TRIGGER WARNING: TEEN / MATURE SEXUALITY DISCUSSED HERE
So if you have been living under a social media rock, then you may think Hannah Montana still exists. But the thing is Hannah Montana is dead and will have killed her. The Queen of Tweens is dead; long live the new Queen of Twerks. This transition from Tweendom to what’s next is a hard and ardous road with many car wrecks dotting the highway (to your left is the infamous Spears haircut incident and oh, look, to the right the Lohan playboy spread and up ahead kids is the Bieber birthday party, hands in the car those bouncers are hungry).
Before we condemn the socially departed let us place the blame where it should lay: hint, look in the mirror and say what you see. The blogosphere has a long history of complaints about the librarian / whore dichotomy which we try to fit women in entertainment. Yet this same dichotomy is even more pronounced with child stars. We expect our Disney stars to be chaste, innocent, and cherubic. Occasionally someone like Macaulay Culkin or Shia Lebeouf breaks the rules by playing a tween horror (by in the cutest way possible); but for the most part we get Hannah Montana or One Direction: whitewashed, mess- free, bland products guaranteed parental approval if not love. Yet if we want bland, non-troubled packages for our kids; then we want some heat and sizzle from our adult stars. Just ask any post-40 actress why they struggle to find work. Just ask any movie-goer upset at the denouement of this fall’s Don Jon. Our romantic comedy participants are supposed to pick the sexy, frazzled, hot-mess not the wrinkled and broken and possibly dull adult.
So what is a Disney star (or tween music icon) to do. They must transform before our eyes from a bland non-sexual being to a sexy, sexy, va-va-voom butterfly. They do it because we demand it and in turn we hate them for it. I think the word transference is an apt one. I think we hate them because they represent the changes we do not want to think about in our own children. I think we hate them because deep down they remind us of the traumatic changes that occurred in our own lives. They remind us of the often undealt with sexuality of own lives. For the average us, we are often taught to repress and suppress our sexuality. This world is dark and murky and to be left untalked about (except by the cool kid pastors who twitter about the stage whispering about our deep dark secrets as they shackle us with cultural expectations rather than the true freedom of grace).
And so we beget Miley Cyrus, Twerk-a-holic. But here’s the thing for me, at least. This new Miley, the twerker, the hipster sex goddess, the wrecking ball icon, the hammer licker, is just as shallow and inauthentic as Hannah Montana, the tween goddess, the country music icon. Both our simply identities she has put on to sell music. Watch interviews. Read the RS interview. As EW said this week: she seems smart enough and in control enough to know what she is doing. Hannah was her brand and it sold. But the little girl grew up and the innocent naif was no longer considered a viable brand. So like new Coke, the brand had to change. Hence twerking Miley. To those with the will to believe each of these facades is believable enough, her protestations that this is who I really am just earnest enough. If you were a parent hoping to find a viable role model for your tween girl Hannah seemed a godsend. If you are a tween girl trying to navigate the hormones, social lubricants, and weird vibes of the High School senior to College freshman experience, the let’s be bad charm is there, too. Yet step back and perhaps you start to notice the curtain, and the man behind it (because its always a man). He pulls the strings and the puppet jumps. In this sense I think that Sinead O’Connor was right to note:
“I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”
But even as we have this discussion, I worry about us. I worry that in our arguments we are playing every more into the dialectic that is so harming to our young women. In this response I was truly amazed by the words of Amanda Palmer, the type of musician / artist I think Miley has every chance to become (WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MATURE LANGUAGE, SOME OF WHICH I DO NOT PERSONALLY USE OR CONDONE. Please read for the context not necessarily the content) :
“I want to live in a world where the internal dialogue of a woman’s brain has evolved to the point where a female performer can wear a sex-pot outfit and, instead of the all-too-common head-chatter chorus of “UNFAIR! MANIPULATED! WEAK! MANIPULATIVE! EVIL!”, she dons her sexy costume and hears internal voices screaming “FAIR! POWERFUL! PLAYFUL! BRAVE! SEXY!” You know…you go girl. But not “you go girl and be manipulated by the man, or manipulate the men in your wake”. just…”you go girl and wear whatever the fuck you want. And play smart.”
I want to live in a world where WE as women determine what we wear and look like and play the game as our fancy leads us, army pants one minute and killer gown the next, where WE decide whether or not we’re going to play games with the male gaze and the starry-eyed hard-ons that can make men so easy to manipulate. But seriously, let’s all play the game together, with a wink and a nudge…so we don’t hurt each other. If men and women don’t have a constantly open dialogue about how we do and don’t (or should and shouldn’t) manipulate and play with each other, we all lose. We are all fragile humans with little time on this beautiful, sexually-charged, ecstatic planet. Let’s share it to the fullest extent that we can and make the playing field for all of us the size of the whole earth.
In other words, let’s give our young women the right weapons to fight with as they charge naked into battle, instead of ordering them to get back in the house and put some goddamn clothes on.”
The road to adulthood and maturity is difficult for all of us. The building and discarding of identity is a life-long process for all of us. All of us try on costumes or the lack thereof to see what fits. All of us are exploring who we are as we ask who we want to be. Some of these costumes may seem more authentic than others (because they are / are not); yet we must have the freedom to play with them. I, for one, am thrilled that my teens and twenties was not broadcast to the whole world (how many blog posts might have bemoaned my lack of authenticity, I wonder). So here is my prayer for Miss Miley:
may she come into the knowledge of who she is
may she come into balance with herself and her sexuality
may she become who she needs to be and do the things she needs to do to become that person
may she discover the true joy of authenticity that shatters the false peace of branded existence
may she find the strength to overcome the destructive voices that engulf her
may she know the joy of eating what she wants, dressing how she wants, and weighing what she wants
may she find true peace and true freedom and true grace.
Because here’s the thing: the girl / woman’s got talent. People as different as Sinead and Amanda can see it. I hope you can too. If one looks past the nudity, there is something quite startling and powerful about that Wrecking Ball video. In it there is a glimpse of the artist that she could become. I am not a pop music aficionado but every source I read has good things to say about the new album (once they have stripped away the all too oblivious attempts at posturing). She really could be her generation’s Madonna. Let’s hope she has the chance to grow and mature. Let’s hope she can continue to surprise and intrigue us. Let’s hope she learns to do it through the oblivious charm and wisdom she has; and not because of her blatant stabs at seeming mature and sexual (and by acting in this showing herself not to be all so mature). Let’s hope that she can stop posturing and start being Miley.