the aseptic, ultra-conservative High School Musical, the producers of Glee, don't shrink from diving into the lowlands of reality. In Glee a lot is sung and danced, but also sworn and screwed." He lists some of the themes dealt out "with a good portion of sarcasm: brutality and bulimia, homophobia and racism, sexism, consumerist terror and what a healthy young person must otherwise tackle."
French publication Le Figaro's handling of Glee also draws the comparison to High School Musical, again finding Glee entirely different. "Pom-pom girls, American football, little flirts and big sorrows--all the ingredients of teen movies are there," notes Lena Lutaud. Except "here, the virile quarterbacks wriggle to Single Ladies by Beyonce." Lutaud observes that thanks to a "cocktail of good humor, the series pleases adolescents as well as adults," and "Glee has become a societal phenomenon in the United States. With 14 million 'Gleeks' (a contraction of Glee and geek)," she explains, "watching Season Two right now, the show is hard on the heels of American Idol."
The note of layman's anthropological curiosity isn't unlike Glee stories on this side of the Atlantic last year. Danish news agency Ritzau even marveled along with the U.S. media when Glee beat Elvis on singles, or when Britney Spears made a cameo. Somehow, though, just as the "Gleek" definition sounds funnier in French, across-the-water coverage has a way of throwing the show's absurdist element into sharp relief, as in the Danish writeup:
The section would feature the show's main characters hallucinating about Britney Spears, while on laughing gas at the dentist.
Happy viewing, everyone!
Heather Horn is fluent in written German and French, proficient in written Arabic, and has received purely decorative doses of Irish Gaelic and Western Armenian. All other languages are muddled through with the help of Google Translate.