Forget their uniform of skinny jeans, skimpy cheerleading outfits, and preppy designer clothes. The cast and crew of the hit TV series Glee may soon discover that their fashionable wardrobes also require some thickly padded tin helmets.
After two seasons behind one of the nation's most talked-about programmes and with two Golden Globes, four Emmys, and 10 million viewers under its belt, the musical drama's creators are aiming their satirical howitzers at the choppy waters of electoral politics.
A third series, which starts in the US on Tuesday, and in the UK shortly afterwards, will feature the storyline of an attempt by high school PE teacher Sue Sylvester to run for the US Congress. Controversially, given Sylvester's pantomime villain status, Glee's influential profile among young viewers and the impending 2012 election, her bid will be built on an exaggeratedly conservative platform, so satirising the Republican right.
The first episode sees her appear on TV news to endorse a favoured policy of the Tea Party movement: the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts, a US government subsidy beloved of liberals.
Later in the same programme, she suffers an indignity that befell Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, two Republican presidential hopefuls: a "glitter bomb" attack, in which opponents video themselves throwing glitter at Sylvester, before uploading footage of the incident to YouTube.
So far, so cheeky, you might think. But given the polarised state of US politics, the public airwaves are no place for light-hearted satire. So news of the storylines has enraged right-leaning pundits.
"This is unbelievably typical of Glee, which has become the most subversive show in the history of network television," said Ben Shapiro, an author whose recent book Primetime Propaganda highlighted what he describes as Hollywood's leftist agenda. "They are using Sylvester's character to mirror the rhetoric and policies of Michele Bachmann. When conservatives watch this show, it will be clear that the creators hate our guts."
Although network TV goes out of its way to avoid offending major demographic groups, Shapiro argues that Glee's status as a commercial hit has given its creators leverage to "insert more and more of their left-wing politics" into the narrative. However, he adds: "The programme is successful because it's well made and has good songs."
It's not the first time that Glee has been accused of advancing a leftist agenda. The show features several disabled and minority characters, and has featured jokes about Sarah Palin's perceived lack of intellect.
In March this year, an episode upset social conservatives because it featured two male characters kissing. Critics of the decision to broadcast that scene included Victoria Jackson, a former regular on Saturday Night Live, who has since become an outspoken Tea Party supporter.
Sylvester is played by Jane Lynch, a prominent supporter of the Democrats. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, she revealed that her character will be campaigning on the "Sue Sylvester American Liberty" ticket, and suggested the plot would play off the Republicans, saying: "She's going to be more right-wing than Michele Bachmann."
Glee is made and broadcast by Fox, a company famous for espousing conservative values. This week, the show's creator, Ryan Murphy, denied that the election storyline is intended as a critique of the Tea Party.
"I would tell you if [Sylvester] was based on someone ... but I don't think she is," he said. "In fact, she establishes her own political party. She runs against both Republicans and Democrats. So to be clear, it's not a Tea Party thing: she hates everyone."Reuse content