So there he was in last night's episode of "Glee," Dave Karofsky, sitting next to his father, Paul, in Principal Sue Sylvester's (?) office, along with Mr. Schuester, Burt Hummel, and his son Kurt, after being particularly bizarre and menacing to Kurt. For those of you who don't watch "Glee"--shame on you--Kurt is the gay kid, Karofsky is his bully. Recently, Karofsky blew away fans of the groundbreaking Fox show by kissing Kurt. That's right, Kurt's most vocal and violent bully kissed him, fully on the lips, for longer than a second, in what can only be taken as a serious overture and not as another form of taunting.
Anyway, as the camera lingered on Karofsky's face, I discovered I...what, felt sorry for him? Are you kidding? I, who was bullied nonstop for most of my grade school life, who had cooked up numerous fitting forms of sadistic revenge against those who bullied me, felt sorry for this asshole? Yup. One and the same. Guilty as charged. I felt sorry for Karofsky.
As a testament to the skillful actor who portrays this role (Max Adler), I saw the pain in his face--the pain of knowing he's as gay as Kurt, but also knowing he can't be in the least open about it. You could feel the tension in the principal's office. At one point, Kurt said something that could have led to him outing Karofsky in front of everyone there (perhaps doing him a favor in the process). But that didn't happen.
For some reason, Karofsky's character has become one of the most intriguing for me. I don't believe for a moment any of the idiots who bullied me were gay, don't get me wrong. In fact, in my stalking of them on the Internet over the years--just once or twice; I'm not that sick--I've discovered the ones I especially remember (and could find) are married and have children (which, of course, means nothing; they could still be gay themselves, but I doubt it). No, the reason why Karofsky has my full attention is because I relate to him. I understand his pain. I understand the pressure he's under, to be something he's not. And I understand how difficult he must find coming face to face with Kurt every day.
See, initially, Karofsky bullied Kurt by helping to throw him in dumpsters like common garbage; by throwing slushies in his face; by threatening him and calling him unflattering names in the hallway; and, more recently, by slamming him into lockers. The degree of bullying increased at the beginning of season two--obviously as a reflection of what happened in a number of U.S. schools late this past summer, leading to half a dozen or so suicides.
Like everyone else who was bullied, I found Karofsky, and his henchmen, contemptible, and every time Kurt was bullied, I was back in that place too, feeling all those old feelings, after all these years of being out of the public school system. And I didn't appreciate being reminded of how much my bullies hated me, and how much I hated myself--for knowing in my heart I really was gay, and for not having the balls to stand up to them.
Then we find out Karofsky has a secret, a VERY BIG SECRET, a secret all of us who are gay relate to. He's no longer a one-dimensional character. Karofsky's drawn to bully because, surprise surprise, he's gay himself, and because he's a jock, and because he has an image to uphold, and because he can't be himself. In other words, because he's forced to be something he's not. Thus, the bullying Karofsky inflicts upon Kurt isn't so much about Kurt being gay as it is about Karofsky's spirit dying a slow death every day he has to deny to himself and to others who he really is.
When Karofsky sees Kurt walking through the hallway, in one of his outlandish outfits, pronouncing his homosexuality unmistakably, he's reminded of what he can't be. He's reminded of the courage Kurt demonstrated to come out and to be himself, despite all of the opposition he receives, which he doesn't have himself. He's reminded of the support Kurt's received, from his father, Burt--who's one of the coolest dads I've ever seen--Mr. Schuester, and the entire glee club. To Karofsky, Kurt is a symbol of what he can't be. And even worse than being gay, perhaps, is having thrown in your face what you don't have and what you never see yourself having, especially if the survival of your soul depend on it.
Karofsky is a sympathetic character. He's become more complex and multi-layered over the past season and a half of "Glee," and I appreciate where the writers and the producers have taken him. I feel for him, in fact, so much so, I wonder if this is finally, once and for all, how we make peace with those who bullied us--by seeing them as the multi-dimensional, flawed, and ultimately vulnerable individuals they were, complete with demons of their own they found no other way to deal with than to inflict pain and suffering on others? Wouldn't it be nice if we human beings were all black or all white?