29 April 2008

A Pox on All Your Houses

Miley Cyrus ~ Photograph © Annie Leibovitz /Vanity Fair

I've resisted the temptation to enter this photo-fracas. Why? I have only sons. I therefore am not tuned into the intricacies of pre-adolescent girl "culture"; until today, I have had a corresponding - and quite blissful - ignorance of all things Hannah Montana. From this vantage point, one thing seems clear. Miley Cyrus, the 15 year old girl who plays Hannah is being poorly served by all the adults around her. You can find the gist here.

The folks at Disney Channel, who peddle Hannah relentlessly, are shocked, simply shocked that anyone would consider exploiting so impressionable a young girl for crass commercial purposes! They are stomping about because of the current Vanity Fair photos of Cyrus which, they say, exploit the girl in order to, of all things, sell magazines. But the DC folk are simply worried about their investment. No more, no less. They will quiet down once it becomes clear that the scandalous shots lead to increased sales of Hannah paraphernalia. In that sense they are just like the folks at VF who, indeed, are simply out to sell a crappy magazine, even if that means publishing tawdry pictures of an adolescent girl. What a controversy! Hypocrites all around.

Meanwhile Cyrus's handlers and, worse, her parents seem to have put her smack into the middle of all this. There was nothing amiss at the time the pictures were taken (the parents and handlers attest to that; after all, they were there!). Nor was there really anything wrong even up till the time that the DC folk started to complain ~ in response, of course, to the disillusionment and dismay (feigned or otherwise) of fans and their parents. Now the photo shoot seems embarrassing, or something. On this one, Annie Leibovitz, who made the pictures, has proven herself even more shameless than I imagined she could be. The girl is 15, Annie. Even if she's surrounded by jackasses, do you need to join them?

Finally, to all of the parents out there whining because Hannah is supposed to be a role model to your little girls, look elsewhere than the television set. There is no "betrayal" here; just another teenage girl being used by adults, yourselves included. My advice? Find a real role model for your daughter. Even better, try being one yourself and get rid of the set.
PS: Added later that evening ~ You might be interested in these short essays on the Hannah scandal by Germaine Greer, Viv Groskop & Stuart Jeffries over at The Guardian.

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Blogger Stan B. said...

Anyone old enough to remember this 39 yr old album cover?


01 May, 2008 01:33  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I remember the tunes too! I guess the difference from my perspective is that the story (as recounted on the link you sent) of the Blind Faith cover hardly was part of an ongoing campaign to market the girl in the picture.

In the Miley/Hannah fracas the parents and the corporate types are all peddling her "image" full time. The girl may actually "want" to be a star - how would we know given the way her upbringing has been "handled". My view is that kids are not the best judge of what is good for them. We typically rely on parents and other responsible adults. In this case, that latter category is empty.

01 May, 2008 09:39  
Blogger Navid said...

Despite the implications of this fiasco for opening a discussion about agency and childhood, what do we think about it opening up space for talking about adolescent and pre-adolescent sexuality?

It exists, it definitely exists. She has a boyfriend, and considering the spicy pictures that have popped up (aside from Vanity Fair), is it still out-of-bounds to think that they very well may have consumated their affection for one another?

I'm only in my early 20s, so I don't have the experience of being a parent in mind when I say this, but doesn't the acknowledgment of adolescent, and even pre-adolescent eros become the first step towards talking about the ethics of our own bodies?

just a thought

01 May, 2008 14:16  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I agree about adolescents and how they experience their bodies - and psyches. I am less concerned about that, which I think is something parents should talk to their kids about in a non-self-deceptive way, than I am with the shock! all the adults are professing about Miley Cyrus given that they are promoting her in such purely commercial ways. For parents of young girls who look to celebs (like Miley) for images and role models and so forth, it seems naive in the extreme to not expect some "scandal" like this. (How many such spectacles have we witnessed over the years?)

So how do you deal with what is inevitable? You have to talk to your daughters (and sons) about themselves and their maturing bodies and their heroes in sensible ways. To do that you'd have to have something like you sensible view.

I recently heard one of the "youth radio" segments on npr. It was created by a high school girl from (I think) Maine. And she interviewed her friends most of whom claimed that their parents had never spoken to them about sex or relationships or self-image or such things. The problem in all this is the adults.

01 May, 2008 15:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see this as typical American puritanism at its most ridiculous. Wow.. She is fifteen... So what? Women that age are having children on half the world. She is certainly a woman by now. Didn't anyone notice? This over protection of "innocence" and the invention of a supposedly sexless teenage class, and the extension of chilhood beyond any common sense is clearly sick.

On the same issue of the magazine there were two other stories that should have provocked an scandal. Real stories explaining real abuses and dangers: One about Monsanto's new hormones for milk producing cows and the other about the woman who challenged Goodyear. Both delve with serious issues: nature, food, large ruthless coporations poisoning us and abusing farmers and dictating whats gets planted and what we eat, etc. and still on 2008, women's discrimination and rights.

Yet they did not generate any outcry, went by unnoticed. Everybody was very busy commenting on the innocent Miley Cyrus pic. Sign of the times, I guess.

04 May, 2008 10:47  

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