In Glee's episode "Bad Reputation", the effects of backbiting and gossip were explored. As the episode shows, things are never quite as black and white as we wish them to be.
In short, "Bad Reputation" has Will investigating the origins of a list circulating around McKinley High casting an ugly shadow on the reputation of the glee club members.
Will: What’s a Glist?
Sue: It’s a Glee List, William. It’s a weekly ranking of your Glee Club based on a hotness quotient of sexual promiscuity. (…) Apparently you get a point for each act of perpetuated depravity.
It's not clear at the beginning as to who posted that list, and I'm sure more than one person was certain it was our resident meanie. However, she soon had to start her own little PR campaign as a very personal video of her performing Olivia Newton-John's “Physical” surfaces.
Finn: What’s so funny? (…)
Jesse: That’s Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.” (…)
Finn: Wait, wait. That’s not Olivia Newton-John. That’s Sue Sylvester. (…)
Artie: Did she just do the Cabbage Patch?
The concept of a reputation is a funny thing. What is a good reputation? Is it one that is considered good by society, or one that suits the person's needs, whatever they might be?
Reputations also apply to fads, things and songs, as Will's assignment for the week showed the club members. If we go back to Olivia Newton-John's "Physical", as Jesse puts it, "it was pretty groundbreaking subject matter at the time considering its depiction of fluid sexuality". And yet all we can remember is the rather terrible video that came out.
As Will puts it in this episode, "becoming what you despise is not the answer". This is why I found the use of Olivia Newton John's song "Physical" interesting, as it objectified men just like the girls were complaining about men doing to them in "The Power of Madonna". By the same token lyrics such as "I'm saying all the things that I know you'll like/Making good conversation" don't seem to mesh well with ? Doesn't that go against everything "female empowerment" is about?
Thankfully, the song's performance was impeccable and the video, although nowhere near as good as the one made for "Vogue", was amusing.
"Ice Ice Baby"
As an example of songs that were popular and yet got bad reputations, Will topped off the introduction of this week's assignment with a great rendition of "Ice Ice Baby". This version of the song is – dare I say it? – better than the original one (sorry, Van Winkle). As always, Will makes the assignment fun for his students and they join in on the rendition, complete with 1990-style mini-choreography. Of course I just had to look up Jim Carey's In Living Colour parody of the same song as soon as "Bad Reputation" was over. It's interesting that, just like a person can lose his influence in a matter of moments, a song about an important topic can become nothing more than a novelty act.
"U Can't Touch This"
As Artie puts it in the beginning of the episode, sometimes having a bad reputation can seem like a better alternative. In their bid to get their own bad reputation and consequently get some much wanted respect from their peers, Artie and a couple of glee members get inspired by Will's assignment and head over to the library 1990-style: wearing MC Hammer's pants made out of in bright, satin fabric and a boom box. They put on a raucous (and pretty awesome) performance for the librarian, hoping to be expelled. Instead, they end up being invited to perform at the librarian's church during Sunday Service.
Some people just can't seem to be bad, however hard they might try. Perhaps part of the reason why MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" became such a joke was this very fact: how can a man wearing Hammer pants and sporting nerdy sunglasses be seen as 'bad'?
By the same token, is it such a bad thing to be bad at being bad?
"Run Joey Run"
Just like being a bad boy can give a guy a certain cachet, being a bad girl seems to have become a hot commodity lately. Rachel is ashamed to have appeared at the bottom of the Glist (something I personally would be proud of), and decides to address the issue of her good reputation, which she considers a hindrance: "My shame is appearing so low in the Glist has made me reevaluate my image at this school and beyond. I've realized that in today's culture of bad boy athletes and celebrity sex tapes, a good reputation is no good at all".
The video she came up with was great on two levels. Puck might have thought that it sucked, but the singing was, as always, really good. As always, Lea Michele's singing was great, as were Cory Monteith, Mark Salling and Jonathan Albert Groff.
The message in this performance was an important one, and in my opinion, the one most in line with the episode's theme. The irony hits the viewer in the face. In the song, Julie is willing to die for Joey, stepping in front of the gun her father is aiming at him; and yet, Rachel portrays her as a girl who is playing three guys against the other.
Rachel: It was an artistic statement.
Finn: No it wasn't. It was you trying to look like you had a bunch of guys fighting over you so you could stop looking like some kind of outcast and be seen as some hot, slutty girl singer. How can you do this to us? Is your stupid reputation more important than your relationships?
Rachel's attempt at getting herself a better reputation in her opinion cost her more than she could have ever anticipated. With one stroke, she lost the respect of her fellow Glee club members. Now that she demonstrated that she was willing to hurt three guys who have played such important roles in her life – including an ex and her current boyfriend – how can anyone trust her again? By the same token, how can a guy wanting to date her trust her after this? She is going to have a hard time convincing Jesse or any other guy that she is trustworthy enough to get into a serious relationship after pulling such drama, the very nature of which undermines the basic trust at the heart of any relationship, be it romantic or other.
I wonder how Puck feels about Rachel throwing her good reputation away like this, seeing as he is trying so hard to rehabilitate his.
"Total Eclipse of the Heart"
It takes a lot to build a good reputation, but a few seconds to destroy it. Rachel's mistake cost her a lot, and so the episode finishing off on a rendition of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by her and the three guys she hurt was spot on. All the more that, when one plays with fire, one tends to end up hurt and alone – as alone Rachel is when all her fellow glee cast members walk out of their practice room on her. It seems that Rachel managed to create disunity within the Glee Club that will definitely give Vocal Adrenaline quite an edge at the upcoming Regional competition, unless of course they manage to overcome it.