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Ranting to Montana...

It seems that by posing for Vanity Fair's photographer Annie Liebovitz, Miley Cyrus (young star of Disney's Hannah Montana juggernaut) has blundered into one of the deep cracks in the American psyche. And, through the grace of the tabloid press and the blogosphere, finds herself in the middle of a Category 5 tea-cup tempest.

I have one thing to say to the folks haranguing Ms. Cyrus: for the love of dog, leave the kid alone.

Full disclosure time -- I am a fan of Annie Liebovitz's work; I own one or more of her books, and always look for her work in magazines such as American Porno Photo (that's a rant for another day).

That being said, I think it's a fine photo. It's a classic ingénue pose: a little come-hither, a little nervous. She's not exposing herself. At least, not any more than these tweens on a parenting site. And that's the rub.

Our culture is fractured and psychotic when it comes to our children's sexuality. On the one hand, we have a commercial culture that sells sex to kids and tarts-up six year-olds for child beauty pageants. On the other we have a clamoring horde that's trying to draw a bright-yet-arbitrary line where on the stroke of their 18th birthday, our young men and women go from sexless minors to fair game. Anyone who falls on the wrong side of that line -- be it a 15 and 17 year-old High School couple or Miley Cyrus -- finds themselves connected to one of the third rails of American culture. At least according to the crusading moralists. I'm not condoning what Madison Avenue does to young girls, but I find the "Oh my gawd a 15 year-old posed in a kind of sexy way!" hysteria equally repellant.

click for larger image There has to be a middle way. What we have now is just plain broken. I offer up this image of another young lady, depicted by a pre-Raphaelite painter. If displayed in a museum, it would probably not draw a single word of protest. (It's old, therefore it must be art.) Put Miley Cyrus there and *SHAZAM* instant firestorm.

Let us put our energies to better use: Attack advertising that panders sex to twelve year-olds. Support movements to require weight minimums for runway models. Deconstruct harmful media for the benefit of the young women and men in your lives. And leave Miley Cyrus alone. Puberty is hard enough without the self-righteous blaming you for growing up.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
It's a classic ingénue pose: a little come-hither, a little nervous. She's not exposing herself.

We'll have to agree to disagree. I come from a completely different perspective (and have the bonus of living with a 15-year-old daughter). She is exposing herself in a way that I don't find attractive for an under-age model (don't care who she is, whether model or actress) and find it exploitative. That picture is classic "I've just gotten laid" and I really don't think it's okay.

This is coming from someone who is not a "crusading moralist", at least as I see myself, although I may have fallen into your bucket. lol

In addition to supporting the movement about weight minimums, I'd like to see age minimums for models who are held forth in our media as Lolitas - sexually attractive, but look don't touch.

That being said, I also don't condone blaming the child (and yes, according to our laws, she is a child), but the adults who are responsible for her. But I think you're confusing two issues...Is she having underage sex? None of our business. Is she being used in a for-profit business in a way that exploits her youth and is meant to convey a sexually explicit message? Our business.

Edited to try and fix the crappiest formatting....sorry!

Edited at 2008-04-30 12:21 am (UTC)
Apr. 30th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)
...I was wondering what you might have to say on this -- especially as you're in active combat with all of the messages that society pushes on young women!

I'd definitely sign-on to age-minimums for models. The "Lolita" aspect of our male culture is icky (though not as icky as it is in Japan). I find the industry of "barely legal" and "just 18" porn to be pandering to men of already questionable judgment. Yes, if the models really are 18 it's legal, but ... ugh. I was on the prosecutorial side of a kiddie porn case once and that was just gross.

That picture is classic "I've just gotten laid"...

...Ya'know, the one picture I've taken of someone in that pose was exactly that.

...and I really don't think it's okay.

You raise and interesting question. Yes, Miley Cyrus is under age. But, she's old enough to work, which implies a certain level of decision-making and self responsibility. Where is that line? She's clearly a professional entertainer, highly compensated and versed with how the industry works, yet she's also three years shy of being old enough to marry, vote, and enter into a binding contract. OTOH, she's old enough to compete in the Olympics, a year shy of driving, and two years shy of military eligibility with parental consent (ditto marriage in some states.) When do we say that Ms. Cyrus is old enough to make those choices for herself?

PS: From what I know of you, I certainly wouldn't call you a crusading moralist. :-)
Apr. 30th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
she's old enough to work, which implies a certain level of decision-making and self responsibility

Oh, I won't give you an inch on that. In the modeling industy, babies work too. With that argument, if she's old enough to work it's not exploitation. Can you tell me where/when exactly those pictures might come close to exploitation? What if she were 14? 13? 12? She's not even old enough to sign a contract on her own, without a guardian signing on as well.

One of the very reasons why we all have so many problems setting standards for how we should be clear about how we treat children (particularly young and beautiful girls) is how much grey we allow. And then when we have problems later (it's a mine field for boys), everyone wanders around wondering why it happened. (And oh my gosh, I SWEAR I don't want this to sound like "it's for the children", since that's usually applied as a disguise to freedom of legal expression) I think we'd be doing society - and especially our children - a favor if we had less tolerance of their sexualization by the very adults who are professional, highly compensated, and versed with how the industry works. What's wrong with raising the bar and eliminating the grey?

"Crusader" as applied to someone Jewish is doubly ironic, you know. lol

Edited at 2008-04-30 04:31 am (UTC)
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