A gaggle of girls giggle on a bus about their favourite television characters. A band of bros battle about their home teams over a pitcher of beers. A coffee clatch argue passionately for Timmy’s versus Starbucks. That’s the way passionate social discourse used to unfold. Social media has changed that. Now people, who may or may not know each other, express points of view about things that capture their fancy without the filter of face-to-face interaction. Heated debate isn’t tempered by the good manners mother instilled.
One subject that engenders extraordinary, and seemingly irrational, passion on social media is “ships.” Another word has been co-opted by the computer world and the meaning changed. Shipping is publicly identifying favoritism for a couple who are in relationship. The word is a corruption of relationship. Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob? Do you ship Brangelina or Will and Kate? The choice of ship can be real or fictional. Whatever it may be the favoritism is vocal, very vocal. Death threats were made to an actor who booked a role that was intended to interfere with a relationship on Glee.
On Thursday night, in episode 9 of season 4, the writers of Glee broke the 5th wall – the social media wall – turning the tables on one of those partisan, vociferous group of shippers. My jaw dropped as I listened to the monologue unfold. To emerge from my television screen that bit of argument had to be shaped by a writer, approved by the showrunner, OK’d by the executive producer, and pass the rating-focused review of suits in corporate. That it did was telling.
To understand how revolutionary that moment between Sam and Brittany was, you need some background – unless you are a fan of Glee. [Skip this part if you are.] Brittany, one of the original characters, has identified as bicurious. She has dated nearly everyone in McKinley, eventually going steady with Santana, who identifies as lesbian. The couple became as significant for the lesbian community as Klaine became for the gay community. Shippers of Brantana fought a losing battle on social media to keep the couple together. Glee’s powers that be chose Season 4 to break apart all their power couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Their plans for Brittany however went beyond a mere break-up, the Glee producers decided that Brittany’s next romantic entanglement would be heterosexual.
Dousing the flames before they started
Sam made his move on Brit. She made it clear she was willing. But declined. Her explanation broke the 5th wall. It was priceless, and funny, gut rippingly funny. Brittany feared that if they became a couple, Sam would be killed by social media rampaging lesbians who felt betrayed by her switch from Santana to Sam. Glee doused the flames of social media reaction before they began. And I loved it.