No doubt about it, Fox’s “Glee” is a pop-culture juggernaut. In 2009, the “Glee” cast landed 25 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, the most by any artist since The Beatles. The show is syndicated all over the world. Its second season debut scored more than 12 million viewers. Clearly, Fox knows that this show about a high-school glee club is a hot ticket for high-schoolers, and its appeal trickles down through the lower grades. They’re the ones who are downloading all the “Glee” singles for their iPods.
So who is the marketing genius who decided that female “Glee” stars should pose in their bras and underwear in the badly named “Gentleman’s Quarterly” magazine? And with a fully clothed male star putting his hand on their rear ends on the cover? Surely, a lot more children watch the TV show than check out GQ magazine, but the photo shoot was news all over the entertainment world. Sleazy marketing is the best marketing.
This decision was almost uniformly condemned. One standout example was CBS anchor Katie Couric, who denounced it in an online commentary. “These very adult photos of young women who perform in a family show just seem so un-‘Glee’-like. The program is already edgy in the right ways, these images don’t really, in my humble opinion, fit the ‘Glee’ gestalt.”
But “Glee,” a “family show”? Not even Fox would agree. It’s overtly sexual (in Couric-speak, that’s “edgy”) and absolutely no one in the show is a role model. A recent episode featured two (clothed) cheerleaders making out in bed. Fox might argue the women in the photo shoot are in their twenties, not actual high schoolers, but that’s beside the point. GQ clearly designed this photo shoot to appeal to men (the GQ readership’s median age is 33.4) and their fantasies about underaged girls in high school.
Despite all this, “Glee” does have some defenders, and they are lashing out in stupid ways. On MSNBC’s “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” the host spoke out against, and blamed the scandal on, the Parents Television Council, which he defined as “a cult that was invented to complain about TV and pretend that the TV remotes don’t have channel selectors or buttons that turn the infernal machines off.”
I’ve been called many things, but I’ve never been accused of starting a “cult.”
O’Donnell’s brain cramp didn’t end there. He found it odd that the PTC opposes sex on family TV shows, when “without sex, there would be no families.” O’Donnell continued upending common sense by congratulating the sleazy “Glee” actresses as responsible sex educators. They “should be very proud of the lessons they are teaching teenage girls about the complexities of decisions involving sex,” he pronounced—at the very moment the screen next to him was showing the two cheerleaders kissing in bed.
He was not alone. Entertainment Weekly writer Jennifer Armstrong also protested the PTC’s objections. She was “morally outraged by your moral outrage.” Really. Armstrong complained that she opposed the “Glee” shoot, too, as “misogynist trash,” but her eminently sensible feminist outrage was “derailed” by the PTC focusing on the shoot’s effect on children (and dirty old men). But Armstrong derailed herself by trying to argue that parents shouldn’t attack shows like Fox’s “Family Guy” because they are “aimed at adults,” even though they are also watched by millions of children.
Armstrong actually claimed that a March 2009 “Family Guy” episode loaded with an outrageous plot about homosexuality and bestiality and a horse trampling disabled children was somehow beyond criticism, because Fox was baiting its critics. By this fractured illogic, the more outrageous the show, the more it should be ignored.
Hollywood’s defenders are forever insisting that their critics should just throw in the towel. “These are difficult days for the decency police,” reported the New York Times. On MSNBC, O’Donnell asserted the game was over: we’re all “going to have to realize that the censorship battle is lost.” The defeat is so complete we’re supposed to thank the outrage-makers for raising awareness that they cannot be trusted.
But these same critics would never say the Better Business Bureau should pack it in, or that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is becoming irrelevant. There is nothing more these cultural bohemians would like than for all the walls of traditional decency to come crashing down. Then they’ll have what they really want: moral anarchy.