One month, two very different stories about Glee and bullies. Entertainment Weekly recently praised the hit show for its stand against gay-bashing and “the daily high school realities of bullying, discrimination and ignorance.” Soon after, Toronto newspapers reported that students at a Toronto school were not only shouting anti-gay slurs at people but “slushing” them—throwing colourful ice drinks at them and trying to soak them or stain them, or just hit them with the ice. This happens to be a technique popularized, and maybe even invented, by the bad guys on Glee. Enza Anderson, a Toronto transgender political activist who has organized a public meeting to discuss the attacks, told Maclean’s that “it was definitely copied from the show. In my 20 years of living in this community, I’ve never seen this done until that show started.” If anti-war movies like Saving Private Ryan have been accused of making war seem exciting, then Glee could be the anti-bullying show that gives bullies ideas.
The throwing of slushies, or Slurpees, or whatever they’re called, is one of the most iconic running gags on the show. It tends to be done by the members of the football team, the representatives of evil, as a quick and easy way to humiliate the characters on the good-guy glee club: everyone from the annoying Rachel (Lea Michele) to saintly Kurt (Chris Colfer) has randomly been splashed.
Even people who don’t watch Glee regularly might have seen the drink-throwing somewhere else, thanks to advertising. Before the current season started, the cast promoted the show with an ad where they all threw multi-coloured drinks at the camera. Oprah Winfrey even invited Michele to help demonstrate the proper splattering technique on her show, introducing the show’s property master as he practised covering a dummy named “Bob” with red dye: “Not bad,” he mused. “I would have preferred a little more texture.” Along with singing and incomprehensible plots, slushing may be the thing Glee most wants to be known for.
Not that the show is actively trying to encourage people to do this. Even before it started devoting whole storylines to the issue, Glee always tried to make it clear that bullying is bad, since any time a nerd or outcast gets a drink in the face, it’s a sign we’re supposed to sympathize with them and hate the people doing the flinging. But it wouldn’t be the first show where bad or outright evil behaviour catches on with viewers who don’t realize the instigators are supposed to be the villains. Just as bigots used to quote Archie Bunker as if he was supposed to be right, bullies might now be vaguely aware that slushing is something that gets laughs on a popular television show.
The concern over these incidents could indicate a new interest in that old issue: whether people imitate what they see on television. Once a source of much television self-censorship and warning labels, this notion had been on the back burner for a few years: in 2008, when a boy was buried alive by friends who were imitating the popular anime show Naruto, it didn’t become a major story. But recently, the influence of TV and radio has become a big debating point. After the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, there were questions about whether talk shows had made any contribution to the shooter’s paranoia. And MTV lost several advertisers due to conservative protests over its show Skins, where teenagers take drugs and have sex: Glenn Beck fumed about the bad influences that “MTV is pouring directly into our kids’ heads.”
Still, for now, Glee seems to be free of blame in the slushing incidents; most people acknowledge that it’s not a show’s fault if people pick things up from it. Anderson is focused on local politicians and the school, while a local businessman who was slushed told the Toronto Star he blamed the “general hooliganism” of teenagers. But if it turns out that real-life bullies really are learning some gimmicks from Glee, it might make people nostalgic for the days when the Superman TV show warned kids not to try flying. At least those TV-imitating kids weren’t in danger of hurting anyone except themselves.