Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Miley Cyrus "Scandal"

You can't turn on the TV this week without hitting a report about the latest "scandal" involving Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana. Some pictures have surfaced from a photo shoot that Miley did for Vanity Fair magazine. Along with some kinda sorta creepyish pictures of her posing with her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, there is an image of Miley posing topless, covering up with what looks like a bed sheet. It's understandable that an image like this would be considered provocative by some people, but with the insane level of coverage of this "scandal", you would think that Miley had released a video of herself having a threesome with a couple of transsexual little people or something.

First of all, there are quite a few people in the media who need to just shut up about this altogether. If the ladies of The View want to weigh in, okay. (I'm not actually going to watch the clip of them discussing this, and instead will just assume that I agree with Whoopi Goldberg and save myself the aggravation.) If E! News and Entertainment Tonight want to obsess? Fine. But Neil Cavuto and Bill O'Reilly? No. Shut up about it. Talk about the election, the recession, the war--you know, actual news stories? I know you're not very good at covering those things intelligently either, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

On the one hand, I understand the argument that some people are making that this image of Miley is inappropriate because of her age, and that it's another example of the hypersexualization of young girls in our society. Young female celebrities shouldn't feel like they have to be sexy, especially in ways that they're not comfortable with, in order to stay popular.

But on the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that's exactly what's happening here. The picture was shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, who released this statement.
"I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted. Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together, and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it.

"The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little make-up, and I think it is very beautiful."

Miley's parents were on the set during the shoot, so it seems that they were okay with the photo, and Miley doesn't look uncomfortable in this behind the scenes shot from Vanity Fair's website. She just looks like a teenager goofing off and having fun.

Some people have argued that Miley is giving a 'come hither' look in the picture, or that because it shows her 'topless' with messy hair and little makeup it is obviously meant to look like some sort of post-coital afterglow morning after suggestive thing. I think it's a little bit of a stretch to turn Miley into Lolita. Maybe the picture was trying to depict a 'morning after'--the morning after a Hannah Montana concert or a long day of filming the TV show or doing interviews, when all of the fake hair and makeup and crazy 'rock star' clothes are stripped away and Miley is just...Miley, a 15 year old girl. Maybe that's what the picture was trying to convey. As a society, do we always need to jump the most 'dirty' and 'slutty' and 'shocking' and 'scandalous' explanation, especially where women are concerned? I know, silly question.

So is the lesson now that not only is the image of Hannah Montana a marketable thing (which has already been slapped onto every product imaginable), but also that Miley herself is a product, not a person? On the Vanity Fair site, she is asked after the shoot if she's worried about the photo and her answer is: “No, I mean I had a big blanket on. And I thought, this looks pretty, and really natural. I think it’s really artsy.” Assuming this was really her honest reaction to the image, what's happened now is that we've told a teenage girl who posed for a picture and thought that it was art and thought that she looked beautiful that she's not beautiful, that she should be ashamed. That by exposing her bare back and shoulders--less than what people would see if she went to the beach in a bikini, really--she has let her fans down and set a bad example and she should apologize. Which she did.

Cyrus, who is on course to be worth a billion dollars by the time she turns 18, said: "I took part in a photoshoot that was supposed to be 'artistic'. Now, seeing the photographs, I feel so embarrassed.

"I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologise to my fans who I care so deeply about."

The Disney Channel criticised Vanity Fair, claiming it had "deliberately manipulated a 15-year-old". But the magazine defended the pictures. "Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day," it said.

"Everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley."
I'm not saying that the picture is above criticism, although I think the level of criticism in this case is excessive. In fact, all of the over-the-top fussing about the scandal of it all, and the nature of the criticism from some conservative groups about Miley as a bad role model all comes together to obscure the real issues about young girls and sexuality and the conflicting messages that they get from the media and from society. It also obscures the fact that if too much sexiness is unhealthy for young girls, so is too much shame. So is the lesson that you don't own your body, that you don't have control, that society has the right to tell you what to do with it and how to feel about it. Us older chicks all know where those lessons can lead.

No comments: