It's just another day at Glee's McKinley High and off-and-on gay supercouple Kurt and Blaine are strolling down the hall, recapping their friends' holiday hijinks. Kurt's not in the holiday spirit after losing all of his improbable bids in an Elizabeth Taylor estate jewelry auction, but Blaine reminds him to be thankful for the things they do have. And then Blaine pulls Kurt into a corner to give him a gift: a box containing a ring made out of gum wrappers. Not an engagement ring, but a promise ring.
Kurt: "But what are you promising?"
Blaine: "To always love you. To defend you, even if I know you're wrong. To surprise you. To always pick up your phone call, no matter what I'm doing. To bake you cookies at least twice a year. To kiss you wherever and whenever you want. But mostly just to make sure that you remember how perfectly imperfect you are."
It's the scene all Kurt/Blaine fans dream of. The kind of romantic and emotional bit of canon — the writer-sanctioned story lines that make up a fictional universe — that launches a thousand fanfics.
Just one problem. The scene never aired.
Fans, however, knew it existed without it ever appearing on their screens in the December 2011 episode "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" — earlier that month, Fox had released promotional stills featuring Kurt holding a ringbox, which prompted Perez Hilton to report on the vague contents of the missing scene after the episode aired. "Klaine" (as the collection of Kurt/Blaine devotees are known) fans reacted in excitement, and then frustration when Fox wasn't forthcoming with the footage. The missing moment was quickly named "The Box Scene" by fans on Twitter and Tumblr, and desire for the scene prompted industrious fans to come together in its adopted name as "The Box Scene Project," raising money for charity to get their hands on the only way they'd be able to see the scene, in script form.
But often, the fans' desires are subject to the whims of the writers, editors, and networks — and no amount of social media shouting could get the Glee team to release the scene. It was only months later, when the shooting script for the episode went up for auction at a charity site, that two fans decided to put an idea on their Tumblrs about coming together to get their hands on the precious content. Soon friends of friends started getting involved, and the idea created a movement that bonded many Glee fans together into a charity fundraising collective called The Box Scene Project that comprises more than 1,500 participants worldwide.
The loosely defined group, started by Heather Kirkpatrick and Tamila Gresham in what was originally an handful of Tumblr posts, moved on from "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" to more charity efforts based around reclaiming canon elements of Glee, specifically elements related to the queer characters. Glee's gotten a lot of press for mainstreaming queer teenagers, but fans of the show say actual moments of queer affection are few and far between — during Season 3, straight couple Finn and Rachel kissed more in a single episode than Kurt and Blaine had their entire relationship, and the other main gay couple, Santana and Brittany, barely interacted in several key episodes during that season. When it became clear that bits of those couples' moments were hitting the cutting room floor, their fans took action: Glee may be one of the most gay-friendly shows on TV, but the lack of equality in its gay and straight romantic relationships has been a thorn in many a fan's side. As fans used social media to voice their complaints to Fox executives and show creators, groups like The Box Scene see their charity campaigns as part of the greater activist movement, part of an effort to work toward equality for LGBT couples and characters on TV.
"We've always kind of been activist in a sense," says Gresham. "The thing that was so frustrating about the box scene being cut was that the reason I watched Glee was it was a place where you could see LGBT characters being represented. We want to let the network know and writers to know that the fans enjoy this, we are watching for this, and you shouldn't have to feel this pressure that you can't show equality and progress on television because some random group is going to send you letters and boycott you. [The Box Scene Project] was about trying to pinpoint exactly where the problem was so that we could find a solution."
Gresham and Kirkpatrick only needed $3,000 to win the script, but the group ended up donating more than $10,000 to Project AngelFood, the charity hosting the auction. Their goal achieved, that could have been the end of the story. But they found more scripts up for auction that were of particular interest to the fandom, and kept going after them, and winning. Meanwhile, the furor around the box scene itself finally encouraged show creator Ryan Murphy to release the filmed scene on YouTube, one of the few times Glee has ever released a cut scene to the public.
Bolstered by their success, the group came together this winter to raise money for The Young Storytellers Foundation, a charity with ties to Glee co-creator Brad Falchuck. The women spoke with the charity and set up a plan — they'd host their own charity fundraising event to solely benefit The Young Storytellers Foundation, and in turn the charity would give away PDFs of "The First Time," a Season 3 script that focused on two of the show's main couples having sex for the first time.
According to Gresham, "Bill [Thompson, executive director of The Young Storytellers Foundation] said, 'What do you need us to do in order to be beneficiaries of your work?' Ever since 'The First Time' even aired, fandom knew it needed that [script]." The group set their goal at $10,000, and quickly surpassed that in a single day.
In the end, they raised $40,000 for young artists, and got their hands on precious content, including the transcript of a never-aired scene between Kurt and his stepbrother Finn. The script also featured an entire missing song — a duet between Kurt and Blaine that was a mashup of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me."
"Our vision for the box scene is to be something that is taking that fan activism and doing something positive with it," says Kirkpatrick. "If, within the Tumblr world, 5,000 people who want the same thing, if everybody can get their voice together, it's more powerful than one person."
Fan campaigning has evolved along with the internet, but new forms haven't completely erased the old-fashioned campaigns. Some Teen Wolf fans, who already interact with the show's powers that be via Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, also organized a cookie campaign in support of Sterek, the dominant slash pairing for characters Stiles and Derek, after show creator Jeff Davis told fans via Twitter that he'd accept chocolate chip cookies as bribes. Even the recent groundbreaking Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign is a sign of fans demanding more from their content creators and being willing to use their own money to make access to extended scenes a reality. However, that project still relied heavily on creator investment and control. Fans could pay, but Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell were the driving forces between that new content getting to rabid fans.
The powers that be at Glee are not oblivious to the fan activism, and some are even getting involved. The Box Scene Project says they met Falchuck and Murphy, who are aware of their work, on a recent Glee set tour. During the visit, Falchuck asked them which script they'd like to get their hands on next. "A reunion script," Gresham joked with him, referring to the fact that their preferred ship is currently broken up in the context of Glee. (Glee representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Despite rubbing elbows with Glee's creators, Gresham and Kirkpatrick emphasize that they are still just fans. Fans are often reluctant to get too close to the showrunners or Fox executives, because with such closeness often comes backlash from their fellow fans. "I think having a mutually beneficial relationship might help," says Kirkpatrick. "But then it's crossing that line and you're not asking as a fan. I like the fan activism part, I'm just a fan. If we're affiliated with Fox then we're kind of under their guise and that takes the fun out of it."