Saturday, May 03, 2008

hannah jumps the hymen

Photo: Annie Leibowitz for Vanity Fair

Moving through McCarran International in Las Vegas the week last I spotted a full-size blow up of Mylie Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, and thought “uh oh. she’s getting close.” To clearing puberty that is.

I resisted the impulse to tweet “when will Hannah Montana jump the hymen?” because I thought it was too crass. I didn't want to talk about my little niece's idol that way.

I think too I avoided it because I was still trying to process disturbing news received earlier in the week that an old co-worker had received sentencing (a hefty one) for raping a girl under 14. So questions of emergent and divergent sexuality were unsettling me entirely too much.

Returning home to the paper on Monday morning I found that Cyrus had already made that perilous leap from girl to woman: posing for Annie Leibowitz in satin sheets and tousled hair in a Vanity Fair spread that seemed to greatly upset all the parents on my trajectory to Ann Arbor later that same day. They were all talking about it. Unhappy about it. (Notably: Vanity Fair has chosen to publish the shots of Mylie with her dad, Billy Ray. The video of the shoot does nothing to change my mind about the territory she’s currently moving through.)

The leap that Cyrus is navigating, like so many girl stars before her, is perilous because it’s wholly public, and created by someone else, just as her persona as Hannah has been controlled by her handlers for her adoring public. And that’s what struck me the most, thinking about Hannah and the girls who have gone before her (think Britney, who doesn’t understand why we don’t all love her anymore): we don’t have an easy way to graduate child stars into adulthood.

This is chiefly, I think, because we insist on black and white projections: you’re either a pair of sexless cheeks we want to pinch or a fine piece of ass (note the cheek allusion) we want to, well, I’m not thinking pinch.

Jodie Foster pulled off the transition from girl star to grown up actress well -- perhaps in part because she made her transition at Yale and came back to us all grown up. Maybe too because Foster is gay, and perhaps for that reason was more cautious about feeding her identity into the male-shaped fantasy of what we want our girls and women to be.

Mylie Cyrus did nothing that she wasn’t used to doing every working day: She trusted her handlers and submitted to the image making. It’s just the timing that’s all wrong: Mylie’s a young woman now, and, like a father who feels awkward and strange expressing his affection the same old way for his adolescent daughter who’s just sprouted breasts, none of us know how to make the transition easy without feeling entirely creeped out by how it makes us feel.


Kenneth Sutton said...

What a rich post. A friend of mine said she thought the photo of Mylie with her father was creepier than the draped nude, and having now seen it here, I have to agree.

Your last phrase ("none of us know how to make the transition easy without feeling entirely creeped out by how it makes us feel") perfectly captures my feelings as a gay man about Daniel Radcliffe--first with the bathtub scene in Goblet of Fire and more recently with Equus. The manipulation by media (it was, after all, clearly a flirt scene/she is developing a woman's figure and is doing pouty lips) when overlaid by our real-life knowledge (he's just a kid!/she's just a kid!) is a difficult tension.

anniemcq said...

The photo of her with her dad made me nauseous.

If she's trusting her handlers, well, whatever. But he's her DAD. Dad's are supposed to say "sorry, that's my little girl."


I, Rodius said...

I wonder if Jodie's transition was somehow different because of that 12-year-old hooker role in Taxi Driver. I mean, she kind of punched us in the face with the whole messy business. Pow!

And I'm with Ms. McQ. I thought the one with her old man was way creepier than the just-woke-up-tousled-after-a-night-of-doin'-it picture.

suttonhoo said...

great point, rodius. taxi driver wasn't even on my radar this morning -- I was thinking candleshoe and bugsy malone and totally spaced the scorsese pic.

although come to think of it: she was pretty steamy in bugsy.

& yeah: I'm with y'all. the video of the shoot creeped me out. including the bizarre "nobody here but us chickens" caption that reads:

"Sweet niblets, Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of Miley Cyrus sure have caused a stir. As this exclusive video shows, the nefarious photo shoot that has parents threatening to host Hannah Montana bonfire parties was actually a relaxed family event in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable: the green hills of Calabasas, California. Check it out!"

a.m. said...

I dunno. I thought about this for a coupla days and weigh in only reluctantly...

I find the title of your post far more provocative than the pictures themselves. The controversy seems to me to be a bit contrived. Your post however goes somewhere else! But back to the pictures. These are pretty humdrum celebrity photographs, very safe.

When Britney Spears danced around in a catholic school girl miniskirt and sang "Hit me baby one more time," maybe the parents missed what she meant, but every 15 year old boy in the audience knew exactly what "hit me" was all about.

I don't see any of that here. Instead of a draped nude, I see a photograph with no more skin showing than would be visible with a backless prom dress, or a red carpet dress for that matter. Miley is made up, the color palette is muted and dark, and she has that sheet clamped so tight to her side that even the imagination of a 15 year old could barely pry it off.

As for the picture of her with her dad, there isn't any sexual tension between them. I see 15 year old girls more provocatively dressed every time I go to the mall.

The problem here isn't Miley, it's all the other issues in the air. Adolescent sexuality is a sticky subject in America. That's why I love this post, you put it right the hell out there.

As you say, we don’t have an easy way to graduate child stars into adulthood. But the problem is far deeper than that. We don't have any real way to graduate all children into adulthood. These photographs are not transgressive, but they remind the viewers that Miley's fans are going through the same transitions as well, and I bet that's a whole lot more troubling.

suttonhoo said...

I attended a unitarian church service on sunday that was orchestrated by the kids -- kids mylie's age who spent the last year wondering about big questions -- what is god? why do bad things happen? what does it mean to live a good life? how should I treat others?

In the service each young person presented their statement of belief. It was powerful and moving to see these kids working through big questions and sharing some (some of them) astonishing insights -- and also to acknowledge that they were still figuring things out. and would probably would always be working through these questions.

What moved me most of all was the way they were given a platform to share ideas, to speak in a public, adult sphere, and to be heard.

a.m. said...

This is great to hear. We need a lot more of that kind of growing into adulthood. If only it were mass marketable...

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