This time around with watching, I'm looking for the points some bloggers make in their analyses. I knew that the characters are unreliable narrators. I'm looking at the characters who think they're good people, and what they're actually doing. Their self-images, which at least some of the audience can readily sympathize with, don't go with their actions. Before I focused so much on Terri being awful that I missed that Will can be pretty awful to people sometimes, too. I knew that Sandy was horrifying. I knew that Sue was a villain, but now I can see that she makes certain points.
In the first couple of episodes, Mercedes uses African-American Vernacular English here and there. She hasn't used it in so long, I'd forgotten that she did it. I noticed when Santana deliberately did it in later episodes. Apparently there's a bit of controversy in various section of fandom about Kurt using the word "Boo" as a term of affection. He does it with Brittany and later with Blaine. Artie does a lot more cultural appropriation, though, with his wanting to be a white rapper, which is established early enough in the first season.
I still don't like Quinn. I don't know if it's misogyny on my part to dislike Quinn and Terri so much more than Will and Finn. Quinn and Terri lie, though. I'm getting more of a sense of how bad Finn is to people this time around. I knew that under a surface niceness that he was homophobic, which he showed vividly in "Theatricality." Finn has a surface niceness about a lot of things, and thinks of himself as a good person. Despite being poor, he's very privileged in many ways, and doesn't really think about it unless he's challenged.
The Will/Terri/Emma and Finn/Rachel/Quinn cheating storylines start right away, at least with emotional cheating on Will's part, and Finn kissing Rachel by episode two, "Showmance." Kurt is called flaming very early on: "Stay away from aerosol cans. You could burst into flames any minute." For a guy, being in New Directions is being thought of as being gay, which bothers Finn more than anybody. Artie actually doesn't get hassled for this, as other students don't seem to think he has a sexuality, since he's disabled. Puck, Mike and presumably Matt are more confident in their sexualities than Finn is. Kurt is well aware of who and what he is. All of the other students assume correctly that he's gay.
The consent issues around Puck are horrifying early on. The actor doesn't look sixteen, but it's established that the character is having sex with other students' mothers by the time he's sixteen. I'm pretty sure that's illegal. Puck doesn't think there's anything wrong with having sex with women twenty-odd years older than he is. Society, or at least society in fictional Lima, Ohio, is pretty warped that way.
Later, around the time of "The Substitute" in season two, Puck says, "Mr. Ryerson touched me." It's not in those exact words, but it must have happened when Puck was fifteen or sixteen. So there's a brief mention of molestation. The show doesn't come back to it in the rest of the second season or in the third season. Just because things are said in passing doesn't mean they didn't happen. Puck is aware in that case that he was touched without his consent. The sixteen-year-old Puck is still willing to go up to Sandy to buy marijuana from him. The teenagers on the show are abused in one way or another by some of the adults, and abuse each other. I don't know why they say it's a comedy.
Various of the New Directions students have damage, which is basically a part of going to McKinley. Some are hurt by racism. Artie faces ableism. Kurt and later Blaine get the homophobia. Will is less homophobic by the time he meets Blaine. He's gotten some education from Kurt. Puck still uses casually homophobic language at the end of season three, though by then Kurt is his "boy" and Blaine is one of his "bros." Puck says early on that he could wear a dress to school and still be accepted because he's a stud, or that cool. He's wrong, but that's shown much later. Gender non-conformity or perceived gender non-conformity gets heavy punishment.
Part of the bullying Kurt gets is because he's gender non-conforming in various ways, some of which he has no control over. He gets a lot of bullying for the ways he's perceived to be like a girl, which just shows the misogyny at the school. One blogger pointed out that one reason that Kurt hangs out with the girls because he feels safer with them. He has common interests with them, and has alliances and friendships with them. Kurt sometimes mixes a piece of women's clothing in among his layers, though he doesn't really seem to feel that he's wearing women's clothes, as he says, "Fashion has no gender."
By the third episode, Kurt is very friendly with Mercedes, who has a crush on him. By the fourth episode, he's shown to be friends with Tina and Brittany, too. He has a background friendship with Mike not terribly long after Mike joins New Directions. Mike is confident in who he is. Artie is friendly enough with Kurt. Artie isn't capable of being violent to Kurt. Kurt associates hearing homophobic slurs with violence, and Artie doesn't use those slurs, either. He is sexist, so presumably Kurt gets the spillover effect from that, as when Artie thinks in the second season that Kurt will try to get the male members of New Directions to wear gowns.
Masculinity for McKinley students is judged in large part by their willingness to use violence, and to bully. If a male student can't or won't use violence, he's considered not masculine. It's generally a terrible place to be different. Some of the discrimination is casual or institutionalized, but unless a student is a straight, white, able-bodied male they're discriminated against. This gets obscured, but it's there.
The show establishes early on that teenagers are having sex. There are actually a number of horrifying and/or depressing consent issues around sexual relationships other than Puck's, too. Brittany says during a discussion about losing virginity, "He came into my tent. Alien invasion." Depending what level you take that on, it could be a terrible thing. In season three, Sam casually mentions having lost his virginity during the time he was working as a stripper, which I thought was depressing. Tina and Mike have a good off-screen experience. Kurt makes a clear decision about consent, and he and Blaine have a good soft-focus and mostly implied experience.
Things improve later for several of the students, but in the early episodes, the show sets up quite a number of horrifying situations. It's really not subtle. Emma is quickly established as mentally ill. The bullying culture is there from the beginning. The characters are established as being aware of what they're doing when it comes to the bullying, and sometimes not aware when it comes to themselves discriminating.