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Burke and Kant on…Glee!

April 3, 2011

Burke, an extreme Conservative, believed in the importance of tradition. He felt that we should rely on already established structures and institutions when making decisions, and always look to history. Reason, Burke felt, was something accumulated over time, and such reason trumps that of an individual. Kant, on the other hand, believed that, while we should obey authority, it is always ok to argue. He was a champion of individual reason and would contest Burke’s idea that we must look to historical accumulation. What, you might ask, does this have to do with Glee? Well….

Glee, FOX’s hit show is all about challenging existing social structures in a high school setting. The show tackles important issues such as gay rights, relationships and bullying by establishing the Glee Club as the “losers” who try to break the vicious cycle of high school stereotyping.

The members of the Glee club are essentially trying to start over from scratch and create completely new ideals as to what is “cool” in high school. They think that by winning multiple regional and national Glee club competitions, they can finally stop being considered the bottom on the social totem pole. Burke would most certainly not be a fan of Glee. High school stereotypes, he could argue, have been in existence for a long time and it is not worth trying to change them. While the kids of the Glee club are considered “losers,” it is something they have come to expect and should make their peace with this previously established classification. It is only causing them more harm to try and be progressive by shaking things up. The reasoning as to what is “cool” and “uncool” in high school has already been decided…football players are cool, Glee club members are not. Burke and the Glee clubs biggest enemy, Sue Sylvester, would most certainly be good friends.

Openly gay Glee club member, Kurt, in an argument with homophobic football player, Dave

Kant, however, would definitely be a candidate for Gleek status. With his motto, “argue but obey”, Kant would say that it is fine for the Glee club members to challenge existing stereotypes, as long as they are doing it in a manner that does not cause serious uproar. Each student at the school is entitled to reason in the way that they think is right, and should question these long standing stereotypical structures. Kant is a lot like the Glee club’s director, Mr. Schuster, who encourages the Glee club members to be proud of their talents and accomplishments.

While both Burke and Kant agree that order and structure are always important, they disagree on the way to go about maintaining it. The kids in the Glee club attempt to establish themselves as “cool” in their own way, just as Burke and Kant look at the reason and tradition in their own ways. Who knows, maybe if Burke and Kant sat down to watch Glee together, Kant could convince Burke to become a Gleek….

  1. Khushi Desai permalink
    April 5, 2011 2:00 PM

    This is a really interesting application of Burke’s and Kant’s theories to Glee. I agree with your notion that Burke is like Sue Sylvester, and Kant is like Mr. Schuster on most levels. However, I feel like Burke is not like Sue, in that he doesn’t like change, so he would rather let the Glee club fail on their own, and not do anything to cause that. So he would agree with Sue’s goal, but not her tactics in achieving that goal. Another similarity between Kant and William Schuster is that they are both positive people and look forward to change, they both want the Glee club to succeed and give these kids a chance to do something they love doing.

  2. lapinsk12 permalink
    April 5, 2011 4:22 PM

    Why are these Glee kids so obsessed with redefining cool, aren’t they becoming the same thing they despise? They should instead just ignore the ignorant insults and just be themselves and not worry what everyone else is saying. By trying to establish the new cool they are just inciting trouble. And why not try to establish an equal playing field where everyone is equal? Maybe I misunderstood you but this is what I got out of it.

  3. rlwulf permalink
    April 13, 2011 8:02 AM

    As an avid Glee fan, I love the way you’ve applied the show to our studies. You make a really good point in your comparisons. I especially find @lapinsk12, though not entirely relevant, very interesting because they’re absolutely right in saying that the point shouldn’t be about “defining what is cool,” but rather “be happy with who you are.” In addition to the remarks this article makes about Kant, I feel that Mill would also make a good candidate to compare Mr. Shuster. This is due to the teacher’s desire to fight for the underdog and fighting the society norms in order to ultimately achieve social equality. Just as Mill fought for the rights of slaves and strongly for those of women, I believe if he were to step into this high school, he would be drawn right away to work to eliminate the social hierarchy and fight to have the Glee kids treated with the same respect as the football team and Cheerios.


  1. Burke and Kant on…Glee! « Life Examinations | Glee Antics

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