Image, Wikipedia Commons
I didn’t really expect to wade into the pearl-clutching and outrage over Miley Cyrus. But, I’ve been thinking about her all day, and after discussing her notorious VMA performance with Darcy and finding out we shared the same point of view, I decided to write a post.
I think there are four separate topics at work here.
1. What does Miley Cyrus owe the girls who followed her as Hannah Montana, if anything?
2. The issue of hypersexualized girls and the men who love them.
3. That creepy Robin Thicke song.
4. The actual Miley Cyrus performance.
The Rise and Fall of Hannah Montana
One of my friends had tween girls back at the height of the Hannah Montana craze and I watched an episode with them. For those lucky enough to have escaped the show, Hannah Montana is a celebrity teen singer, but no one knows her true identity: she’s actually a suburban normal girl by day. Pretty wholesome right? Well, yes and no. First of all, I buy into the Peggy Orenstein point of view that those Disney Channel teen characters are the second wave of the princess phase. I highly recommend everyone read her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”
What’s the first wave? Think about the fairy tales the traditional Disney movies tell: Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast. Sweet harmless fun, right? Not really. Because when girls embrace the pretty princess dresses and act out those movies, they embrace the message of those stories: someday, my prince will come if I wait around and am beautiful enough.
Eventually as they age, girls tire of the Disney Princess merchandise and move on, according to market research, to a different set of toys. Monster High, Bratz, Hannah Montana dolls: what do they have in common? Well, they are more grown up than the princesses. Yet, these dolls may be worse. These toys celebrate “sassy” “gothic” girls who are thin and wear short skirts.
How does this affect our girls? From The Daily Beast:
“Studies show young girls today face more pressure than ever to be ‘perfect’ (like a princess?) — not only to get straight A’s and excel academically, but to be beautiful, fashionable, and kind. And the more mainstream media girls consume, the more they worry about being pretty and sexy. One study, from the University of Minnesota, found that just seeing advertisements from one to three minutes can have a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem.”
This can lead to a wormhole of eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, which all studies indicate are on the rise among young women.
Back to Hannah Montana. The series was mostly a bunch of silly misunderstandings about how Hannah had to hide her real identity as a world famous pop star. What I was struck by was how awed my friends’s daughters were by the idea of becoming a pop star princess. Because, Hannah Montana IS a princess of sorts. Back when I was 10, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought that was a super glamorous career. These girls wanted to be a pop star. And I found that problematic.
The Disneyfication of many pop stars seems to follow the same path each time: tween and teen girls are packaged into wholesome, pink bubble gum virgin sweethearts, but inevitably they rebel and begin to break out of the mold in their late teens or early twenties. We’ve seen it with countless models: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Amanda Bynes and now Miley Cyrus.
Here’s where I differ from most parents: I will not let my daughter watch shows like Hannah Montana. And I don’t blame Miley Cyrus for who she has become.
When Miley Cyrus was cast as Hannah Montana she was 11. Now she is 20. Can you imagine the changes you went through in those nine years? Why would we expect Miley Cyrus to stay the same?
The Lolita Phenomenon
Often these tween stars flirt with acting like a Lolita. Probably, this is a natural evolution of coming to terms with their power as a woman of beauty, attractive to men. When you are an actress or a pop star (or aspire to be one, like millions of girls) the way you look is your calling card. The thinner you are, the blonder you are, the cuter you are? The better. Hannah Montana didn’t look like an opera star diva, did she? The glorification of being pretty, being a model, being an actress: it’s one dimensional, it’s often out of your control, and even if you are the most beautiful girl in the world? Beauty fades.
Probably the most notorious Lolita of them all was Britney. No one really put herself out there in that pervy way like Britney, who at the age of 15 was wearing Catholic girl short skits, and licking lollipops. To me, she never seemed to be in control of what she was doing. In this scary interview (complete with cringe-worthy narration by some guy old enough to be her father), it seemed that she thought of her stage persona as if it was some distant out-of-body experience, and not real. Dudes ate this up, of course. Whomever was manipulating her image (I’m pretty convinced it wasn’t her, there just doesn’t seem to be a “there” there with Britney) was appealing to creepy, base instincts in grown men. And that was disturbing and gross.
“He Has the Look of a Man Finally Coming Into the Privilege He Was Sure Was His All Along.”
Mel covered the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” pretty well. The uncensored video features a number of listless looking models shuffling and bouncing around naked. They don’t really look like they are fully present, they look kind of drugged. The men in the video remain fully dressed, awake, aware and openly leer and fondle them.
Enter Miley Cyrus, Stage Right
SO, let’s move on to the actual performance. Here’s what struck me first of all: Miley Cyrus chose to send up the Lolita image right away, by entering stage right out of a giant stuffed teddy bear. But her stance was immediately agressive: this was no passive little girl. She was sticking out her tongue and making lewd gestures of the sort Michael Jackson used to use. She seemed in control of the performance. You can debate the merits of her dancing, her lack of rhythum, etc. But she appeared to be calling the shots and carefully choosing her moves. I’d say her dancing was kind of, well, masculine. Even in the skimpy outfit.
Then she dueted with Robin Thicke, and to me, she seemed just as agressive as he was. She seemed an equal partner in the song, singing half of it by herself. Yes she twerked, but she also grabbed him by the neck. She touched him with that foam finger. Unlike the robotic mannequins in the video, this was a woman in control of herself and her actions. Yes, she was sexualized, but in a way that had her being just as assertive as a man. Robin Thicke certainly wasn’t center stage and he wasn’t in full control like some later day Christian Grey.
In other words, she wasn’t just sitting around licking her lollipop, waiting for her prince to objectify her.
I was listening to the radio this morning, and the tiresome local shock jocks were jeering her performance. They called it a “missed opportunity” that those dreary models from Robin Thicke’s video weren’t there instead. And then they called Miley Cyrus a slut.
No one referred to Robin Thicke as a slut. Yet, how is his behavior different from Miley’s? Or, worse? “You know you want it.”
I think what really has everyone up in arms is the change of Miley Cyrus from a passive Pretty Disney Princess into a complicated woman who calls the shots, sexually.
As always, I want to know, what say you? Were you upset about the performance? If so, why? Has the response bothered you?