The latest issue of GQ Magazine, which contains sexually provocative photos of several lead “stars” of the Fox television show Glee, has been at the center of many conversations among parents and youth. The cover image shows Cory Monteith who plays Finn, a football player, posing with Diana Agron his first girlfriend, Quinn, (who lied to him in Season One, and told him she became pregnant with his child when she was in fact pregnant with someone else’s) and Lea Michele, who plays Rachel, who is his current partner.
I’ll admit my bias now: I’m not a fan of the show. Yes, I’m one of the several who got tired of them performing Blackness so early into the show (which they continue to do) and then all the other –isms they performed came into play as well. With that said I have a very simple response to this new concern/conversation that parents are now troubled to have with their children and youth in their lives who enjoy this show.
Now is the time to teach yourself and the young people in your life about media literacy. (That’s a link to an article I use often when teaching media literacy skills to my students and highly recommend it for everyone as it is a very accessible read, an updated article specifically for educators is available here.)
Instead of being disappointed that the young actors from a hit show are not in that same role 24/7/365, or that GQ Magazine created a cover that is very much objectifying of White women, or that many people are exposed to this form of media, I encourage folks to gain a new set of skills for how to deconstruct and critically examine these forms of media. Now, I will admit again, that I’m biased. I find it far too easy to blame the media for some forms of education and imagery when we as community members, educators, parents, mentors, partners, and activists must learn new skills.
I speak of this as someone who very much lives an analog life. I do not receive or send text messages, I still use my Polaroid camera (and yes I have plenty of film left for it in the fridge), still use rabbit ears on my television antennae, and the one stereo I have in my home has a dual tape deck and one CD player because I got it when I was in middle school circa 1989. I remember when the Internet was called the “information super highway” and I’m still trying to figure out how to spell check a Microsoft Word document in the latest edition my college offers.
I get it, learning new things is not always fun, nor is it always necessary. However, in this case I do believe it is a useful tool and skill. Without media literacy skills we would not be able to have a productive conversation around the fact that bodies of Color and bodies of size (which are exclusively ignored in almost all forms of media and especially in GQ) ignored in the media. Many of the critiques I’ve read have not even mentioned race, ethnicity, or body shape and size (and yes, I am biased about what and where I consume my media, that’s a media literacy skill).
Would the reaction be the same if the characters were different? Take White male actor Kevin McHale, an able-bodied actor who plays Artie, a young man who is in a wheelchair. Partner him on the cover with Amber Riley who plays Mercedes, the only Black character and also the only character of any size, along with Jenna Ushkowitz who plays Tina, Artie’s ex who leaves him this season for an Asian man, Mike, performed by Harry Shum Jr. Would we be disappointed we did not see Kevin McHale in a wheelchair? Would we want to? I’d argue that many people are not even willing to discuss sexuality and the intersections of differently-abled people in the media as the recent terror by readers of ESPN The Magazine’s body issue have shared regarding the nude photograph of Esther Vergeer.
I don’t doubt these conversations must occur, I just want us to have all the tools and weapons we need in our arsenal to have constructive conversations that are not only reactionary but that also lead to some form of action.