“When did you get so smart?”: On Brittany’s Nonnormative Intelligence as a Factor in the Brittana Relationship Dynamic
So this brief Brittanalysis comes to you in response to an Ask from the lovely surimistik, who writes:
“Here’s something I noticed: Almost everyone in the fandom, when writing fanfictions and stuff, loves to think that Santana doesn’t think that Brittany is stupid and always tries to deny it when she calls herself that. But watching the show, I noticed that Santana DOES in fact think Brittany is stupid, or at least ‘special.’ Whenever [Brittany] says something particularly crazy, [Santana] DOES roll her eyes or make a very confused ‘WTF’ face, and [it is] only when Brittany’s ‘dumb statement’ is particularly cute [that Santana] makes a lovestruck expression. My take on this is that Santana KNOWS AND ACCEPTS the fact that Brittany isn’t the brightest tool in the shed, and she loves her even more for that. Santana loves and accepts Brittany’s dumbness. She doesn’t try to deny it, as many of the fandom loves to think. She doesn’t love her IN SPITE OF her dumbness, she loves her BECAUSE of her dumbness, because she is who she is. Truth be told, I think that Brittany really isn’t stupid and she’s an hidden genius, but ‘dumb Britt’ is what RIB show us, and that’s my theory about it. What do you think? Am I completely crazy?”
So I, like you, tend to believe that Brittany S. Pierce is anything but stupid.
However, I also tend to believe that Santana Lopez knows that Brittany is anything but stupid, too, and, moreover, that we have plenty of textual evidence from the show which proves that Santana respects Brittany’s intelligence.
Consequently, I respectfully disagree with your theory on several counts.
First of all, in 2x22, Santana quite clearly states that she thinks Brittany is “so smart.” That being the case, we can say with absolute certainty that Santana doesn’t think that Brittany is stupid. Indeed, Santana’s willingness to take advice from Brittany and to defend Brittany’s ideas to others proves that Santana respects Brittany’s mind (“Leave Brittany alone!”), even if she doesn’t always understand the way it works.
Secondly, I take issue with the notion that Santana has ever “rolled her eyes” at Brittany; she hasn’t. Yes, Santana will sometimes look confused at what Brittany says, but we must not suppose that Santana does this because she thinks that Brittany is dumb—because she doesn’t.
Rather, I would argue that Santana scrunches up her brow at various Brittanyisms for one of two reasons: first, because she’s trying to figure out what Brittany means by them—a behavior which suggests that Santana does in fact believe that what Brittany says is generally sensible, even if said sense is not initially obvious to Santana herself—and, second, because, in certain instances, she’s responding to Brittany’s attempt to joke around with her in high stress situations.
I will explore these two reasons at length under the cut.
“What was it about?”: On Santana’s Approach to Brittany’s Nonnormative Intelligence
See, the thing is that Brittany Pierce is nonnormatively intelligent (see here). And the thing about nonnormative intelligence is that it is just that—nonnormative. Brittany doesn’t think in the same way that most people do; her cognitive processes are utterly queer, to the point where she views the world in a different way from most of the people around her, including Santana. While many people mistake this “difference” for “stupidity,” it isn’t.
And Santana Lopez knows that.
Santana and Brittany’s cognitive processes are different, so Santana doesn’t always get what Brittany says right away, that much is true. But the fact of the matter is that because Santana respects Brittany’s mind and views Brittany as an intellectual equal—if not superior—Santana will always try to figure out where Brittany is coming from with her non sequiturs and malapropisms, because, ultimately, Santana knows they come from somewhere.
So the brow-scrunching? That just indicates Santana thinking about what Brittany says, attempting to wrap her own mind around it—not Santana thinking “Oh my god, you’re such an idiot.”
We see Santana’s respect for Brittany’s cognitive processes quite clearly at play during the Heart Locker scene of 2x22, when Santana at first resists Brittany’s seeming passivity about the glee club’s loss at Nationals—scrunching up her brow at Brittany’s “don’t give a fuck” attitude—but then softens and backs down, asking Brittany to explain where she’s coming from on the matter.
While the typical glee club member would tend to fixate on the Nationals loss itself, as Santana herself does, Brittany’s nonnormativity allows her to see past the loss and instead focus on what she sees as the overreaching theme of the year (i.e., “acceptance”).
Accordingly, what we see happening in this scene is Santana failing to understand Brittany’s seeming passivity about said loss at first, but then realizing that there is some reason to Brittany’s rhyme and asking Brittany to elucidate it to her (“Sorry. What was it about?”).
Someone who didn’t respect Brittany’s mind probably would have written Brittany’s apparently “nonchalant” attitude about the loss off as Brittany simply being “too simple” to understand the grander implications of the loss, but not Santana; Santana realizes that Brittany tends to know what she’s talking about. For that reason, Santana asks Brittany to let her in on the secret as opposed to shooting Brittany down or simply allowing her own lack of comprehension concerning Brittany’s words to stand.
Santana gets that Brittany gets it—simple as that.
I would therefore argue that many, if not most, of the instances we see of Santana furrowing her brow at Brittany have nothing to do with Santana thinking of Brittany as “stupid,” but rather have everything to do with Santana knowing that Brittany is smart and working to keep up with Brittany to the best of her abilities.
“Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?”: On Brittana in High Stress Situations and Brittany’s Levity
As stated above, I believe that, for the most part, the confounded expression Santana wears in response to various Brittanyisms stems from Santana attempting to follow Brittany’s nonnormative thought processes; however, I also believe that, at least in some instances, we can attribute Santana’s responses to another factor: namely, stress.
Elsewhere, I have described how Brittany will often use humor to defuse tense situations—i.e., she’ll crack jokes, sometimes at the expense of her own reputation, in order to avoid conflict or to avoid scrutiny.
While Brittany will display this behavior on a more general level, she also and more especially resorts to said behavior in high stress situations involving Santana, and particularly when some outside force places pressure on the Brittana relationship; essentially, it is just another one of the ways in which Brittany understands Santana better than anyone does and uses her understanding of Santana to help Santana cope.
The instance in which this behavior seems most evident to me occurs during episode 1x14 “Hell-O,” when Brittana go on a date with Finn to BreadStiX at the behest of one Sue Sylvester.
Elsewhere, I’ve explained how Sue’s mandate that Brittana seduce Finn places intense stress on the Brittana relationship, as it essentially puts Santana in a position wherein she must either acknowledge the sanctity of and the feelings behind her relationship with Brittany when she refuses to compromise said relationship by going on the date with Finn OR she must sully said relationship with Brittany by pretending it doesn’t mean anything to her, both of which options Santana finds abhorrent.
Accordingly, when Santana finally sends Finn away from the table (“You know what? Actually, would you mind waiting in the car? And leave your credit card”), it represents “her ‘fuck it’ moment… wherein [Santana] makes the executive decision to protect her relationship with Brittany rather than comply with Sue’s wishes.”
But while Santana makes her decision to send Finn away appear painless for the sake of intimidating Finn, it actually isn’t painless for her at all, because, in ending Brittana’s date with Finn on such a sour note, Santana realizes that she has failed Sue and therefore put both herself and Brittany in jeopardy. Unsurprisingly, then, “her face bespeaks both trepidation… and resignation,” following Finn’s exit.
Brittany, being a student of Santana’s emotions, “seems to pick up on Santana’s discomfort here and so cracks a joke (‘Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?’), true to Brittany form, in order to ease the tension (see here).” The thing is that Brittany totally understands what Santana just did for her—i.e., that Santana essentially threw herself under the proverbial bus for the purpose of protecting their romantic relationship.
While Brittany would of course prefer that Santana simply admit to the romantic nature of the Brittana relationship so as to avoid high stress situations such as this one in the future, Brittany nevertheless knows that, for the moment, this is all Santana can do for her. She sees how much all this eats Santana up inside and how much Santana dreads tomorrow, when she and Brittany will have to face Sue and own up to the fact that they failed at her objective.
Given the nature of the Brittana relationship at the moment, Brittany cannot comfort Santana in the way that she would most prefer to do so, under the circumstances—i.e., Brittany cannot administer to Santana through intimate physical touch (see here), being that they are in public, neither can Brittany fully acknowledge that she knows why Santana chose to send Finn away and/or thank Santana for doing so, being that Santana will not allow Brittany to discuss the feelings which motivated Santana’s choice.
Accordingly, Brittany tries to make Santana feel better in the only way that she can, given their situation: she cracks a joke for the purpose of pulling Santana out of her own head, defusing Santana’s panic in the process—because, the thing is, for as much as Santana knows that Brittany is smart and respects her for it, Brittany knows just as well that Santana knows she is smart and counts on Santana to respond appropriately.
Fangirl moment: They’re just so perfect for each other, okay? Brittany knows that nobody in the world understands her as well as Santana does. She fucking counts on it, you know? These girls just communicate on so many levels. It’s beautiful.
So when Brittany says “Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?” once Finn leaves the table, here’s what’s really going down:
Santana stares off and to the right—her eye movement here suggesting that she’s suppressing the true motivation for her recent actions (see here)—folding up her napkin in her hands as she does so. While someone who doesn’t know Santana well might read her action as disgust with Finn for failing to leave his charge card on the table, per her request, Brittany sees it for what it is: namely, Santana freaking out.
Essentially, Santana’s thinking, “Oh my god, what did I just do? Sue is going to kill me for this and kick me off the squad and she’ll yell at Britt too and—holy shit—why did I even do that? Britt’s gonna know why and then she’ll want to talk and sex isn’t dating, I swear to God! I mean, I totally didn’t do that because I’m in love with her. I just didn’t want to sleep with Finn, okay? He’s just nasty. It has nothing to even do with Britt. Oh god, is she okay, though? I bet she’s worried. I just wanna go home so we can hold each other. She’ll make it okay. Why do I always do this? I’m so lame. But Brittany, though—”
And Brittany’s thinking, “Oh god, San. Thank you. Don’t be scared. You did the right thing. It’ll be okay. Don’t worry so much. Oh no, I’m losing her for tonight. She’s got that look…”
So Brittany thinks fast.
Brittany knows that if she can just derail Santana’s train of thought for the moment, she can pull Santana out of her meltdown and salvage their evening together.
After all, now that Finn is gone, Brittany is well on the way to having her dream date with Santana (see here), if she can just get Santana into it again.
Brittany also knows that while Santana doesn’t always follow what Brittany’s saying the first time she says it, that Santana nevertheless respects Brittany’s mind enough to try to figure Brittany out.
So what does Brittany do?
First, she waits until Finn is out of earshot, because what she’s about to do next isn’t for him; it’s for Santana.
Then, she drops her most iconic one-liner of all time—“Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?”—knowing full well that Santana will a) immediately switch gears in her mind so that she can listen to what Brittany says; b) immediately start trying to figure out what Brittany means by what she says, dropping her previous course of thought; and c) get just a little kick out of the quirkiness that is Brittany, because, really, Santana is just a big softie, and “Brittanyisms” make her melt inside.
They’re one of the things that make Brittany Brittany; how could Santana not love them?
And it totally works.
First, Santana looks at Brittany, giving her a once-over.
This represents Santana’s initial reaction, namely: “Hold up. Brittany just said something. What’s that, sweet?”
Then, Santana looks down and to the side.
This represents Santana’s secondary reaction, namely: “Oh my god. I have no idea what that means, but Brittany is so cute, though! Wait, I shouldn’t think that. I mean…”
As I argue elsewhere, Santana typically diverts her eyes down and to the right when she’s trying to suppress her feelings for Brittany, in keeping with the sociological cues of obfuscation. That girl is a study in repression unto herself, let me tell you.
Finally, Santana furrows her brow, staring at Brittany again before looking off towards the wall, obviously puzzling over what Brittany just said.
This represents Santana’s tertiary reaction, namely: “Wait. What does that even mean? Dolphins ‘are just gay sharks’? She said the G-word. So, hold up, is she trying to say something about me? About us? What? Is it like she’s trying to say that we’re okay or something? Like whatever we are works? Are we dolphins? Are we sharks? I don’t get it. Um, BrittBritt?”
So Santana’s facial expression? Again, it has nothing to do with Santana thinking that Brittany is stupid. Rather, it has to do with Santana being caught up in her own thoughts and confused about the origins of Brittany’s statement.
I might even goes as far as to argue that it represents Santana trying not to laugh, just out of the sheer “Really, Britt?” nature of the moment. In fact, headcanon says Santana totally starts laughing as soon as the camera cuts away from this scene. At first she just sort of chuckles, trying to hang on to her bad mood, because, damn it, Britt, this is supposed to be serious, but then she just kind of loses it, laughing because, you know what? She has Brittany and Sue Sylvester can suck it. They’ll be okay tomorrow, no matter what. Brittany’s just… perfect. So Santana laughs. Gay sharks? Hilarious. And then she finally takes that last swig of her iced tea, washing down her giggles, and says, “Come on, Britt. Let’s go home.” And Brittany smiles that sneaky!Brittany smile of hers, like she doesn’t know what’s come over Santana, even though she totally does, and they leave together, pinky in pinky, and Santana even pays for dinner, because, fuck Finn and his fucking credit card, she just wants to be with her girl.
It has everything to do with Santana knowing that Brittany has a reason to say what she’s saying, but not knowing how to process it at the moment.
More headcanon, anyone? I think that sometimes, just as Santana is about to fall asleep at night, she’ll lay in bed puzzling over old conversations with Brittany. And every once in a while? The answer will come to her. She’ll be like, “Oh my god. I totally get that one now! Oh, Britt. You’re too perfect!” and then she’ll drift off to dreaming with a smile on her face, only to start all over again the next day with a fresh new Brittanyism to ponder.
Suffice it to say that Brittany is wiser than most people give her credit for, but Santana is one of the few people who actually gives Brittany credit.
While it is true that we have never witnessed a scene in which Santana explicitly stands up for Brittany’s intelligence—i.e., we’ve never seen Santana tell anyone that Brittany isn’t stupid in so many words—we nevertheless have plenty of evidence which proves that Santana respects Brittany’s intelligence and doesn’t think of Brittany as “dumb” in the least (see here).
As with so many “little Brittana things,” the expression that Santana wears in response to various Brittanyisms is one of nuance, subtext, and deeper meaning. While other characters on the show undoubtedly read it as Santana’s version of “What the fuck, Britt?,” Brittany herself seemingly knows better than to think that; Brittany knows that Santana will always try to figure her out, which is why Brittany feels that she can use humor in order to comfort Santana during high stress situations.
For this reason, we can perhaps read Santana’s quizzical responses to Brittany’s various one-liners best as, “Come again?” rather than any form of judgment on Brittany’s intelligence; it’s Santana either waiting for Brittany to make her meaning clear or Santana waiting for herself to catch up with Brittany, not Santana thinking that Brittany is in any way cognitively deficient.
Anyway, while many Glee fans will argue that Brittany is as dumb as RIB sometimes like to paint her and that Santana knows this about Brittany and accepts it, I, for one, will always argue that Brittany is intelligent—albeit nonnormatively so—and that Santana respects and understands her intelligence more than any other character on the show does, because I think we see plenty of evidence that this is in fact the case.
I would therefore interpret Santana’s parting line of the season not as Santana recognizing Brittany’s intelligence for the first time, but rather as Santana giving a subtle nod to Brittany—namely, “Why does no one else realize what a genius you are, babe?” And Brittany’s blushing grin as her responding in kind, “I don’t know. But you totally always have.”
Thanks for writing in!
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- starsplit said: *dies of feelings overload* No seriously? The interpretation of Santana’s thought process right after Finn leaves? I just want to hug her. Seriously, the poor girl… Can they just be happy this season? Please?! I need Brittana to be on so badly…
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