"If you don't forward this e-mail, that's OK. Mommy says you're a mean heartless person who doesn't care about a poor little boy with only a head. She says that she hopes that you stew in the raw pit of your own guilt-ridden stomach. What kind of wretched person are you that you can't take five lousy minutes to forward this to all your friends so that they can feel guilt and shame for the rest of their day, and then maybe help a poor, bodiless nine-year-old boy?"
Glurge is the body of inspirational tales which conceal much darker meanings than the uplifting moral lessons they purport to offer, or which undermine their messages by distorting and fabricating historical fact in the guise of offering "true stories."
Glurge often contains such heart-tugging elements as sad-eyed puppies, sweet-faced children, angels, dying mothers, destiny, selflessly aiding poor minorities, or miraculous rescues brought about by prayer. These stories are meant to be parables for modern times but fall far short of the mark. The best ones can still be worthy entertainment, or even Tear Jerkers, but Glurge isn't generally a good thing to be.
The term is specific to Snopes.com, coined in 1998, and was coined as an Onomatopoeia for the sound of vomiting. Already in its short lifespan it has reached across the Internet and has appeared in the print media a number of times, and it may well soon make the final breakthrough by appearing in dictionaries as a bona fide entry. The word was invented by Patricia Chapin, a member of the urban legends discussion mailing list run in conjunction with the site. At a loss for words to describe the retching sensation this then-unnamed category of stories subjected her to, she fashioned a word that simultaneously named the genre and described its effect.
Glurge sometimes contains a menacing subtext of fatalism or xenophobia. In such examples, happiness and success are linked to following the message's religious or social beliefs—education, hard work, and achievement are irrelevant or subversive. People not members of the favored group may be portrayed as sinister and untrustworthy, and the deaths or misery of such people ignored or even celebrated if it brings one of them to accept the beliefs of the missive.
Some common (intentional) tropes in glurge include:
- Black and White Morality
- Children Are Innocent
- Corrupt Church
- Dead Little Sister
- Easy Evangelism
- Ill Girl
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged
- Jesus Saves
- Littlest Cancer Patient
- Missing Mom
- Purity Sue
- Saintly Church
- Stalking Is Love
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth
- Victim Falls For Rapist
- White Man's Burden
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech
- You Know Who Said That
Compare Crap Saccharine World.
- This happens much too often in super-hero comics when it comes to a sympathetic villain. Sure, they may have been psychologically screwed up by their parents, or whatever, but they're still evil, and because There Are No Therapists, they're always going to be evil, and nothing can change that.
- Jack Chick and his notorious Chick Tracts. Also stellar examples of Scare'Em Straight. In this case, "scare 'em straight to Giant Faceless Jesus and his Pointing Finger of Doom..."
Film -- Animated
- Fern Gully piles on every Anvilicious environmental Aesop known to man... and accidentally subverts it by making the most likeable and memorable character (in The Movie at least) the villainous, demonic spirit of pollution, no doubt because it was voiced by a Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.
- And yet, for some, the most likable character was Batty Koda. And it doesn't make it any better, mainly because he sang a song about the experiments that were run on him, and warned everyone about how humans are evil, and yet he was the comedic relief.
- Worse is the fact that Batty is a Flying Fox - a protected species in Australia. Making this a Broken Aesop.
- And yet, for some, the most likable character was Batty Koda. And it doesn't make it any better, mainly because he sang a song about the experiments that were run on him, and warned everyone about how humans are evil, and yet he was the comedic relief.
Film -- Live Action
- Too many Lifetime (and similar) movies to count.
- Almost any "inspirational" movie about a teacher, especially of the Save Our Students type, actually implies:
- A teacher can reach all students just by caring. Caring means not having a life at all.
- All the other teachers those students ever had just didn't care enough.
- The school system doesn't need discipline, funding, national standards, or any actual improvements. It just needs teachers who care more.
- The "training" offered by school districts is filled with this exact type of inspirational story glurge. The moral to the story is that everything that goes wrong is the teacher's fault and the overcrowded classrooms, lack of a consistent discipline policy and leadership failings of the administration are never at fault for anything. This is portrayed perfectly in Up The Down Staircase.
- Teacher v. Unruly class; both learn lessons.
- It's especially poignant and "inspirational" if the students are from gang-ridden ghettos, and the teacher is white. The teacher's ability to "overcome racial differences" to "reach the kids" is hailed as something amazing and not at all racist, as most of the other teachers in the school are often black, Hispanic, or other non-white. Dangerous Minds is an example. It can all get a bit "White Man's Burden." ("How do I reach these keeds?")
- To Sir, With Love avoids this very well—possibly because it's a true story—yet it still makes it clear that lowered expectations allowed Sir and his students to succeed.
- Lean On Me also avoids falling into the typical trap, mainly by stressing discipline and control as the only effective methods of instruction. Also, because he doesn't quite manage to save everyone, just (presumably) the core student body. The principal also unceremoniously throws dozens of "troublemakers" out of the school, but faces this issue head-on with brutal practicality.
- Half Nelson subverts this by making the aspiring inspirational white teacher a hypocritical drug addict. To the young black female student he'd like to inspire, her jailed brother's drug dealer partner is a better role model.
- The makers of Pumpkin were trying to parody Glurge. Instead, they just ended up making a very Glurge-filled movie that wasn't absurd enough to be funny.
- Simon Birch is an infamous example of Glurge. A Prayer for Owen Meany, the book it was based on, was pretty damn glurgy to begin with.
- Parodied in Tropic Thunder with the Film Within A Film Simple Jack, a movie about a mentally-challenged farmhand meant obviously as an Oscar Bait role for actor Tugg Speedman. The movie becomes a total bomb since, as Kirk Lazarus puts it, Tugg went "Full Retard", playing the character as severely disabled rather than merely Inspirationally Disadvantaged like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, The Fool like Forrest Gump or Seemingly-Profound Fool like Peter Sellers in Being There and noting Sean Penn's performance in I Am Sam as an example of why you don't do so.
- The end of Knowing. The short version: Earth fries, everybody dies. Except for some 30-odd kids who are saved by aliens, whose reason for being there is never explained, and taken to some alien garden, surprisingly nonchalant about everybody they know having been horribly killed.
- It just does not get any more glurgy than this, C Me Dance. Most people think the trailer is a Stealth Parody of this sort of thing until they find out otherwise.
- Will Smith's Oscar Bait Seven Pounds. Atoner with God complex decides which patient to receive his saintly organs. He thinks that using fake IDs is a perfectly legit means to contact prospective recipients, and considers a worthy person someone who is rendered barely articulate by a volley of insults. The serious Glurge comes from the fact that he commits suicide and this is treated as some sort of beautiful martyrdom just because he donated his organs.
- Which is the main reason why Film Brain of That Guy With The Glasses despises this movie. It's a glurge-fest with the severely Family Unfriendly Aesops that "suicide can be a good thing" and "committing federal crimes, including identity theft and impersonating a federal employee is OK as long you do good".
- Plus some added Broken Aesop by way of research failure: his suicide method was a box jellyfish. Ten minutes on Google will tell you that box jellyfish venom would render many of his organs unusable anyway.
- Certain war movies are vulnerable to this criticism. The ones that are a chock full of Sergeant Rock, always led by A Father to His Men, where every trooper is part of a Nakama or Band of Brothers. Whether the story is that War Is Hell, War Is Glorious, that The Power of Friendship can overcome anything, or whatever, Glurge seems just about inevitable.
- Love Story: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
- There's an urban legend that Mel Gibson was the inspiration for the movie "The Man Without A Face". As the story goes, he was in a fight that left him with a jaw almost completely torn from his skull and a nose hanging from his face. This is untrue.
- As mentioned in The Boondocks: The film Soul Food which is about a grandmother who shows her love for her family by cooking delicious but unhealthy "soul food." She dies of clogged arteries and her family honors her by eating the same unhealthy food that killed her.
- Forrest Gump itself runs into some rather creepy implications if you consider that the reason why the protagonist makes good is that it never occurs to him to do anything that falls outside of conservative American ideas about morality. Michael A. Novelli at The Agony Booth has more information here.
- Rain Man: Autistic guy exists to help his brother become a better person.
- Patch Adams, which is especially bad because it's Based on a True Story, but deliberately ignored most of the real Patch Adams' philosophy in favor of "funny doctor who shakes up the establishment." Said real Dr. Adams hates the movie for exactly that reason.
- Radio Flyer, in which a boy escapes his abusive stepfather by building an airplane out of a toy wagon and flying away in it.
- Rock: It's your decision is supposed to be an educational and supportive movie about a Christian teen realizing that he must stop listening to sinful rock music (i.e. all of it). As to the result...
The Cinema Snob: I'm not kidding, this is one of the most depressing films I ever sat through. And I've watched Salo and A Serbian Film.
- The 19th century Romantic movement spawned a lot of examples of this. Indeed, one can argue that Romanticism done poorly is this trope by definition.
- Some of the earliest children's books published in English were stories meant for Puritan children. They primarily were stories about children who did nothing but pray and work, and finally had the "good fortune" to die young before they could commit any sins that would have gotten them cast into Hell. "Wasn't that a nice story? Sleep tight!"
- Today shall not be wasted. I shall rise before the sun, so that I may then watch my family as they slumber, with intent, waiting eyes.- At day, I shall perform my chores and duties happily, and if I see an eel, I shall kill it before it may speak to me seductively of its lazy life on lazy river bottoms.
- I shall honor my mother today, and I shall tell Father he is powerful.
- Today I shall be clean. I shall not touch my teeth, knowing that the oils of my skin shall cause them to disintegrate. I shall instead hone them with a good steel twice after prayers.
- I shall be a faithful child, and I shall ever make science my enemy. Also eels.
—At night, I shall dream of more labor, and in my sleep I shall smile with sharpened teeth, knowing that today has not been wasted.
- Marcelino, pan y vino is a book (and movie) that mostly anyone on the Spanish-speaking world has heard about. It's about some orphan kid (Marcelino) who befriends a living statue of Christ. Marcelino starts stealing bread and wine (pan y vino) to feed Jesus. Of course, in the end Marcelino dies so he can go meet his mother. Oh, and dying was supposed to be a reward. No wonder some people grew to be scared of crucifixes.
- Mark Twain wrote two stories parodying these: "The Good Little Boy", in which the title character's life ambition is to be the star of a Sunday School book, and "The Bad Little Boy", in which the title character misbehaves and karma utterly fails to inflict ironic punishments.
- In his stand up routine, David Cross savages the book Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men of Integrity for being full of Glurge and Warped Aesops.
- A certain critic wrote a rather scathing review of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones that essentially accuses the book of being this. Check it out here.
- The Nazi party published kids books, which were, unsurprisingly, full of this, presenting Jews and Roma as evil, conniving demons who wanted to ruin the lives of all the big-eyed Teutonic waifs. There was a Nazi children's book, which featured Hitler inviting a little girl to his private villa for tea and cookies, then giving her a hug and a kiss as she left.
- The Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
- Zenna Henderson's stories of The People tend to fall victim to this.
- Parodied in The Fountainhead; Alvah Scarrett's entire career is built on writing glurge-filled newspaper editorials.
- The new emergence of dog books such as Saving Cinnamon, The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving, A Small Furry Prayer, What a Difference a Dog Makes, etc. As an Entertainment Weekly reviewer summed it up - "They are all blatantly, painfully the same exaggerated story of hope and triumph-of-the-humane-society spirit. You know the kind -- a pit bull learning to love, a pug saving a nursing home, a chihuahua crusading for immigration reform! Not to be callous, but I've had it! I'm sure Oogy and Pukka are great pooches, but their cloyingly cute books are enough to give you a case of the canine diabetes."
- Edward Everett Hale's The Man Without a Country is quite Glurge-y, much as it tries to pretend to be a manly man's story set among the men of the Navy. The moral lesson is: love your country dammit, because if you don't have a country your life is worthless and you dwindle into a pathetic loner obsessed with the whole notion of "country." Never mind that patriotism for the sake of patriotism is naive at best, or that what happened in the story was a form of low-key brainwashing, making the man's life revolve around the lack of the United States—it's really nauseating.
- The Secret. Hoo boy. Good things happen if you really, really visualize them enough! It's the big secret to every success story in history! Never mind that by that same token, every failure or bad thing that ever happened was because someone basically didn't want to avoid them strongly enough.
- Pick an edition of Afterschool Special.[context?]
- Viewers of 7th Heaven are force-fed Christian morals like a baby. The version of Christianity was the vague, feel-good sort that could be described as 'spiritual masturbation.' You don't mention Jesus as anything more than a really hoopy dude, because people might feel bad and that would be terrible.
- The Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode "Faith" is a look at the darker side of glurge: the Victim of the Week is a benefactor who planned to stop supporting a girl who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and survived abuse to write an inspiring book about her experiences. He planned to stop because he found out she isn't real, and her "foster parents" are con artists. And this is actually inspired by Anthony Godby Johnson, supposed "author" of A Rock and a Hard Place. (The name is under spoiler tags to not ruin the episode for people who know about that but haven't seen the show.)
- The X Factor: Where do we start...[context?]
- Here, let Ryan Higa tell you about them Korean Dramas.
- The Oprah Winfrey Show...[context?]
- While they're certainly not all guilty of it, more than one film strip, 16mm film, and video on the dangers of drugs has fallen into this.
- Not sure I've I'm putting this in the right category, but there was an ad promoting Proposition 8 (a law which banned gay marriage in California) featuring a cute, little blonde girl playing with Barbie dolls. While the ad seemed sweet on the surface, advocates for gay rights would see this as a way of using children (who don't really understand what it is they're doing) to promote homophobia.
- Which runs in perfect parallel to allegations that gay rights advocates use 'tolerance' and 'acceptance' programs in schools to teach children (who don't really understand it) that homosexuality is not wrong. Some points of view cannot be reconciled to each other, they are anathema to each other.
- The notorious I Am Autism, produced by Autism Speaks and put on the Internet in September 2009. It starts out with a man's deep voice speaking over footage of autistic children playing at various activities as "Autism!", gloating about how he "work[s] faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined" among other things and then it switches over to various saintly neurotypical adults who all talk about how they will bravely fight autism, with one woman saying that "Autism!" "think[s] that because [her] child lives behind a wall, [she is] afraid to knock it down with [her] bare hands." Yeah, they really put that up. Unsurprisingly, it got a lot of backlash from autistic people, allistic allies, and many disability rights organizations. Even many people who had whole-heartedly supported Autism Speaks and their cause turned on them because of the video. Eventually, Autism Speaks took down the video.
- The song "Christmas Shoes" definitely qualifies. We'll let Patton Oswalt speak (using lots of cursing, so be warned) for this one. It's so infamous that even Christian Radio stations are opting to stay away from this these days.
- Patton Oswalt offers an Alternative Character Interpretation that posits the kid is a Street Urchin playing on the heartstrings of his marks in order to scam them.
- The Nostalgia Chick says it best. It IS the #1 disturbing and inescapable Christmas song, after all.
- Speaking of Christmas, Glurge seems to be the steak and potatoes of all the Christmas movies that -coincidentally?- nobody seems to remember. A stellar example: the all but forgotten Disney movie One Magic Christmas. It is a... loose reimagining of It's a Wonderful Life, sort of. And it sits uncomfortably between this trope, Tastes Like Diabetes, Inept Aesop, Deus Angst Machina, and Nightmare Fuel (the latter especially due to the violent Mood Whiplash). Bonus points for having many of the same Fridge Horror as "The Christmas Shoes," as pointed out by Patton Oswalt above: "What a horrible f*** ing God!!!". The whole things seems like it was designed to scar children for life.
- As a side note, 'The Christmas Shoes' is sold in the shop 'Poundland' in the UK. Poundland. Which means it sells for a pound or less. That's about two dollars in America. Huh, not so uplifting any more, are we?
- Hard 'N Phirm wrote an over-the-top response song to Christmas Shoes called She Named The Pony Jesus, in which a guy steals a horse from a fair to give to his ridiculously ailing daughter. The song ends with the horse trampling the girl and running away.
"Can I have a pony, Jesus
your humble servant begs
you see my little girl breathes through a tube
and has a wheelchair for her legs
I'm not asking you to fix her spine
or uncollapse her lung
but I know she'd thank you for that pony
if she had a working tongue...
I know that horse won't stop her tremors
or reattach her nose
but I know she'd hop right on that pony
if she could move her shriveled toes"
- A lot of the "God Is Love" Songs favored by Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) acts fit this description.
- Odds are, if you pick a country music song at random, you'll get recycled pop, Your Cheating Heart, or this. Martina McBride is quite the repeat offender in this regard.
- "Teddy Bear" by Red Sovine: a lonely little paralyzed boy with a dead father and only a C.B. Radio for company.
- The Deck of Cards: playing cards in church is punishable by death?
- Michael Jackson was a Glurge Addict, so it's not surprising that some of his work fell into this territory.
- Ghosts was something of a response to accusations that his affection for children hid unsavory motives. It uses the framework of a black-and-white horror movie. An evil white mayor (played by Jackson) leads a Torches and Pitchforks mob on the supernatural Michael just because he was sharing ghost stories with some local boys. What results is a parade of horrors to drive the mayor away, and it has been argued that Michael is the real villain even though the idea is that he's the hero who teaches us An Aesop about not picking on others who are different.
- "Earth Song" is a Green Aesop guilt trip that attacks the listener for not even bothering to notice the suffering of plants, animals and people. In the video, war victims and natives wailing and gnashing their teeth somehow proves sufficient to magically turn back time and make everything all better. To make matters worse, live performances had Jackson singlehandedly stand up to a tank and reduce the soldier/driver within to tears by standing down the gun he aimed at him. And then there was Michael's Brit Awards appearance in 1996, in which the song became a ten-minute production number that climaxed with Michael clad in white, being treated as a messiah by the suffering masses. About midway through the peformance, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) crashed the stage to counteract the sappiness; hilarity ensued. That said, this song is hugely loved by Jackson fans, especially the Vocal Minority—just look at this excerpt [dead link] from an e-book about its creation.
- A lot of early-to-mid-20th-century pop can fall into this nowadays, given how completely sentimentality has been redefined since then. "Artificial Flowers" (best-known version by Bobby Darrin) is a great example.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers (especially during the Hanna-Barbera era.)
- Parodied in Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends: in one episode, this is how Mac is able to tell which of the Bloos is his true best friend. The one that made the heartfelt speech at the end? He wasn't the real one, since Bloo would never say or admit something like that.
- Some Care Bears cartoons definitely qualify.
- Only some?
- Played for Laughs on South Park. Which episode? Practically all of them.
- In King of the Hill, Hank's mom Tilly collects figurines and Hank utterly despises them because of how much she loves them and how they seem to control her life. Then Hank realizes those figurines were the only things that kept her going while she was trapped in her marriage to Hank's Jerkass father Cotton.
- Spam, chain letters and faxlore by the thousands. Snopes has an entire section dedicated to examples of these, with well over one hundred entries, and yet even that barely dips into the endless well of schmaltz, Narm and unexamined assumptions that winds up in people's inboxes daily.
- Some of the crazy stuff people come out with on Fundies Say the Darndest Things are pretty glurgy. Thanks to Poe's Law, it's very hard to tell if this is actually serious or not. Example:
"After four years, our cancer warrior Alice has left her earthly bounds and gone to heaven, where her body is healthy again, where the wind can blow through her hair, and where she can finally ride a horse on the beach and swim with dolphins. She was embraced in heaven by all the inspiring teens and children with cancer she met along the way." My question to atheists is: if her parents asked you for your true beliefs, would you really take that away from them? Would you really tell them that their daughter was just unlucky, and suffered heroically for years only to go out like a candle and be nothing more than dirt in the ground?
- The website InnerMichael is devoted to presenting Michael Jackson as an enlightened prophet and exemplar of the best of human nature, explaining that the reason he had a career and personal downturn in his later years was not because of anything he did (i.e., sleepovers with children who weren't his, excessive plastic surgery, etc.) but because he was Too Good for This Sinful Earth and the collective "dark shadow" of humanity was out to get him. Anyone who doesn't think he was an angel on Earth (instead of the extremely troubled person MJ was in real life) is actually displacing the evil in themselves by cruelly twisting his forever-innocent actions into suspicious ones and publicizing and enjoying his suffering for sport and profit (this is a typical article). Exaggeration and factual errors/omissions run rampant.
- Arguably, the Self Esteem Movement that permeated much of academia in the 70s, 80s, and 90s could be categorized as an example of real-life Glurge, broadly defined. The theory was the all children naturally want to be good students, well-behaved, etc, but must be taught self-esteem to live up to this. Bad behavior, bad grades, bad sexual choices among adolescents, bullying, etc, were all supposedly symptoms of low self-esteem. There was never much evidence for it, and definitely some evidence to the contrary, but those who advocated it did so passionately. It's not so popular these days, but it hasn't gone away, either.
- which includes that medicine should be available to everyone who needs it, alternative and traditional treatment methods should be integrated, and emotional health is just as important as physical health