Episode nine of FOX’s Glee is “Wheels.” Themes of equality and fair treatment are prevalent throughout Glee, but “Wheels” is the first episode that centers on the issues. From Artie (Kevin McHale) needing more wheelchair access, to Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Burt (Mike O’Malley) dealing with homophobia, to Tina’s (Jenna Ushkowitz) stutter, to Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) joining the Cheerios, to a girl on the wrestling team, “Wheels” is bursting with such stories. It’s also a great episode for story, acting, and music.
Equality is a tricky issue to tackle. It is certainly not fair that the school won’t pony up the money for the New Directions to take a bus accessible to Artie to Sectionals. But neither is it fair that schools must spend so much extra money on a few children. The problems are the same with special education and non-English speaking learners. In these cases, financial inequality is needed to give the same opportunities across the board. One would never argue that children should not get equal access for risk of sounding like a heartless monster, but there does need to be some sort of balance, or all of the school’s funds could be tied up for things that do not benefit most of the student body. That would be a problem, too.
Funding comes from a variety of sources, and as Will (Matthew Morrison) rants against the unfairness of the Cheerios flying all over the country, Figgins (Iqbal Theba) points out that Sue (Jane Lynch) has boosters that pay for all of that. Is the booster system fair? Obviously, individuals working hard to raise money for a certain cause should be allowed to use it for their intended purpose. But when such a disparity exists in a system, such as the one between the Cheerios and New Directions, isn’t it only right that some of the funds by siphoned off to other groups? Your point of view on the subject surely reflects political and social views, as both sides are arguable to some degree.
One does have to wonder, though, how McKinley can afford special lighting in the choir room, as well as costumes, props, and a unique ramp stage for a glee rehearsal, but can’t pay for a bus that is surely already owned by the district. In “Wheels,” Will even finds the money to buy eleven wheel chairs! They are used, but have to cost some amount of money. Why not share a few instead of each student getting their own? The point would still be made. Perhaps this is a bit nit picky, but as much as the New Directions complain about not having funding, they sure look like that’s not the case. Of course they must look good to drive up the production value of the show, and keep people entertained. But this contradicting with realism is a problem I wish would be addressed. Perhaps the group receives special grants that must be spent on lights and costumes?
Money aside, isn’t it illegal for McKinley to discriminate against Artie? There are laws in place to make sure students get fair treatment, and certainly one of them requires the district to provide adequate transportation for all participating members of a school-sponsored activity. Only so much can fit into an hour of television, but there are elements of the situation not even addressed in “Wheels.”
Another form of discrimination in Glee that actually comes up quite a bit is the way homosexuals are treated in current social culture. Things are getting better, but it’s a slow process. In “Wheels,” Burt receives a malicious phone call because of his son, Kurt. How Burt deals with it, suggesting Kurt might tone his personality down a notch, is another thing that can be debated. Burt’s feelings come from a place of paternal protection. He wants Kurt to be true to who he is, but also wants him to avoid pain and suffering. It’s hard not to sympathize with Burt, and Kurt does, choosing to throw an audition rather than cause more trouble.