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The GW Hatchet

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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Essay: “The Price of Glee” is an exploitative attempt to capitalize on celebrities’ tragic deaths

Like many members of Gen Z, watching “Glee” defined my first experiences with pop culture in elementary and middle school. Every Wednesday at 9 p.m., I tuned into Fox to watch the McKinley High students compete in show choir competitions and reimagine iconic songs from Amy Winehouse, Journey and Barbra Streisand. The paradigmatic show raised a generation of young teens and drew a loyal fan base that followed the actors’ personal lives just as much as their onscreen storylines.

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When the Emmy-award winning series premiered more than a decade ago, it turned actors like Lea Michele, Darren Criss and Amber Riley into household names. The cast of young performers struck a chord with their raw talent, brilliant comedic timing and catchy renditions of classic songs, rising from obscurity to Broadway and even performing at the White House. And “Glee” is looked back on today as a pioneering force in the TV industry that placed LGBTQ+ characters front and center.

The essay, titled “The Price of Glee” argues that the media and those who profit from tragic celebrity deaths are exploiting themselves. The author argues that instead of commemorating these individuals, these exploitative attempts to profit from their deaths are morally unacceptable. The author’s argument raises important questions about the ethics of media coverage and society’s appetite for sensational news.
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So when the trailer for the three-part documentary “The Price of Glee” was released last month, Twitter turned into a frenzy of theories, debates and questions about the ethics of creating a commentary about the unrelated deaths of “Glee” cast members Cory Monteith, Mark Salling and Naya Rivera. While some fans were curious to hear general behind-the-scenes gossip from the show, others condemned the documentary entirely, pointing to the fact that not a single cast member endorsed the Discovery+ production.

The hit musical comedy series ran from 2009 to 2015 but has recently resurged in pop culture due to Michele’s record-breaking revival of “Funny Girl” on Broadway, which became a central pillar of her character on the show. Discovery+ has capitalized on the series’ recent popularity with this tasteless documentary lacking any real substantiated claims about their deaths and resorting to empty theories at the expense of the entire cast. Despite their curiosity about what transpired on set, fans of the show should not support or stream “The Price of Glee.” The docuseries lacks any new, verified or even compelling information and is nothing more than a cheap attempt to monetize and profit off of a cast who has already gone through immense loss.

The show’s first episode centers around Monteith, who died of a drug overdose in 2013 before the start of “Glee”’s fifth season. Monteith – who played Finn Hudson, the star quarterback turned glee club member – was engaged to Michele in real life at the time of his tragic death. “The Price of Glee” also touches on the death of Rivera, who played outspoken cheerleader Santana Lopez and died in 2020 after strong winds and currents caused her to drown in Lake Piru, California.

But sandwiched between discussions of Monteith and Rivera, the series takes an insensitive and offensive dive into the death of Salling, who played Noah Puckerman and died by suicide in 2018, just six weeks before he was scheduled to be sentenced to four to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. While it is uncommon for a single cast to have multiple deceased members in their 30s, the similarities between Monteith, Salling and Rivera end there – they happened to work together a decade ago. Equating two good-natured people, particularly one who struggled with addiction, to a child predator is not only in poor taste, but it brings all three of their deaths to the surface yet again, setting up the cast members who dealt with them in various capacities to be further traumatized.

A multitude of cast members have condemned the documentary, but its sole claim to relevancy to the show itself comes in the form of entertainment reporters – most of whom were not covering the show while it was filming – and crew members who worked on the show in the background for a small window of time. Dugg Kirkpatrick, who worked as the head of the “Glee” hair department during Season 3, alleged that a cast member told Monteith they would support him if he wanted to have a drink at a party, which ultimately led to his overdose because “it sent him on a path to destruction.” No other cast or crew member has ever substantiated this encounter, and the narrative that someone else is to blame for an overdose is harmful to those who suffer from addiction and their loved ones.

Christopher Baffa, the director of photography from Seasons 1 to 3, attributed the disconnected deaths to the “Glee curse,” or the offensive conspiracy theory that the deaths of Monteith, Salling and Rivera are somehow linked. Patrick Chisolm, the assistant key locations director, asked, “If Cory had never acted in Glee, would he still be hanging around the corner?” Monteith had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse more than a decade before acting on “Glee,” so correlating his addiction to the show or anyone on it is solely an effort to create falsehoods. The documentary even references these conflicting facts, showcasing its illegitimacy even further.

Aside from vaguely involved crew members, “The Price of Glee” features Stacy Kaiser, a psychotherapist who never treated or even met a single “Glee” cast member. She theorizes the fame associated with “Glee” was behind Monteith’s overdose and Salling’s child pornography arrest. Actor Stephen Kramer Glickman, who introduced himself by saying “I was one of the stars of ‘Big Time Rush’ on Nickelodeon, which shot at Paramount studios about 50 feet away from the TV show ‘Glee’” also takes on a completely undeserved role in the series. Glickman claims he and Monteith were friends – evidenced by a vague, one-line email he says Monteith sent him and video footage of the two standing near one another.

“The Price of Glee” ultimately boils down to a cheap exploitation of two talented young performers’ deaths by positioning them in the same vein as a sex offender, grasping at straws to link all three of their deaths to “Glee” and the entertainment industry. If the makers of this documentary wanted to honor the “Glee” cast members, they would have asked permission from their close friends and castmates instead of making unfounded claims against them. Fans of “Glee” should continue to enjoy everything the show was but let Monteith and Rivera rest without theorizing about their deaths or comparing them to Salling.

Julia Koscelnik, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in journalism and mass communication, is the contributing opinions editor.

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