You're a couple of great-looking, talented young actresses on the hottest show on TV. You're adults. So why NOT pose for some seriously saucy photos in GQ, a magazine for adult men?
Well, it gets a little thorny when the show is "Glee," beloved by 8- and 9-year-olds, and when you're posing as a high-school girl in nothing but skimpy panties, spreading your legs sky-wide on a locker room bench. Or suggestively licking a lolly as you lean _ in the same skimpy panties _ on a high-school locker.
Did the stars of "Glee" go too far?
That's what critics and fans of the show have been debating as the photo spread in GQ's November issue, featuring Lea Michele (the ambitious Rachel) and Dianna Agron (Quinn, the once-pregnant cheerleader), started circulating this week. Oh yes, male co-star Cory Monteith (the quarterback Finn) is in there, too _ but he remains clothed (in fact, he's practically bundled up.)
"I just wasn't impressed at all," said a disapproving Emily Martin, a mother in Ontario, Canada, and a self-professed "huge Glee fan."
"I guess I just don't understand why they chose to even pose for these photos in the first place," Martin wrote in an e-mail message. "I don't get what they hope to gain by putting themselves out there like that."
Her feelings were echoed by commentators as prominent as CBS anchor Katie Couric.
"I'm a Gleek," Couric said in her online video "Notebook," describing how she and her 14-year-old daughter enjoy watching the show together. But she decried the photos, particularly Michele's spread-eagle one, as "raunchy" and "un-Glee-like," and concluded: "I'm disappointed."
"Utterly tone-deaf," chimed in Salon.com. "An explosion of cliched fetishism not seen outside the cheap Halloween costume aisles," wrote EW.com. Not surprisingly, though, the harshest commentary came from the Parents Television Council.
"It borders on pedophilia," said Tim Winter, president of the council. He called the spread a "near-pornographic display" _ especially the "full-frontal crotch shot."
As for GQ, which is enjoying a burst of publicity, it took issue with the pedophilia reference _ pointing out that Agron and Michele are 24, and Monteith is 28. "I think they're old enough to do what they want," said GQ's editor in chief, Jim Nelson.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Nelson elaborated: "I don't think it will surprise anyone that we knew what we were doing," he wrote. "I think most people will take the pictures with the wink and spirit of fun in which they were made."
Nelson added: "What we wanted to celebrate in the shoot and the story is (the show's) playfulness, its wicked sense of fun, the clever way it plays with its self-awareness. And it doesn't hide from it sexual suggestiveness."
No question about that. "Glee," which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern on Fox, frequently deals with mature themes: Teen pregnancy, homosexuality, the loss of virginity. Some parents bristled last season at a scene where Finn ejaculated in a hot tub. And this season, the cheerleaders Santana and Brittany were not only shown making out on a bed _ one of them referred to a hard-core lesbian sex act.
And yet, in a dilemma for parents, kids as young as 8 and 9 adore the show, drawn in by its wonderfully energetic and witty musical numbers. For them, it's a much cooler, hipper "High School Musical." If one had any doubt as to the youthfulness of the fan base, they need only have witnessed the legions of squealing tweens at last spring's "Glee" concert tour.
The show's creators didn't quite expect that at first.
"We didn't know 9-year-olds would like it so much," co-creator and executive producer Brad Falchuk told the AP in May. "We didn't know the geriatric set would like it so much, either. I wish we knew how we did it."
It wasn't clear how "Glee" producers felt about the GQ photos: Fox denied the AP's request for comment. In any case, Nelson, at GQ, said that Fox knew about the shoot, but didn't get involved in the concept. "It was up to the individual actors and the reps for the actors to approve the concept," he said.
A publicist for Michele did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the actress, who is the breakout star of "Glee" and the subject of the raciest GQ photos _ the one with spread legs, and the lollipop-licking photo. Nor did a representative for Monteith.
A publicist for Agron would only confirm the authenticity of a posting by the actress on tumblr.com:
The photos, she said, "do not represent who I am."
"They asked us to play very heightened versions of our school characters," wrote Agron, whose poses weren't nearly as explicit as Michele's, but still had her in tiny schoolgirl skirts intentionally raised up. "At the time, it wasn't my favorite idea, but I did not walk away."
"If you are hurt or these photos make you uncomfortable, it was never our intention," she said. "And if your 8-year-old has a copy of our GQ cover in hand, again I am sorry. But I would have to ask, how on earth did it get there?"
At least one parent interviewed for this article agreed with Agron that it was the parent's responsibility to control what children see.
"Parents need to filter what comes into their house," said Vivian Manning-Schaffel, a 42-year-old mother of two in New York City and a frequent blogger on parenting issues. "It's up to parents to be clear about what is what."
As for the GQ photos, Manning-Schaffel added: "I don't understand what all the hoopla is about. If I were those actresses, I'd be out there posing in those outfits myself! They're both gorgeous."
Celebrity editor Bonnie Fuller also came to the actresses' defense.
"They are entitled to promote their careers as they see fit," Fuller wrote on her website, Hollywood Life.
"Whether you like it or not, posing in sexually suggestive photographs has become a staple for actresses and actors to self-promote," she wrote. "They almost all do it."