Is Glee Star's "Bruised-Up Barbie" Photo Shoot Glamorizing Domestic Violence?

Heather Morris' photo sparks critical debate over whether she's glamorizing domestic violence

By Josh Grossberg Sep 01, 2011 8:16 PMTags
Heather MorrisTylershields.com

Is this art, or a black eye for Heather Morris?

Glee's resident ditzy cheerleader Brittany posed for a photo shoot for L.A. provocateur photographer Tyler Shields, and the pics are generating controversy for what critics say is imagery evoking domestic violence, or even Rihanna following the beating she suffered at the hands of Chris Brown.

And what does the photographer have to say? E! News got the exclusive...

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"In no way were we promoting domestic violence. We wanted to do a bruised-up Barbie shoot and that's exactly what we did!" Shields exclusively tells E! News.

The online spread (which you can view at tylershields.com) shows various shots of Morris with a bruised eye. In one, she poses submissively, appearing to be tied up while holding an iron's electrical cord between her teeth. In another, she drinks water from the iron as it dangles directly above her head. A final shot finds her posing splayed out on an ironing board.

Shields is no stranger to provocative imagery, having made headlines last year for a photo shoot which saw Lindsay Lohan covered in blood and a bra and holding a gun to her head.

But his latest effort has those who work to stop domestic violence feeling uncomfortable.

"I don't know if Tyler is aware but I'm quite sure there are plenty of women who have been abused by these kinds of household appliances and children as well being hit with electrical cords," Rita Smith, executive director for the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells E! News.

"I'm not sure what the purpose is other than shock value."

In Smith's view, as well as what one of the commenters on Shields' message boards suggests, whether the artist intended or not, Morris' black eye appears to glamorize domestic abuse.

"If he had stopped with the image of the bruise, [the pics] could conceivably be used as a way to raise awareness about the impact of violence but the other things do make it look appealing, as if she might be enjoying the process and I don't think that's helpful," notes Smith.

Smith points out that the pics echo the horrific photos leaked of Rihanna after the R&B star was roughed up by then-boyfriend Brown in February 2009; Brown ended up pleading guilty to felony assault.

"I don't know what the purpose of the series of photos is other than showing her in a different light," she adds. "But there is nothing glamorous about violence and I think the real photos of Rihanna would show that it's not a beautiful thing that happens to you."

Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, commented that Shields and Morris are walking a fine line.

"Anybody with a raised consciousness about domestic violence is obviously going to find these disturbing," he tells E! News. "It's always hard when you have artistic photographs, art often times does things that are deliberately provocative in the sense that serious art is supposed to make us look at things differently and sometimes deliberately tries to be disturbing."

While admitting he does not know Shields' intentions, Thompson conceded that without the disturbing black eye, the shots containing the iron, a symbol of housewifery, could conceivably make it look like Morris is "empowered."

"It's impossible to say 'It's a good thing' or 'This is a bad thing'" without knowing the context, says the professor, who spoke to E! News prior to Shields comments.

Thompson adds one last point: Controversy can end up starting a healthy conversation in the name of art.

—Additional reporting by Marcus Mulick

So what do you think? Does Morris' pics glamorize domestic violence?

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