For about 10 minutes, the students and two teachers were shown trapped in a classroom, texting their loved ones after gunshots and screams echoed in the hallways, and recording good-bye videos on their phones in case they didn't survive. The episode aired less than four months after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and just one week before the 14th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Though the producers aired a short warning at the beginning of the show (“This episode of ‘Glee’ addresses the topic of school violence. Viewer discretion is advised”) it wasn't enough to prepare some viewers for what they saw. Many were offended by the way a tragedy was turned into entertainment, especially given Glee's young fan base; parents who lived through the Sandy Hook shootings warned one another not to tune in.
"Those of us with kids that survived the shooting do not need to watch this episode," Andrew Paley, the father of twin sons who survived Sandy Hook, wrote on the Newtown Action Alliance Facebook page. "It's too soon as our kids and our own wounds are still too new….I found out because an old friend who blogs about the show gave me a heads up. The producers should be ashamed to not think of us and how we'd feel if we just happened to be watching. It's fine for all of you, but they should have given Newtown a heads up."
"Just saw the episode and it made me so uncomfortable, 'cause it wasn't handled very well," wrote Jaqueline VH on Facebook. "My brother was a shooting survivor (4 years ago) we watched this episode together and after the episode he kind of just sat there. I feel like 'Glee' exploited this tragedy just for PSA and to validate the couples' relationships. People watch TV for entertainment not emotional trauma."
"I'm sorry," wrote Tamara Doherty. Her friend's daughter was among the 20 children and six teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook late last year. "Much, much, MUCH too raw still."
The show's producers insisted that the episode had been written before the Dec. 14 elementary school shootings. But while they have not explained why they decided to green light the subject matter anyway, "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy gave fans a hint at his reasoning last week, when he Tweeted: "Just saw the rough cut of next week's 'Shooting Star.' It is the most powerful emotional Glee ever. So proud of the cast & crew."
After watching the episode, viewers reactions were mixed.
"Was so intense, but I loved it!" gushed Matt Weaver on the show's Facebook page. "So different from normal Glee!" ("We're gleeful to hear that, Matt!" the show's social media person replied.)
"As a Jr High teacher this hit way too close to home," wrote Vanessa Mininger on Facebook. "Thank you for showing the world a taste of the immense love we have for our students and the sacrifices we are willing to make for them."
"For such a touchy subject #Glee covered the school shootings perfectly," tweeted @Moodyspark "Hopefully people are aware the damage that a single gunshot can do."
But Television Without Pity called the show "emotionally manipulative" and "obnoxious"—not just because of how they tackled the issue of school violence, but also because of how they "horribly infantilized" Becky Jackson, who has Down Syndrome. And plenty of viewers found it more upsetting than exciting.
"My school's had four bomb scares," wrote high school student Katie Wahl on Facebook. "I didn't like last night's episode. Yes it was informative, but Glee is supposed to be happy not have crazy people like in reality."
"#Glee crossed a line tonight," tweeted Nina Gardner, who is not involved with the Newtown parents group. "A school shooting or the appearance of one is not for entertainment value."
Here's the controversial scene from Thursday night's show. What do you think… is the show raising awareness or exploiting a tragedy?
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