Fire Lyte is the fabulous host of Inciting A Riot the podcast and blog. He recently recorded an episode called Inciting An Evil Riot. In his News segment, he tackles some recent headline grabbing issues. One of which is the now infamous “Glee Gone Wild” GQ men’s magazine photo-shoot featuring adult cast members of the hit show Glee. The actors (Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, and Cory Monteith) posed provocatively wearing teenage-style clothing in a high school. The poses were highly sexual and the alleged “pedophiliac” images incited a public outcry from the Parents Television Council. From there, it took on a life of its own across the interwebs. Listen to the Inciting A Riot podcast to hear what Fire Lyte has to say about it.
My lengthy off-the-cuff response is below.
Hi Fire Lyte! I loved the Evil episode of Inciting a Riot! You’re so funny. I’m glad you had fun revisiting your “Super Serious Weighty Pagan Topic” roots. I do have to disagree with you on one of the News segments though. (Yays! Something to argue about! :D <-- Philosophy nerd.) The Glee/GQ photo-shoot was, in my opinion, totally inappropriate. To be clear before I release the kraken, I’m no prude, plus I’m a hardened and shameless Gleek so this rant is not a hate-wagon hitch. Promise. But I do have a major problem with the non-challant way you handled the topic.
Rant Ramble 1: The Typical Arguments
As both a feminist and a pagan I was appalled by the photo-shoot. It was inappropriate to portray sexual images of “underage girls” in that fashion. I find the argument claiming that because the actors are in fact adults, this is not a big deal, a perfect example of how desensitized our society is to this kind of sexual exploitation and sexist attitudes toward women. That argument might be true if the actors had dressed appropriate to their age…but they did not. Instead, they posed as highly sexualized teenage girls in teenage outfits in a teenage environment. The other claim that they were just “in character” is also laughably transparent, and clearly false. In exactly what parallel universe would preppy-prude “Rachel” ever pose for a (so-called) gentlemen’s magazine with her ass hanging out sucking a lollypop? Really?
Sexual objectification is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s not new, it’s not even naughty, since it’s no longer shocking. It’s the same debate we’ve had since forever: whether or not images depicting women as sexualized objects is wrong. It’s just the same old sexism in a rewrapped package filled with todays “it” girls.
This was a blatant excuse to bank on the over-sexualization of young girls and objectification of women in our society to grab the attention of potential readers and make a profit. They exploited the actors association with their characters’ age group and turned it into a sexual fantasy specifically targeted to older men. The sick thing is, they’re not denying it. It’s flaunted. Because it’s presented to us as tongue-in-cheek, we laugh it off and say, well, it’s just young women being sexy, what’s the harm? The characters on the show are highly sexual sometimes, so what’s the harm? After all, it’s not like actual teenagers aren’t screwing around in real life…what’s the harm? What’s the harm? If people were asking themselves this question, then maybe they wouldn’t be so confused by the uproar asking these questions has caused. I can’t help but notice that most of the people who shake their heads at the protesters excuse the issue without questioning it at all.
The fact that we are aware that it’s overtly sexualized (nudge nudge) makes it okay. We know that it’s meant to be inappropriate and outrageous (wink wink). That’s the fun, right? It’s naughty. It’s kinky. A little “nudge nudge wink wink” makes it all meaningless. In other words, advertising is really good at making us feel comfortable and not have to think too much. (Where’s the fire under our comfortable thinking, Fire Lyte? Fire! Fire!)
This type of advertising has been an incredibly successful deterrent against thoughtful analysis, especially in our generation. Ads and products that support age old social prejudices do so by catering to our in-group mentality, and our out-group fears. It is all spoon fed to us as that wonderful catch-all excuse: entertainment (or as GQ described: fantasy). A good ad will be comfortably familiar, and just naughty enough to entice a crowd—in other words, the caveman approach to product communication. (Ooga. No scare people. Make run if too hard. No make money. Must make safe. Then make money. Tell them what want to hear. But make exciting. No like old. No like not same. Must make same but new. How make new but same? Oooooooooogaaa, me headache now.)
Actually, it’s quite a complicated “art” and yields some surprisingly elegant solutions occasionally…Evil solutions, but clever. That’s what makes it really scary. However, blatant crap like this stunt? So not worth the debate (she says while continuing to type a novel on the subject).
Advertising has blurred the line very well. Irony is used as an advertising weapon to perpetuate comfortable (and therefore predictable) social systems. The preemptive assumption in this form of advertising is that self-aware “wrongs” are somehow self-correcting. Because we know it’s naughty it’s then no longer naughty to be naughty because we’re being naughty ironically. As long as everyone’s in on the inside joke, it’s cool (nudge nudge wink wink). These tactics masquerade as self debasing jokes, but they are really debasing someone other than the self. I’m not saying that irony isn’t a useful tool for comics and other social commentators. But advertisers and businesses are not interested in social commentary. They play social norms and novel trends against each other to sell us things. All you have to do is ask yourself “Is this commercial/ad/promotion teaching me anything?” to begin to discover the true meaning and intentions behind the message.
Rant Ramble 2: Pagans Turn a Blind Eye to Sexism?
Again, as both a feminist and a pagan I was truly appalled by the childlike theme of the photo-shoot. Bottom line though, it was offensive to women of all ages. It was offensive to humans. It was offensive to sex. I found the “whatever” attitude many pagans displayed over this issue disturbing. Has our community fallen pray to the social propaganda machine that tells us in order to be considered hip, free spirited, and sexually mature, one must be promiscuous and rarely question sexual entertainment. Us? The goddess worshiping, earth loving, womb kissing, sacred feminine people? If groups like us give up on gender equality, the world is doomed.
Sexuality is our ability to express our physical desires and romantic emotions. Sexualization forces a subject to be viewed as an object. Since when did pagans blur the idea of sexuality and sexualization? Don’t pagans believe that sexuality is a beautiful and freeing, natural aspect of our human condition? Are pagans threatened to be called a “prude” for disagreeing with the majority (hmmm…as I was above)? Why would we apologize for being against sexual exploitation? When did standing against sexism and pornography (as opposed to erotica) become uncool for witches? Why are we letting those who are block gender equality and flee from sexual responsibility dictate what “sexual freedom” means to us? And why the hell is anyone allowing corporate America tell us what to do with our bodies in any fashion? Repression isn’t always a goody-two-shoes, sometimes Repression is a spoiled heiress with no self respect.
Bottom line, women are largely subjugated to restrain their sexual freedom. It’s a form of control. Control the womb, control the population, control the world. That eon old misogyny is alive and well in today’s society. Why else would an apparent majority of straight men favor concepts of weakened, small, young, vulnerable, submissive, “dirty” and debased girls as their preferred sexual ideal? Now, I don’t believe that, but isn’t it interesting that I’m told to believe it? The propaganda that all men are scum comes from the same place. So wrong. It’s not sex that’s the problem. It’s sex according to a sexist society.
How does this apply to the Glee shoot? Look at it. It depicts two fully developed women masquerading as underage girls, posing in overtly suggestive and submissive sexual positions, allowing a man to grope both their asses possessively, wearing cheerleader uniforms, sucking a child’s candy, spread eagled over a bench, pulling their shirts down exposing their breasts, the guy is the only one who gets to keep his clothes on, he’s basically only there as a stand in male to feed the fantasy…let’s see, what else…straddling the guy, depicting a servile threesome…um…sucking in their stomachs, wearing tons of makeup…um…practically bending over…oh, and the pièce de résistance: the article title that pays homage to the most youth exploitive pornographic entertainment film production brand to come along since dirt was invented. Come on. Seriously? This is a debate? It depicts women as sex objects…and underage fantasy sex objects at that. GQ meant it that way. They don’t deny it. They basically told the critics to (in no uncertain terms) suck it—we can do whatever we want.
This is not just fun and games. This is not a minor issue. This is not a carefree representation of sexual freedom by frolicking 20-somethings. I would have loved it if it was! Wouldn’t that have been awesome? Wouldn’t that have been way sexier? The pedophiliac nature of the theme makes it horrific (and yes, pedophilia is the sexual attraction to minors, so…yeah), but the sexism is more than enough to grind my gears. Why are we allowing ourselves to be so passive about this? I feel like screaming out when these wishy-washy debates come up: it’s spelled s-e-x-i-s-m.
This is not about sluts vs. prudes, or women not being allowed to show their bodies. I’m an artist and a pagan. I’m pretty free with the human body. However, an object has only the worth others give it. I am not an object. My body is not an object. No ones body is an object. I cannot bring myself to celebrate or shrug off someone else’s objectification, even if it’s a self promoted objectification. Male or female.
I’m sure that these actresses posed provocatively for “fun” but they did so at the expense of their own dignity and the dignity of the younger age group they pseudo-imitated. Personally, if I were a young teenage girl, I would tell them to go exploit their own damn age group next time if that’s the way they want to be seen. Don’t dress up like someone else to depict your own objectification. (And yes, I do have similar issues with cosplay and the whore-o-ween nonsense where applicable.)
I wouldn’t call this spread porn, but I do call it offensive to women. After all, that’s the problem with porn. In the end, a difference that makes no difference is no difference.