Sunday, October 31, 2010

T&A: "talent and ambition," says GQ.

Dianna Agron, Cory Monteith  and Lea Michele 
on GQ's November cover. Possessive, much?
Three Glee cast members recently participated in a GQ photo shoot for the magazine's latest issue that the Parents Television Council is up in arms over, saying that it "borders on pedophilia." The three actors, Cory Monteith, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron, are all young Hollywood twentysomethings on one of the most popular television shows in the country. Glee has been described as a better and less kid-friendly version of High School Musical, and this GQ shoot takes "less kid-friendly" to a whole new level.

GQ's photo shoot has the three stars posing in a high school setting. Monteith, who plays the jock-turned-Broadway-star Finn, is the least noticeable on the pages. From playing the drums in a letterman jacket or sporting a sweater and tie combo, Monteith plays up a boyish charm that is reminiscent of his character on the show. Agron and Michele, however, are another story. Their GQ photos present them as the opposite of what their characters on the show are - something that the Parents Television Council is unhappy about. Throughout the pages of the November issue, Agron and Michele are photographed in very high heels, knee socks, skirts and push-up bras. They pout and laugh at the camera, throwing pompoms up and sucking on lollipops. It's juvenile and meant to mix the idea of innocence with fantasy - a schoolgirl fantasy, if you will. But Agron and Michele are very much adults. Shouldn't their images be their own to control?

Some companies think otherwise though - their stars represent their brand and therefore have to be extra careful about what they do on their off-time. Most notable example? Disney and their network stars (see Miley Cyrus's latest music videos: "Can't Be Tamed" and "Who Owns My Heart"). But Cyrus is no longer with Disney. Does that matter when millions of young girls all over the world still see her as Hannah Montana? It seems to matter to parents, at least.

But Disney is Disney. Glee is Glee. And GQ is GQ. As NPR points out in a recent blog post, "Half-naked women are nothing new, and all you have to do is look at a selection of covers to see that much." And it's true - take a look. All the men on GQ covers are classy and covered up (except you, Johnny Depp), but all the women are barely covered up. Then again, it is GQ, which stands for Gentlemen's Quarterly and is a monthly magazine for men. Aren't they just trying to reach their target audience?

Of course, this is a commentary on society as a whole and the images we value today. The "women are objectified in the media" discussion is nothing new. "Pinup perfect" is how E! Online described Michele's pose by the lockers. It can be argued that Agron and Michele are both beautiful young women who are merely showing the world how comfortable they are with their bodies. It can be turned into a positive message...But Agron has since come out and apologized, writing on her Tumblr, "Nobody is perfect, and these photos do not represent who I am."

It's when this image is seen as ideal and pushed on society that it becomes a major problem. Take Halloween for example. "Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it," narrates Lindsay Lohan's character Cady Heron from the 2004 film Mean Girls. And it's true. Ever walk into a Halloween party feeling overdressed in jeans and a tank top? Women are expected to dress or act a certain way in order to be attractive or appealing or worthy of attention. And let's be honest: we all make judgments based on appearances.

Is there a "solution" then? Should all celebrities think twice in case their modeling choices lead to negative reinforcing of stereotypes? Should magazines like GQ be more mindful of a potentially younger audience? Should we all just stop caring and continue dressing how we want, regardless of what the persistent media tells us? I'd like to answer "yes" to the last question and, in fact, I myself will keep on ignoring how magazines and TV shows and Hollywood tells me I "should" be dressing.

For more photos from the GQ shoot, visit GQ's official site and view the slideshow here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where do we begin?

"When I was in the military, they gave
me a medal for killing two men and
a discharge for loving one." -epitaph
of Leonard P. Matlovich, 1988
Wednesday was a day to wear purple to show support for the LGBT community. It's a simple way to describe the day, but the who, what, when, where, why information can be obtained through a Google search, so take a moment and do that if you're unfamiliar.

On Oct. 11, The Daily Targum, Rutger University's campus newspaper, published an editorial that blamed the media for exploding the situation surrounding Tyler Clementi's death. "The death of University student Tyler Clementi might have been properly mourned if it were not for the massive rallies and aggressive news coverage that altered the nature of the situation," the editorial begins. "The truth is that an 18-year-old boy killed himself - he was a student just like the rest of us, someone just trying to receive an education. Yet people's relentless agendas took his death and turne dit into a cause based on false pretenses."

"Turning his death into a push for gay rights is a fallacy," The Daily Targum's editorial continues. "Homosexuality is not the only reason for which people kill themselves. In this case, it might have pushed Clementi over the edge, but the fact that he was gay should by no means turn his death into a march for safe spaces. These groups want to be heard. They want the attention. They want their agendas to shine in the limelight....Let us - family, friends and the University together - mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using him as a martyr for a cause that has yet to be proven."

It's a strong statement to make. It's true that nobody can know exactly why Clementi killed himself, nor can anyone really know the exact reason behind any of the suicides that have been grouped together for this cause as of late. Not that their sexuality didn't play a part in the reasons they were bullied and teased. - I believe it did. But it's a difficult issue to approach.

I can see where The Daily Targum is coming from, though I don't agree with all of their points. After all, is it not similar to other marginalized groups who turn situations into moments for their cause? A group, for example, who turns a miscommunication into an act of racism?

I do think, though, that this is all part of a larger problem plaguing society: the need for acceptance of those who are different from us. Any fight against equality for everyone seems to defy what our Founding Fathers wanted for this country.

"Never be bullied into silence. Never
allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one's definition of your
life; define yourself." -Harvey Fierstein
But that was a mini-tangent, so let's turn the conversation toward Oct. 20 or, as it was known amongst Facebook and Tumblr, Purple Day. Days like these receive much praise and criticism for various reasons. I myself wore purple, as did many of my friends, classmates and co-workers. What I like about these days is that it's a time to show support for groups that may not always feel supported. We're all very much aware that wearing purple is not going to eliminate hate, but we don't wear purple for that reason, do we?

That having been said, the criticism that I read most directly about this day is something I can't help but respond to here though:

"You wear a purple shirt to feel special," this person wrote. "The purple shirt thing is to say, 'I'm a really nice and supportive person who may have some issues! I want people to think I am doing something, when really, I am most likely an attention whore, or part of the problem!'"

"Some of the people who are so excited to wear their purple shirt really think that this will help change our warped society that is so full of ignorance and intolerance. How ironic, some people think bullying is okay, and you think purple shirts will decrease suicide. Both sound pretty stupid to me. How intellectually stunted can we get? It's simply too hard to address the real problem, so let’s just do something to make us feel like we’re helping. Purple shirt day is self-rewarding and self-important, it inflates the egos of those who participate."

I thought about those words on Tuesday night when I read them. (Of course, these words came from the same person who also chided me two years ago for posting something on Facebook regarding insurance companies for classifying domestic abuse as a 'pre-existing condition,' therefore allowing them to deny insurance to victims.)

I'm a strong supporter of the LGBT community, with friends and family members who identify as gay or lesbian. The way I see it, we wear purple to show those who feel scared or bullied that they don't need to be wary of all of society. We wear purple to show that we are allies and that we are not a part of the groups who pinpoint something you cannot change as a "fault." We will not fault you. We are, as Amanda concluded, creating a safe space. Sure, there are many traits in people that we may not find appealing, but homosexuality shouldn't be one of those things. As I used to say to those who teased me for my alopecia: "If you're going to hate me, hate me because I'm impatient or because I chew too loudly or because I correct your grammar too much; not for something I can't control." Homosexuality isn't a choice or something that can be "reversed," as some think is possible - do you think people choose to be exiled by some groups and treated as disappointments by their conservative family members?

"If you are ashamed to stand by your colors, you had better seek another flag." -Author Unknown
Whether you wore purple on Oct. 20 or not, to belittle the day and accuse those who participated by calling them attention whores is just as bad as any sort of bullying. Wearing purple itself might not address the real problem, but it's a stepping stone toward the discussion that needs to happen. Increasing awareness is the first step; then, maybe acceptance can finally be a reality.

Friday, October 8, 2010

An old quandary revisited.

"Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

Anybody who reads Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer will inevitably pause for a moment after reading this first line. Any journalist will stop entirely and have to put the book down for a second to consider the thesis. Because it's true, and it's so true that it has made me question since the day I read it back in February. I had said, in my response to this to the class, that Malcolm's book made me rethink everything I thought I knew about studying LJ and about why I wanted to be a journalist. As much as I love the book, it shook me.

But since then, I've gone through a course of questioning my goals and whether or not journalism really is my passion. The more I consider TJATM, the more I wonder if this is what my life is destined to be: a storyteller, not a story creator. "Write the story, don't be the story." It's what we're taught, after all.

Today in workshop, Jesse talked about using our skills as conversationalists and communicators to our advantage - something we've all done at a time or two, whether we're pursuing a story or not. I wonder, though, how much of it has leaked into my daily life. How many of us journalists are able to separate the personal from the professional? If we never put our journalism hat away, do we ever engage in authentic conversations? I read once that "journalists don't have friends, only sources." How true (or false) is that? After all, did I not turn an awkward and uncomfortable encounter into something I could use for a story?

Is the journalist/subject relationship really that perverse? People who just use one another for attention, and then cast one another aside once the job is done?