Miley Cyrus and Disney's Peter Pan Syndrome

First off, just to clear the air, the Miley Cyrus tempest is just more overblown cultural ephemera trumped up by the media and driven by some bloggers who may not have bothered to look beyond the headlines.

That said, during press tour a couple of years back (at least I think it’s been a couple of years - press tours are starting to run together like some big mashup), Disney Channel unveiled Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus.

it was apparent that this show was going to hit.  Disney was looking for the next (what tween doesn’t want to be a rock star at some point?), Hannah Montana is the product of a grand illusion fashioned by the brillliantly effective Disney juggernaut.  To their credit, Disney knows better than anyone else how to tap the teen/tween zeitgeist. 

However, I also distinctly recall walking out of the panel feeling unsettled and ambivalent.  Literally, images of the Bismarck popped into my brain.  By that I mean, an emormous machine with some of the biggest marketing guns on the planet trained on our homes. 

Furthermore, Miley’s father, Billy Rae, was pushing the Christian purity aspects as well, talking about abstinence etc. etc.  and I recall thinking that, while this was great and all, it was an impossible standard.

In Portfolio Magazine, Gary Marsh - president of entertainment for Disney worldwide - openly, if not inadvertently, pointed to the stunted, eternal Peter Pan world of Hannah Montana.  Said Marsh, "For Miley Cyrus to be a ‘good girl’ is now a business decision for her.  Parents have invested in her a godliness.  If she violates that trust she won’t get it back."

And there is this prophetic comment by Marsh, as reported by Karl Taro Greenfeld

At one point, while I’m sitting in Marsh’s corner office, I mention Musical star Vanessa Hudgens and the nude photos of her that turned up on the internet last year. I can hear a 767 jet bank into its approach to nearby Burbank airport as Marsh and Disney Television senior vice president of kids communications Patti McTeague exchange quick, concerned glances. After Nickelodeon’s Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney’s 16-year-old sister, announced in December that she was pregnant—forcing the network’s executives to figure out how to work that twist into a tween plot—it became clear that the greatest threat to the mighty tween franchises of our time is the kids themselves. “It keeps me up at night,” Marsh admits, after a few seconds of silence. “Our job is to make sure none of this stuff gets out of control.”

I felt a little breath hitch at Marsh’s "godliness" comment.  The subtext: Miley is expected to play the eternal, virginal Madonna for the sake of the parents (not the kids) who are emotionally invested in her image.   Most psychotherapists would probably want folks to look a little more closely at this one.

Miley’s 15-years old.  It’s totally age appropriate to want out of Never-Never Land.

Now, the fantasy bubble has been pricked and some are wringing their hands because the 15-year old Miley is fast approaching adulthood.  She displayed some bare shoulders and a peek at her bare back in a Vanity Fair photo shoot with the legendary Annie Leibovitz.  In an earlier photo, Miley also may have playfully displayed a little peek at the green bra she was wearing.   All of this put far less skin on display than what Miley probably wears to Malibu Beach.

Unfortunately, the controversy may have been whipped into a frenzy by Entertainment Tonight which reported Miley going "topless."  Then, blogs like "Telling It Like It Is" picked up the story and spread the headline.

I don’t disagree with "Telling It Like It Is" in some case.  The blog does good work following and reporting on the sexualization of children.  But, in this instance, they may have taken ET’s headline at face value…or something.  It’s not clear

Perhaps fault lies with Entertainment Tonight and their exploitative lede.  (Since I didn’t see the segment in question, I can say for sure.)

But applying the word "topless" to the Vanity Fair photo shoot is vastly misleading.

"I’ve got a suggestion for parents of what should be done with all the Hanna Montana crap that parents have bought for their kids," railed Telling It Like It Is, "Bonfire anyone?"

The problem is - Miley Cyrus didn’t pose topless.

Observed Wash Post’s Howard Kurtz, today, in his "Correction of the Week"

A headline and an article on Monday about a Vanity Fair photograph showing the actress Miley Cyrus in a suggestive pose left the incorrect impression that she was bare-breasted. While the pose was indeed revealing, she was wrapped in what appeared to be a bedsheet; she was not topless." — New York Times, April 29.


Then Miley issued a prepared retraction.  Hopefully, Disney didn’t pressure her into making this embarrassing apology in which she claims to be "embarrassed."

But…Disney probably did pressure her.

Disney went into full CYA mode, pointing fingers at Vanity Fair.  “Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," said a Disney spokesperson.

The problem: Miley’s parents and minders were reportedly chaperoning during the photo shoot and they were shown the digitized photo.

Also,  Disney used the "M" word.  (Manipulative)  Isn’t that the $1 billion pot (the projected worth of Hannah Montana retail sales for 2008) calling the kettle black?

As much as Hannah Montana is a fantasy manufactured by the Disney machine, the controversy seems equally manufactured on the blogsphere.

Miley Cyrus is apologizing for something she didn’t do and Disney is responding to a situation that never existed in the first place.

Media companies might be advised to ignore the controversies whipped up by the blogsphere.  The Miley Cyrus issue has received a lot of attention but the reality probably is - it’s an issue whipped up by a small but very vocal minority of fanatics who read conspiracy and   The vast majority of us don’t care.  let’s not feed the animals, please