Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus, Naked

I heard about Disney's newest "scandal" involving Miley Cyrus this morning; these are two of the photos taken that are being analyzed (or perhaps more aptly, devoured) on the top morning news programs. They were taken by Vanity Fair and I've heard every label given to them from "raunchy" to "pornographic" to "shameful" to "disturbing." What made me want to write about them, though, was the way people are "handling" them. I watched two so-called family experts on the Today Show deal with how to talk to your children about the uncomfortable combination of Disney wholesomeness and sexuality. To me, they missed the potential of what could have been a really interesting conversation.

You see, everyone is highlighting the shame that Cyrus should feel about "giving into the temptation that Hollywood provides." They're emphasizing her apology and how disappointed mothers of young children are in the new idol. The "experts" I saw this morning said they were going to rush home and talk to their children about how peer pressure can get the worst of anyone, "even celebrities." But I think this is really about 2 other, much more complex (and interesting) topics. First of all, what we're really talking about is adolescent sexuality. Miley Cyrus is 15 years old; she's not 8. And, let's be clear, she's not naked in either of these photographs, nor were they taken at some seedy dive before she became famous. But the sensual look she's throwing over her shoulder and the skin that she's given you permission to look at suggests what anxious young moms are really worried about: she's in charge of her own sexuality. She's given you access to a body she's covered with bright colors and Disney goodness up to this point. And that makes people nervous.

The other thing that's making people upset, really, underneath all of this talk about corrupting young children, stems from an inability (or perhaps a refusal) to see the shots as art. Vanity Fair is and always has been a master at straddling the line between popular news and artistic experimentation. The photographer Annie Leibovitz is known for striking depictions of celebrities; when Cyrus saw the digital photos before they were published, she commented on how "artsy" she thought they looked -- a comment she has now been forced to rescind.

So, really, if we want to talk about the scandal in a productive way, it's perhaps more useful to skip over chiding what so many see as yet another morally depraved celebrity and move instead to a more interesting discussion. When is it OK for a child to embrace her sexuality and, really, can a 15-year-old be discussed as a child? At what point does a daughter begin becoming a woman? Aren't most women playing multiple roles their entire lives -- mother, lover, wife, daughter, sister? Isn't Cyrus, then, just beginning to embrace what so-called "adult" women must balance for the rest of their lives? And what divides art from pornography, if anything? If Cyrus were unknown and the photograph where her back was exposed were a painting, it would probably be hailed the world over; should the nation's idolatry of her be recognized as the nation's problem and not her own?

1 comment:

Camille said...

As a mother of an intelligent pre-teen daughter, this was discussed already. My daughter brought the subject up to me, but neither of us had seen the photos in question. My daughter's take on it was that this may not have been a well-thought out decision, but that she is her own person. I think that's fairly insightful--she realized that each person has the ability to make choices for themselves and must think those choices through for there will always be consequences. I don't think my daughter will stop listening to Miley's songs, but that is a decision she will make...and I'm certain she will think it through.