Friday, August 01, 2008

Miley Cyrus, teen sexuality (gasp!), and 'growing sideways'

I've been meaning to write something about this for weeks and just never got around to it: the career-threatening scandal (say what?) surrounding Miley Cyrus and various pictures that she's taken which suggest she may not be the ideally asexual teen that her TV and stage representations make her out to be.

(In case you're in need of catching-up: Cyrus is 15, a pop music and TV megastar among her child and tween audience. Two examples of her alarming popularity among young girls should suffice: with the help of this relatively small (but, evidently, disproportionately powerful) demographic group she's managed to debut both her albums at #1 on the American Billboard charts and the concert film that Disney released in movie theatres posted a record opening weekend for a film on fewer than 1000 screens - over $8 million.)

And the controversy? The accusations that she was less than an apt role-model started with an Annie Leibovitz shot:
That some people would be made uncomfortable by a teenaged girl wrapped in a bedsheet is, I suppose, predictable. But I don't think it's the bare skin or sheet that actually freaks them out - I think it's the hair and the smirk. She doesn't look vacant, innocent, or wholly ignorant in the way that most overtly-sexualized starlets are made to appear - she looks too aware of what she's projecting. And what's worse, she looks like she's enjoying it.

And more fuel was added when (apparently) her cellphone was hacked and pictures were stolen from it. There are a lot of them, but this is about as bad as it gets:

The controversy here baffles me even more. They're ostensibly pictures taken of herself, for herself or her friends, not the sort of thing that strangers - us - were ever supposed to see. They're also almost exclusively pictures of only Cyrus herself. And if people can't handle a teenaged girl flashing her abs for her camera, god only knows what they would do if they learned that teenagers masturbate - and even have sex.

Kathryn Bond Stockton has written of the way in which children's sexuality is denied to them - they are assumed to be 'not-yet-straight', that is presently asexual but presumptively straight - and suggests that when they can't "grow up", they instead "grow sideways". But this is not to say that growing sideways is necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it seems to me that growing sideways is actually a fairer representation of how people (like Miley Cyrus?) actually grow - not from presumptively heteronormative innocence to straight adulthood, but with hiccups, leaps, and sidesteps toward an uncertain endgame. That is, if there's actually an end.


tookie said...

very well written. i'm not one to follow celeb gossip, but something draws my attention to miley. could it be her meteoric rise to the top so few have achieved at her age?

all i have to say is that raspy voice of hers. if it were anybody else, i'd be as hell annoyed. but she gets away with it, like that(snaps fingers).

keep up the good work :)

Anonymous said...

the picture in the sheet I can see that being kinda weird for a Disney star, but the one on her cell phone?? come on people she's an average teenage girl. What girl doesn't take pictures of themselves in a private setting.

NO one is a perfect role model. people need to start realizing that. there is NO ONE perfect out there.

Give the girl a break. I mean there are catholic priests out there molesting little boys and people are worried a bout what Miley is doing!
ha. I'm sure who ever wrote that review has been a role model to someone at one point and i'm sure they weren't perfect either.