Terry Richardson Shoots Glee, And People Are Surprised?

Glee GQ Richardson

Seriously, if Terry Richardson is the one photographing Glee cast members for GQ, I don’t think anyone should be shocked that it’s going to be really dirty in an intentionally transgressive way. This morning my newsfeeds were squealing about the inappropriateness of GQ’s new cover and photo spread with actors from Glee. The actors were being racily sexy (to GQ’s mild limits, anyway), and we are in the land of the can’t-tell-actors-from-real-people, where the same people who are quick to shriek ‘kiddie pr0n’ at the GQ cover also buy Tylenol because the guy who plays a doctor on TV recommends it in the commercial. Still, the Parents Television Council is calling the GQ spread something that “borders on pedophilia.”

Here’s the GQ Glee gallery so you can see for yourself what is giving the PTC inappropriate thoughts.

Interestingly, NPR thinks it sucks too, but for different reasons. NPR does not approve of portraying the women as sexually submissive, indicated by their girlish clothing and poses. Here, we bump up against the stereotype assumption — and myth — that a woman’s voluntary display of sexual submission is inherently disempowering, and should be condemned. (NPR is having a bad hair day today, incidentally, so we don’t have to agree with them on this, either.)

Reason Magazine gives us what we need: some reason on the subject. Here’s a snip from the superb article Glee, The Simpsons, and Virtual Child Porn:

The Parents Television Council is complaining about a GQ photo spread featuring two actresses from the Fox musical dramedy Glee, Dianna Agron (Quinn) and Lea Michele (Rachel), in provocative poses. Although both actresses are 24, the characters they play are teenagers. As far as PTC President Tim Winter is concerned, that fact makes the GQ photos quasi-felonious:

It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on “Glee” in this way. It borders on pedophilia. Sadly, this is just the latest example of the overt sexualization of young girls in entertainment.

I suppose that being sexually attracted to 24-year-olds dressed like 17-year-olds “borders on pedophilia” in the same sense that adulthood borders on childhood. But it’s absurd to pretend there is something perverse or unusual about such attraction, or that any man who likes to see Dianna Agron jump around in a cheerleader’s outfit is just one step away from raping children. Still, that seems to be the assumption underlying bans on child pornography. Such laws do not distinguish between prepubescent kids and sexually mature teenagers, and they can even be used to prosecute high school students for pictures they take of themselves or receive from the teenagers featured in them.

But to reiterate: Agron and Michele are not actually teenagers; they just play them on TV. In the 2002 case Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on “virtual” child pornography, production of which does not involve any real children, as a violation of the First Amendment. Presumably that is why Winter does not argue that GQ actually committed a crime by showing fake high school students in their underwear. (…read more, reason.com, thanks Praemedia)

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  1. For the record, I don’t think someone has to be a feminist to have an issue with this shoot, I don’t think criticism of it is or has to be anti female submission, and I don’t think something has to be “surprising” to be uncool and worthy of having said lack of coolness discussed.

    Women choosing to be sexually submissive is a totally valid choice deserving of respect. It’s a choice that frequently has an appeal for me personally. But, I’m fully aware that I live in a culture where there are extraordinarily common and dominant messages about women NEEDING to be submissive, objectified, and made child-like (and I’m sorry, they were portrayed like children. Not infants, but certainly not high school seniors, either) to be sexy. There are extraordinarily common and dominant messages about a woman’s control over her own sexuality, whatever shape that sexuality takes, being either unnecessary or even unwanted, unappealing, and unsexy.

    This shoot takes place in that context, and in the context where it’s been made clear by one of the female participants that they did not actively choose to be portrayed this way but went with it because it was expected of them as young women being portrayed in the mainstream media. I think that’s a problem and problem worth discussing and examining, not just for feminists but for sex-positive people and thinking people interested in challenging media tropes that don’t serve our culture well.

    To make a really imperfect analogy, there have historically been a lot of cultural messages, many of which persist even to present day, stating that women should all want to get married and have children, and subvert their careers to parenthood. I think those messages are bullshit and need to be challenged. That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing a woman’s choice to get married, have children, or prioritize family over career. It means that I’m aware that those prevalent messages make it more likely that women will do those things NOT because they want to but because they’re told they should, and THAT, not the choices of marriage and stay-at-home motherhood, is what’s not okay.

  2. Overall, I believe Violet has the right of it.

    I’m a little disappointed in the writer of the article, as she seems to have made a poor, if internally valid, conclusion about the nature of women being portrayed, which can only really stand up on its own with some sort of proof of coercion against the women in question.

    As an example, another, equally valid, conclusion is simply that they want the man to paw at them. And given that the shoot is, as Violet points out, a fantasy scenario, this seems to be closer to a true, valid conclusion. Just because you might find it repugnant personally, doesn’t make it less true.

  3. First of all, I don’t identify as a feminist. People keep labeling me one, and I’ve certainly challenged anti-porn feminists, but I don’t call or consider myself a feminist. I can supply links where I’ve stated this in the past and the surprise it’s garnered. Not new news.

    Next, I appreciate everyone’s feedback. I’m not optimistic, and I know Richardson’s reputation, and I’m not defending it in any way. What I’m doing is challenging some ideas about female desire and sexual fantasy.

    In this fantasy, the women are in role-reversal.

    Also, yes, we should see the guy subjected to the same standards of sexualization. But this is GQ and we are not ignorant of their editorial stance on gender binary, gender portrayal, and the audience they (think they) market to. Think a women’s magazine will do the same in reverse? No, and that’s the real crime.

    The shoot isn’t that hot for me either, but I know visual slash (fiction) when I see it. That’s all this is: one angle on a projected fantasy about the show’s characters.

    I also have to say, I know a significant number of articulate female submissives to whom this fantasy (submissive vapid fucktoy role-play) is not only appealing and arousing, but they also find it very empowering. By saying it’s wrong or bad takes away the sexual agency and removes permission for enjoyment for women who find power and pleasure when they take on these roles. So for that reason, I can’t be judgmental about this fantasy. It’s a fairly boring shoot with garden-variety sexual stereotypes. But a few of you still see sexual submission (or receptivity) as a bad thing, something that reduces the value of the receptive partner. And I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

    I also don’t personally know what happened with calling the shots on this shoot: we can’t say GQ or Richardson “made” the women do anything they didn’t want to do, unless we know this is a fact. The actors are grownups. They’re just as culpable for their work with Richardson as he is with them.

    I think “infantilized” is taking it too far, unless they are in diapers, have a bib, a binky, high chair, etc. They were playing “naughty schoolgirl” just like 500,000 adult women are about to do for Halloween.

    All I’m saying is, why is anyone surprised? We know GQ/TR’s issues. I just think we need to remember it’s a fantasy, and while it reinforces sexual stereotypes on the surface, that doesn’t make it a negative fantasy for people — especially women that might choose this fantasy — who know the difference between fantasy and reality.

  4. Here’s what Dianna Agron had to say about the shoot for GQ:

    And since her choice is the subject of this discussion, this line is particularly relevant.

    “If you asked me for my dream photo shoot, I’d be in a treehouse, in a wild costume, war-paint and I’d be playing with my pet dragon. Until then…..”

    Oh, so she doesn’t want to be portrayed as a vapid underage fucktoy? Who knew?

  5. NPR’s analysis of the images seems right on to me. You assume that the choices to sexualize the man, while portraying the women as submissive (not to mention infantilized), were those of the actors. How do you arrive at this assumption, Violet?

    This seems optimistic, especially in light of what we know about Richardson’s MO.


    This is yet another case where I see “pro-sex” feminism being used as a cover to explain away some very pre-feminist attitudes and practices.

  6. So why is it the man is still buttoned up and showing no skin? I really don’t have a problem with the skin and the fact that these people are GLEE cast members just makes me shrug for the most part. In my opinion the guy in this shoot should be in his skivies with the girl’s. Oh right, its a magazine for heterosexual men and god forbid! Love your stuff Violet, but once in a while I have to disagree.

  7. I think you’ve mis-characterized NPR’s issue with the shoot (for the record, I mostly-but-not-entirely agreed with their take on it). They said that GQ and Richardson made the women look submissive in the shoot when they aren’t on the show, and that in order to increase the sex appeal, they made the women appear to be empty-headed, hollow-eyed little girls. I think those are both meaningful choices that are worth some examination. And, of course, the fact that both women are nothing but sexualized and the one man in the shoot isn’t.

    I don’t know, nothing about this shoot is sexy to me. Largely, I think, because nothing about these pictures said to me that these women FELT sexy or WERE choosing this (and one of them has made a blog post somewhat to that effect). One looks uncomfortable and the other looks like she’s trying way too hard. I’ve seen shoots far more risqué that I’ve loved. This one just feels, I don’t know…gross. And sad.

  8. “assumption — and myth — that a woman’s voluntary display of sexual submission is inherently disempowering”

    How well said (about both sexes) and so succintly too I might add.

    It is in fact the exact opposite of being disempowering. You only have to recall acquaintances who can readily join in laughing at themselves to know who you respect the most for their inner strength and beauty.


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