Are the Stars of 'Glee' Really Role Models?

After three actors from the show appeared in a racy photo spread, parents and critics created an uproar. Why they're wrong.



Glee stars Lea Michele and Dianna Agron appear alongside co-star Cory Monteith in a sexy photo spread for the upcoming November issue of GQ magazine. The provocative shoot, titled "Glee Gone Wild," features Michele and Agron in various states of undress, straddling benches and seductively licking lollipops. Considering Glee is a show about high schoolers, the actresses are being called poor role models for starring in the racy pictures. But the Glee sexy photo scandal shouldn't actually be a scandal at all. It's simply a case of two actresses seizing the career-climbing opportunity to appear on the cover of a popular men's magazine. It's also an illustration of the tension that arises when adult actors are cast as teenagers, and shows about teenagers are created for adults.

The Washington Post argues: "The show has a young fan base. Seeing the stars of Glee in trashy mode clearly doesn't set a great example for them." Yet the median age of Glee viewers is actually 38 years old. The show—which in past episodes has used the term "scissoring" in a scene with two cheerleaders making out, choreographed a number in which three couples attempt to lose their virginities, and featured a running storyline in which a male character prematurely ejaculates—is actually rated "red" by the Parents Television Council, its most severe warning that content is unsuitable for children. The series may take place in a high school, but its subject matter is clearly intended for—and consumed by—older, more mature viewers.

PTC also released this statement in response to the spread: "It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses [Michele and Agron, both 24] who play high school-aged characters on Glee in this way. It borders on pedophilia."

It's a controversial comparison that is reminiscent of the Vanity Fair cover featuring a topless, 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, then star of the Disney Channel's Hannah Montana. There's also the case of Jessica Biel, who at age 17 posed semi-nude on the cover of Gear magazine. At the time, she starred on the WB series 7th Heaven, a family drama about a preacher and his children. Yet those actresses were underage, and their shows were specifically aimed at young audiences and were intended for family viewing. They also aired on family-friendly networks. Michele and Agron are both 24 years old, and Glee doesn't air on Disney or ABC Family. Fox, remember, is the alma mater of Married With Children and The Simpsons. A show broadcast on that channel shouldn't be held to family-viewing standards, nor should its stars—even if it is about high school students.

There's often confusion when a show about young people stars older actors—even if it is geared towards older viewers—that those actors have a responsibility for "decency" because the actual characters they play are underage. It's an issue the cast of other series like Gossip Girl face every time they appear in racy photo shoots. The actors appear on magazine covers and in ads because it helps their careers, and those magazine covers and ads end up being sexual, because, well, they're hot and sex sells. The same critics that are calling the Glee shoot too sexy condone the raunchy Rolling Stone cover of the True Blood cast because "those people are naked and/or bloody every week on that show." It may be to a lesser degree than True Blood, but Glee and Gossip Girl cater to adult themes and mature viewers. Just like Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer aren't confused to be vampires, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron shouldn't bear the burden of representing the high schoolers they play on a "grown-up" comedy.

Anyone who watches Glee acknowledges its sexual nature—near naked characters, as evidenced by promos for next week's Rocky Horror episode, are also nothing new for the series. Claiming that Michele and Agron betrayed their young fans by appearing in the GQ photos? That's a critique that should be aimed at these fans' parents, who probably shouldn't be allowing their children to watch the show in the first place.