Typically showcasing stereotyped personalities, such as the Jock, the Cheerleader, the Homecoming Queen, the Science Geek, and the Outcasted Rebel, teen dramas have been the outlet for teen angst, over-active hormones, emotions and unease since the early 1990’s. These shows internalize the “typical” high school experience and project an amplified version onto our television screens once a week so that we may all relive the embarrassment, and awkwardness of high school. Utilizing the medium of television as a unique storytelling platform, teen dramas facilitate an intense and climatic character and plot development that unfolds over the course of multiple seasons. In this way the audience becomes emotionally invested in the viewing experience. However, we see that in many cases, the character development and plot line often unfold in the framework of each character’s investment or a group of character’s investment in a particular hobby. By looking at the new television series, Glee we can see how the role of hobbies in teen dramas dictates a character’s personality, social status and interactions with others. We also see that a change in hobby serves as a signpost of a character’s evolving emotional needs and they are often aspirational hobbies that empower the audience.
Glee is an American musical comedy-drama television series that centers around a high school glee club that is dubbed “New Directions!” Set within the fictional William McKinley High School in small town Ohio, Glee broaches the archetypal incidents we see in classic teen shows: unrequited love, teen pregnancy, cheating, revenge, girl fights, fist fights, etc. etc. Drawing on inspiration from their experiences in glee clubs and theater in suburban high schools, creators, Ryan Murphey, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan originally conceptualized Glee as a film but later decided the storyline was more conducive to a television format in which each character could be fully-actualized over the course of multiple seasons. Although only thirteen episodes have aired thus far, the musical style monologues and myriad intimate moments have already begun to shed light on the true colors of each character’s moral standing, interests and personality. Using song as a vehicle, the role of Glee club as a hobby becomes central to each character’s development over the course of the first season. By looking at the characters of Cheerleader Quinn Fabray, “Superstar” Rachel berry, and jock and closet glee-aficionado Finn Hudson in the context of their leisure pursuits we see that this is the space in which the audience witnesses the true nature of each character.
In the first half of season one, cheerleader Quinn Fabray prides herself upon her position as head “Cheerio” and devious cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester’s pet. During her reign as head cheerleader, Quinn is for lack of a better word, a complete bitch. She looks down upon any and all fellow peers who do not maintain an equivalent social status, and she applies a conniving and deceitful nature to all of her endeavors. She often serves as Sue Sylvester’s spy and accomplice to the inevitable take-down of the Glee Club, and she will stop at nothing to preserve her position as queen bee. Pious and pure, Quinn is also a member of the school’s chastity club, where students participate in absolutely outrageous activities to promote abstinence until marriage. She is a daddy’s girl who is the embodiment of all the wholesomeness and lady-like attributes of a young mid-western girl. However, upon discovering the connection between her long-term boyfriend, Finn, and school loser, Rachel, Quinn decides to mediate their interactions by joining the Glee Club. It is at this point that Quinn’s entire life goes awry. Breaking her chastity vows, Quinn sleeps with school badass, Puck, who in typical teen drama fashion, impregnates her. From this point forward Quinn’s life spirals downwards and we see her fall from queendom. Her expulsion from the Cheerio squad due to her pregnancy is a major turning point for Quinn’s character whose most salient trait was her association with the squad. This is detrimental to her social status and self-concept. Without her identity as a “Cheerio” Quinn is forced to redefine who she is and she must discover her new place on the social ladder. Outcasted from the cheerleading squad and the chastity club, Quinn finds solace in the glee club who accepts her regardless of her social standing and moral dilemma.
“Superstar,” Rachel Berry is the over-confident loser, who is obsessed with the idea of fame. Placing a gold star next to her name every time she signs something as a metaphor for her being a star, Rachel indulges in the incredibly aspirational hobby of becoming a famous vocalist. Her overbearing nature, ignorance for high school social norms, and self-obsessed drive to become a star often lands Rachel with a 60 oz. slushie in the face. Considered the low of the low on the social ladder, Rachel’s hobby becomes her obsession and source of identification. She outcasts herself from the real world in order to live the fantasy of stardom whether it be in her self-made YouTube videos, or singing on the stage. Rachel is in constant need of attention, and is enraged when she is outshined by anyone. So when she becomes a member of the Glee club, we see her grapple with the notion of sharing the stage with others. Rachel’s character, although remains pretty staunchly the same throughout the first season, subtly moves from a highly independent and introverted one to that of a more collaborative individual. We see Rachel slowly begin to recognize the value of friendship and social networks and how these can become sources of joy in one’s life. Although the ambitious attention-seeking aspects of her personality continue to prevail, as her associations with Glee Club become stronger Rachel begins to understand that sometimes there are forces greater than oneself.
Finn Hudson, boyfriend to the almighty Quinn Fabray is a character that is also deeply affected by his willing participation and bribed participation in school activities. As quarterback of the shittiest football team in the state of Ohio, Finn is hailed by his classmates as a source of admiration and a role model to his fellow teammates. His quirky character is masked by his hobby and a herd of men blindly follow Finn due to the social status awarded to him as football captain. Finn is a kind and caring boy, but hides behind his football façade to portray himself as a Man’s man. Although we see acts of Mercy, like when Finn tells his teammates to remove Kurt’s new Marc Jacobs sweater before tossing him in the dumpster, Finn is often the leader of painful high school pranks and mockery. He is the leader at his high school but he manages to walk the fine line between playing the role of the dumb jock and following his own dreams and ambitions. He has a jock-ish authority mixed with an appealingly square naiveté. However once he is forced to join Glee club by Mr. Schuester due to false allegations of marijuana possession, Finn risks alienation from the popular crowd to pursue the less glamorous route of Glee Club. At first Finn is rather resistant to the idea of joining the highly-bashed club, but he begins to warm to the idea when he realizes it is an outlet for his alter-ego. As Finn becomes increasingly involved in Glee club we see his social status begin to rapidly decline. Finn goes from the slushie thrower to the one being slimed with the ultimate McKinley High diss. Over time, participating in Glee club becomes not just a hobby but a way to define himself. We see the dichotomous relationship Finn has with himself develop in the context of both the Glee club and as the quarterback of the football team over the course of season one which causes audiences to wonder which aspect of Finn will become his predominant means of association when the first season picks up again in April.
Often times we forget how central the role of hobbies are to the development and maintenance of a character over time. Because teen drama characters are so stereotypically defined as the “jock,” the “homecoming Queen,” or the “Science Geek” their hobbies and leisure interests become the main form of identification. Not only is it what they do, it’s who they are. However, because of the long-term format of television series, we are allowed to see how characters develop within the confines of their stereotype and how no character really upholds all of the traits classically attributed to each stereotype. However we do see that each character’s identity, personality, and social standing is guided by their participation or lack of participation in certain activities. Without the application of conventional archetypes as defined by hobbies, relating to, and deciphering each character becomes a more involved task, one which television viewers often do not want to participate in. Thus hobbies are attributed to each character as an easy means of identification for the viewer and a way to understanding the evolving role of each character as the season develops.