WHEN Glee had its premiere in 2009, cynics suspected it would be little more than a High School Musical rip-off. The Ryan Murphy-created music drama, however, has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon that is playing a major part in shaping attitudes towards self-empowerment, gay rights and the scourge of bullying.
Glee’s impact has been so powerful that the cast was invited to meet US President Barack Obama.
Murphy says that he purposefully increased ‘‘ the outsider factor’’ for the second season, ending tonight on Channel 10.
That was never more apparent than in the Never Been Kissed episode, where Kurt (Chris Colfer) was bullied because of his sexuality and decided to stand up to his tormenter.
The episode struck a chord because it aired shortly after a series of teen suicides in the US where bullying was a major factor.
Colfer subsequently was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people of 2011 by Time magazine.
He won the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series for his performance.
‘‘( Bullying) was one of the storylines we had always planned on doing, and then it became nationwide news — people who are punished for their sexuality or punished for being different, which I think is a real epidemic in schools,’’ Murphy says.
Colfer, who is openly gay, says filming Glee has been therapeutic. He was frequently bullied at school.
On Glee, Kurt got tired of the harassment and the bullying and joined another school.
‘‘ The feedback (from TV viewers) has been quite a buzz,’’ Colfer says. ‘‘ I think people are just so thankful that this topic is finally being talked about. I was bullied in high school, so I’m very happy that there’s a voice for it now and it’s being portrayed and it’s being seen as the very nasty, ugly thing it can be.’’
Colfer says he coped with bullying at school by ‘‘ having very witty comebacks’’.
‘‘ I learned to run very fast after saying things — but it only provoked them,’’ he says.
‘‘ Someone would scream, ‘ Fag’ at me in the hallway, and I’d say back, ‘ Yeah, but can you spell it?’. They’d say, ‘ Hey, your voice is high’, and I’d say, ‘ Yeah, so are you most of the time’.
‘‘ They thought it was a game and they thought I was playing along. I was not playing along.’’
The irony is that some students who bullied Colfer now want to be friends.
‘‘ One of them actually sent me a message on Facebook, saying, ‘ Do you remember how much fun we used to have?’,’’ Colfer says.
‘‘ I would be lying if I told you I did not write him a 10-page letter back saying how much he made my life miserable in high school. I wanted to send it, but I didn’t.’’ Glee, Channel 10, 8.30 tonight
Taunted: Chris Colfer faced up to bullies