Hoo boy. The internet is simply aflame with this exceedingly minor league war of words going on between hick stadium rockers Kings of Leon and Glee creator Ryan Murphy. Isn’t it? I haven’t checked. But the Onion A.V. Club has a story about an interview Murphy did with the Hollywood Reporter in which Murphy called the Kings of Leon “self-centered assholes” for having the audacity to say “no thanks” to allowing one of their songs to be used in Murphy’s show. Before we discuss this any further, I feel it’s prudent to point out that my favorite fights by far are those in which I have absolutely no stake. I don’t care if Ryan Murphy makes the Kings of Leon look bad and I don’t care if they make him look bad.
What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is Murphy’s assertion that a kid might “join a glee club or pick up a musical instrument” if they heard a kid singing a Kings of Leon song on Glee. Now, I have no problem whatsoever with Glee‘s existence. I don’t watch it myself because it is oh-so-very not my cup of tea (this should not surprise regular Bollocks! readers), but I know people who do watch it and enjoy it. Fine. I also think it’s okay for Ryan Murphy to take pride in his work (shouldn’t everyone?). But I think Murphy is overstating the impact of Glee by more than a little bit.
In terms of overestimating the societal contribution of an entertainment product, Ryan Murphy is not alone. I’ve noticed a mild-to-slightly-irritating strain of self-importance running through some people who work on or create video games like Guitar Hero and/or television shows like Glee . Some, certainly not all (let’s not fire up those hate-emails just yet), of these people seem to think that their creative endeavors are spawning some kind of massive musical Renaissance across America. I would love it if that were the case, but there’s absolutely zero objective evidence to suggest such a thing (I know Rock Band is starting to use real instruments, which is admittedly cool. But making that game doesn’t make the people who play it Jimi Hendrix and it doesn’t make the people who made it Ghandi).
Look: even if a kid does pick up an instrument because of a song he or she heard on Glee, Ryan Murphy has no proof that the kid will stick with that instrument or that learning to play that instrument will somehow make that kid an honest-to-dog better person. It’s a nice thought and I’d probably want to keep it in mind if I was Ryan Murphy, but he’s also conveniently ignoring the equally possible scenario wherein a kid will see Glee, fucking hate it, and vow never to learn anything more about music ever again. God forbid a kid is already learning an instrument and quits taking lessons because Glee has destroyed their will to carry on.
Just for fun though, let’s suppose a theoretical tyke watches Glee, is moved by it to learn an instrument, and sticks with that instrument. The kid could still – and this is of primary importance to me – end up making really shitty music. So even assuming that Glee is inspiring kids to learn to play music, a dubious assertion on par with assuming that Grey’s Anatomy inspires people to go to medical school, let’s not pretend that everyone who does play a musical instrument should play a musical instrument.
As I said, Ryan Murphy can think whatever he wants (he can even call me a self-centered asshole, if it makes him feel better) about his show, but this sort of zealous, missionary attitude – from anyone – is poisonous and, ultimately, useless. Is calling the Kings of Leon assholes really gonna make them feel like they made the wrong decision? And if Glee is so goddamn great, Mr. Murphy, why do you care who licenses their songs to the show and who doesn’t? Is the show really no better than the songs that you’re allowed to mercilessly Auto-Tune in it? Perhaps better writing might also turn kids onto music (I mean shit, Ryan, my writing has been known to lead folks to new music every once in a while and I’m not a big fancy TV guy like you are).
The thing is, I don’t really think that Murphy was upset about the Kings of Leon refusing to give him the use of a song. I suspect that Murphy read the rejection as an implicit criticism of Glee and he got (perhaps preemptively) defensive about the show. Plenty of people say in public, every single day, that Glee sucks. I’m sure that could get hard to take after a while, especially given the orgasmic reception the show has received from most of the viewing public.
There’s just something in Ryan Murphy’s anti-Kings of Leon ire that seems a little too self-righteous to me, especially for someone who claims that his show is so damn noble. Of course, it’s easy to put on noble airs when you’re swimming in money from advertisers, Glee soundtrack albums (which have officially overtaken the Now That’s What I Call Music! series in the Released Far Too Frequently category), Glee coffee mugs, Glee stickers, and Glee emo bags (which I believe the kids refer to as Glee-mo bags). I don’t know if Murphy donates a bunch of his Glee money to arts education; I hope he does. But even if he does, it doesn’t justify acting like Glee is the last line of defense between our children and a music-less future. And how many high school arts and music programs have been “saved” by Glee anyway? I’m guessing very few, if any, and that’s only because I’m feeling generous today.
It really is fine to like Glee and think it’s a good show. But it’s ridiculous to try to endow it with virtues that are literally impossible to measure. It’s a fucking television show. It does not cure cancer or even do valuable cancer research. Obviously, art can enrich our lives (I’m not calling Glee “art”, mind you, although some people might call it that. “Art” is pretty much in the eye of the beholder), inspire us, and give us the strength to overcome adversity, but Ryan Murphy seems to believe that by denying him the use of one of their worst songs (see, I’m picking on them too, Glee fans), Kings of Leon are literally building a wall between seven-year-olds and music. I do hate to beat a dead horse here, but that horse’s name is Credible Evidence and there is none to back up Murphy’s lofty beliefs about his show’s impact on the music playing (or not playing) public. The only thing he can really say about Glee with one hundred percent certainty is that it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Cop Rock was tragically ahead of its time.