Well, Glee fans, there's no new episode tonight, which means that we have to keep ourselves entertained another week without any new material. But luckily, the new issue of GQ features our favorite show, and scans hit the internet today. Behold:
Are you offended? I don't blame you. Are you turned on? I don't blame you. Are you wishing that Cory Monteith was in the same state of undress as Lea Michele and Dianna Agron? Again, I don't blame you.
And before I continue, I would really like to make it clear that I'm addressing these photos very much without any personal implications about Lea, Dianna, and Cory. I love all three actors dearly and am dealing with their participation in this much like they are props - they clearly were not responsible for the decisions made in this photospread and I don't endeavor to lay blame to any of them by my ranting in this piece. Okay? Okay. Onward!
Now, there are several things that strike me the wrong way about the photoshoot. Let's talk wardrobe: Lea Michele is not wearing pants in a single frame, and yet Cory Monteith is fully clothed - he gets to wear a letterman jacket. We see Dianna Agron's abs in every shot, yet the only amount of skin we get from Cory is face and hands.
Now let's talk props. Lea's main prop seems to be a rather sexually suggestive lollipop. Cory gets some fairly innocent-seeming drums. How about posing? Oh, that's Cory, fully clothed, with his hands on the asses of two scantily-clad women? Oh, that's Lea, legs spread open to camera? Oh, okay; cool. Just checking.
I'm not stupid; I understand why this is. GQ is a men's magazine. GQ wants men to buy their magazine. How else to accomplish this than putting a capable bro on the cover feeling up two twenty-something, half-naked ladies tailored in schoolgirl fetish? This is the male gaze at its strongest, and frankly, it's offensive.
I was going to take a lukewarm stand on this issue at first. I was going to waffle, and say, "Well, they're just trying to sell magazines, what are they supposed to do? It's an over-the-top concept, and they just decided commit 100% for artistic purposes."
But then I really thought about it, and I decided to let my feathers get ruffled. You know what? What we put on the covers of magazines, and on television, and on the internet? It MEANS something. It MEANS something to put those three young actors in that position on the cover of GQ. It's using the images of people I like and respect to perpetuate the objectification of women. It's offensive. And frankly, saying that it's selling more issues makes this offense even less excusable. Excuse me, gentlemen magazine readers? Stop thinking with your dick and flip through a magazine if you want to read an article. If you don't want to read an article and instead just want something to jerk off to, I suggest subscribing to Playboy. I guarantee that straight guys who picked up this magazine did not pick it up to read about a musical comedy television show. They picked up it to see if there were more fetishistic pictures of women, and were rewarded when they got the locker room photos of Lea Michele.
I understand that, with the fact that Glee is a high school show that tackles a lot of adult issues, we're going to get this dichotomy when it's represented in the media. Lea must roll her eyes every time she puts on thigh-high athletic socks and hikes up her skirt. The schoolgirl thing isn't new - Britney Spears tapped into it with "Baby One More Time," a decade ago and of course, Glee just covered the exact same ground a few weeks back.
But this isn't even the point. The point is that Cory Monteith got to wear pants and a jacket and Lea and Dianna were showing as much skin as possible. If we're going to over-sexualize things, where's the fair in that? Yes, I know it's a men's magazine, but will its readers really go into a gay panic if there's a sexualized picture of Cory Monteith? If Cory were wearing a similar amount of clothing as Lea and Dianna on the cover, it would at least level the score - even with his hands on their asses. As a lady, if I want to read this article and have to flip through offensive portrayals of the women that I personally respect, then I think that gentlemen readers can stomach one photo of Cory with his shirt off. Sex is a two-way street, gang.
Of course, beyond all the sexism inherent in this photospread, lies the tiniest hint of racism. There are currently eleven main cast members in the fictional Glee club. Which three were photographed for the cover? The three hottest, skinniest, and whitest. Yes, Lea and Cory portray the main characters. However, Dianna does not. She gets little screentime on the show, yet is publicized heavily because she's gorgeous and blonde and everybody, male and female alike, wants to do her. Jenna and Amber do not get nearly the same attention Lea and Dianna get, whether it be from magazines, or paparazzi, or even fans. On the one hand, I say it's a travesty! Jenna and Amber are just as beautiful, talented, and lovely as their co-stars and deserve their magazine covers. However, if the magazine covers are going to continue to look like the GQ one, then Jenna and Amber should probably just be grateful they're dodging the heavy objectification. One less thing to worry about.
My point, in all of this, is that all output of creativity involves choices. Decisions are made by creative people in charge, and the result of those decisions is what we see on our television, or on our newsstands. Someone in charge at GQ (multiple someones, I'd say) drew up the concept for this photoshoot and thought, "Great idea!" Someone selected the wardrobe, as little or as much of it as needed. Someone gave Lea Michele that lollipop. Someone placed Dianna Agron in front of that wall so that the red vector pointed straight to her ass. Someone probably said, "Be sexier!" or "Cory, hands lower!" at some point during the photoshoot. These were careful decisions made. This photoshoot didn't happen by accident.
And that, to me, is the truly unfortunate thing. Somebody planned all this, which means that the concepts it's reinforcing are still alive and well in the media, and in men's heads. And while I'm sure my beloved Cory, Lea, and Dianna didn't exactly do anything they hadn't signed up for, I still feel badly for them that they had to participate in this. Somewhere, you know that Chris Colfer, Jenna Ushkowitz and Amber Riley were like, "Phew! We dodged that bullet!"
Sometimes it truly does seem like we're spinning our wheels in getting the media to represent women in a more realistic and objective light. In the meantime, however, Lea Michele should probably expect more lollipops and knee socks.
Author's Note: there are follow-ups to this post here and here.