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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Weighing In On Two Controversies: The Glee Photo Shoot and Violence v. Sex, What's Worse?

The Issue at Hand
So, as you all probably know by now, Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, and Cory Monteith (all of Glee fame) did a photo shoot for GQ magazine where Lea posed like a super slut in her underwear and Dianna showed her midriff, while Cory Monteith got to be covered up, because he is a guy. We don’t recommend it, because you can understand what is going on without seeing these, but you can see the offending photos (and a great observation about how DESPERATE the photo shoot comes across) here:

Seriously, Lea Michele looks like she is about to burst into flames from the effort to look as much like a porn star as possible. Way to try too hard. Tasteless. Do the readers of GQ even watch Glee? Does Glee really need the publicity? (No.) The Parents Television Council/Committee/whatever (some conservative TV watchdog group) condemned the shoot, saying that because it was shot in a high school and featured the whole schoolgirl fetish thing that it bordered on pedophilia. We think that since no one pays attention to the PTC, they had to say the most extreme thing they could to get attention. These girls in no way look like children, even if one of them IS sucking on a lollypop in a photo.

The Lame, “But It’s Not a Family Show” argument
But the PTC has a point. Defending the Glee stars, people have been saying, “It’s not a family show.” Our response to THAT is, “So?” Kids in high school and middle school watch it, and that’s a fact. That’s like saying Gossip Girl and 90210 aren’t aimed at children under 18. Also, when we say, “It’s not our jobs to police TV and society, it’s the parents’ jobs,” we are pretty much saying, “If kids have bad parents or no parents, that’s not our problem. We want to see all the sexy stuff we want without judgment.” It’s for this reason that this argument doesn’t hold much water for us. We all have to live in this society, and the public needs to draw ethical lines over what we tolerate and what we can do without. Anything involved with Glee sends messages to young men and women about what is right, what is normal, and what success looks like. Forget kids. Even if you celebrate freedom to the max, is it really beneficial for the grown men reading GQ to see photos like this? Do freedom and the almighty dollar outweigh our interest in having a society where women are not props like this? Even regular adults groaned at this shoot, and we think we know why. It’s because the shoot is contrary to what the show stands for and why we love it.

What’s worse, sex or violence on TV?
These bloggers don’t really mind sex, nudity, violence, and language in our TV shows. All you have to do to notice that is to look at the variety of shows we watch. But you might be asking, “Hey, we’ve read scolding and hints of conservatism on this blog. What gives?" What we DO care about are the messages the show carries. For example, we loved Sex and the City, because although there was plenty of carefree sex, in the end really connecting to another person, commitment, friendship, forgiveness, and actual intimacy won out. We think parents and discriminating viewers should worry just as much about the messages in the media as the content. And hey, people are dehumanized when they are NEVER the object of lust as well as when they are ONLY objects of lust. You have to find a balance. This is why we slam violence so much more than sex. No one is humanized by violence. For us, a good, true message can overcome bad content. See: Any episode of South Park.

Betraying the heart of Glee
Glee has been described as a positive, wholesome show. This has nothing to do with its content. It features sex, drugs, and light cursing, and is not squeaky clean at all. Glee’s wholesomeness does not come from its content, it comes from its message. The show is about diversity, underdogs, and being confident in who you are. This is what the photo shoot violates. Glee whipped out its whitest, skinniest stars, took off their clothes, and slapped them in a men’s magazine. This exploitative, weird photoshoot celebrated the status quo and young women looking stupid. Also, notice how they turned Lea’s face in most shoots to hide her unique facial features, particularly the nose.

Thoughts on the actors involved
On her blog, Dianna Agron wrote a response to the outcry over the photo shoot, and it was articulate, humble, wise, and pretty awesome. We like her a lot better now. You can read it and follow Agron’s blog here: Dianna admitted that the shoot wasn’t her favorite idea, but she didn’t walk away. As for Lea Michele, there is no doubt that she is an ambitious girl willing to do anything to succeed in showbiz. In this, she is like her Glee character, Rachel. Lea showed her breasts on stage night after night in the musical Spring Awakening, and she has the raciest poses and outfits in the photo shoot. Also, she has jumped right in line with Hollywood’s hellacious body standards by losing a lot of weight between seasons 1 and 2. This disappoints us, because she is one of the most gorgeous and talented people on TV today. After Glee, she will probably always be successful, and she has a steady job. We don’t know why she thinks she needs to do stuff like this. It saddens us that her beautiful voice isn’t enough. And Cory, you could have said something or done something too. Call us prudes, but we don’t think this shoot adds anything good to the world or to TV. It’s sexist, desperate, and dumb.

It’s a world playing to the lowest common denominator. Be careful what you see.


  1. Wow, I really like this post. Very thoughtful and full of substance.

    My church's leaders have given some really good counsel on what type of entertainment we should be watching - if you're interested, you can read it here:
    (Click on the "Entertainment and Media" tab.)

    I'm not perfect when it comes to following those guidelines, and a lot of it is left up to interpretation (I know many Mormons who think you're going to hell if you watch Friends, I also know many Mormons who own all ten seasons.)

    I tend to be on the more liberal end of the spectrum, though I can definitely see how my mind and actions are changed when I view less wholesome material. I try to play it safe, but I haven't been able to give up Grey's Anatomy yet. :)

    Ern, I talked to you the other day about Dexter. We decided to stop watching it all together. :'( It was a really interesting show, but it was chock full of violence, sex, and profanity. I just don't see how watching it will make my life any better (although I will definitely not judge you for watching it, I promise.)

    In media, sex bothers me much more than violence because I have acutely felt the negative effects of it in my own life. I find the acceptance of casual sex and pornography to be one of the most serious problems in our society.

    And one last comment, on the "no one is humanized by violence" part - yes, all violence is bad, and most violence on tv is straight up stupid and unnecessary. But I learn so much from watching things like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. I think I feel MORE human when I watch war movies. I recognize my own mortality, I remember that we are all just people, and I feel more connected to the world. Remembering war violence is humanizing, I think, although violence and violent acts themselves are, as you said, never humanizing.

    Sorry, that's a super long comment, but I just really liked your post! :)

  2. I really like this post, too. The problem, as you so rightly point out, is that this GQ photo shoot really does seem to deal in the same kind misogyny and racism that the show tries in its own ways to combat. The show is not "clean and wholesome" by any means, but it does try to wade through the bad decisions that teenagers make to advance a positive message about respecting human beings.

    This magazine shoot, even though it could be written off as regular publicity, throws a finger in the air at the show's positive humanistic message. GQ Magazine seems to market an airbrushed version of male fantasy that is just a few ticks shy of actual pornography, and it really bums me out to see these actors participating, even though I think Diana Agron's articulate blog post came across as honest and remorseful. Cory Monteith's pervy expression and ridiculous pose endorse the misogyny the shoot is selling. He's not sexualized at all, despite Lea Michelle's porn star pose. The message is clear: the scantily-clad women are there to serve as objects of the man's pleasure.

    You also make a good point about the way Lea's head is turned just enough so that she doesn't look (Heaven forbid!) "too Jewish". It's fascinating/disturbing that this could be an intentional aesthetic choice on the part of the magazine editors, but alas.

    I find the photos unsettling for the same reasons that you seem to: they seemingly negate the positive message of the show itself with a pervy, racist male fantasy. Ick times fifty.

  3. This comment is in response to Mrs. Potts. We’re glad you like the post! We have found that it’s rare for TV to give us something meaty to write about, and this came close. One of us picked TV to write about because previous writings have ticked people in one blogger’s family off and confused them. We thought TV was safe to write about, for now, and we have to write. But we can’t resist a nice controversy when it starts to boil over.

    We checked out that site, just to see what was on it. We liked the part where it mentioned how entertainment can make bad behavior look “normal.” It’s cool that it didn’t provide a checklist of what was right and wrong but left it up to interpretation. People have to live in this grey-area world and work out what’s best for their particular mind, propensity toward lust and violence. One of us actually likes to google sites that evaluate entertainment from a moral point of view (like Pluggedin and Steven Graydanus’ “Decent Films Guide) just to get the conservative take on it. We like to wrestle with and think about what we watch, rather than just let entertainment make up the status quo. Knowing about entertainment can help you relate to younger people and confused people, and you can use it for communication.

    As for Dexter, Ern stopped watching the show halfway through the first season, but her sister raved about the show years later, saying that it had gotten good. Ern sympathizes, because she thought it was just a gross glorification of serial killers. What made it viewable later on were the observations about humanity and compassion when contrasting Dexter with other characters. Also, it was interesting to watch Dexter learn to love as much as he could as he got his family with Rita. We totally understand that you saw it as more bad than good in your life, and we respect that. It was almost too much for one of us too.

    Interesting and valid observations on the value of violence too. But we think that the brotherhood, humanity, and valor in war can be shown without graphic violence. Still, that was the best part of your comment for us.

  4. Cat: Your response covered everything we forgot to say (or couldn't formulate) in the post. Especially "The message is clear: the scantily-clad women are there to serve as objects of the man's pleasure." Nice. Plus, the pointing out of Cory's "pervy expression."

    This whole photo shoot was just a big, messy fail.