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Pop culture & teen stars

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Just about everything wrong with pop culture parenting and the cult of celebrity has been on display in the recent Miley Cyrus “Photogate.”

The 15-year-old Cyrus, star of the Disney Channel “Hannah Montana” television series and daughter of country music singer/actor Billy Ray Cyrus, agreed to a photo shoot for the magazine Vanity Fair. The results of the session with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz were rather provocative.

One photo in general has caused quite a stir. In the picture the young teen star is shown from the side, with most of her back bare. She is clutching a sheet to her chest to cover what is presumably her bare body. And, it’s not the first time this has happened; for months the blogging world has been abuzz over racy MySpace pictures of the teen star.

Many parents of her adoring fans are less than pleased with the recent photographic revelations. In the mind of many, the recent pictures contradict Cyrus’ carefully crafted image of innocence.

In the wake of the most recent child-star fiasco, the blame game has become dizzying. No one, it seems, is willing to take responsibility for the provocative pictures. Parents of young fans blame Miley. Miley blames Annie. Annie blames Bill Ray. Billy Ray blames his schedule. Disney blames Vanity Fair. And Vanity Fair is ducking all the finger-pointing while it strolls to the bank.

So, who is to blame for Miley’s image-marring photographs? How about all of the above?

Child-stars do not have a very good track record for navigating the path from adolescence to adulthood. And it seems the more fame the child achieves, the more treacherous the trip. Very few make it without some embarrassing episode being exposed for public consumption. Many don’t even survive the trip.

Parents who whine about another child-star falling from grace have, in part, themselves to blame. Any parent who encourages his or her children to have a child actor/singer as a role model needs to think twice.

Today’s sweet innocent singer could easily be tomorrow’s sleazy sex-pot (see Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake).

Parents who lavished Hannah Montana paraphernalia on their little princess and forked over upwards of $500 a piece to see Miley in concert have to accept some of the responsibility for the media monster they helped to create. A little perspective and an occasional “no” would have been beneficial for all involved.

Billy Ray Cyrus and company are also to blame. Miley is only fifteen. No offense to 15-year-olds, but most don’t have the good sense to come in out of the rain. I’m no expert on teenagers, but three currently reside under my roof and I interact with many more on a regular basis. With that said, they don’t always know what’s best for them –- long- or short-term.

Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus showed poor judgment by even allowing their daughter to appear in Vanity Fair. Their daughter’s fans are little girls — mostly pre-teen. Vanity Fair is an adult magazine. What was the point in even granting the interview? I have to believe that Billy Ray is more media savvy than he is now portraying.

Ms. Leibovitz simply did what she does best. She created what, in her mind, was an arresting, artsy portrait. However, she, too, is to blame for deliberately sexualizing a 15-year-old girl. Leibovitz should be ashamed for fueling the perverted imagination of pedophiles everywhere by posing a teen girl in such a sultry and provocative manner.

Disney wants to blame Vanity Fair. However, the Kingdom of the Mouse shares some responsibility. Hannah Montana, a.k.a. Miley Cyrus, makes multiple millions of dollars for Disney. It seems the carefully crafted image of its cash cow has taken a hit. In early April it was announced that Cyrus had signed a seven-figure book deal with Disney-Hyperion Books to publish her memoirs next spring. Memoirs? The girl is only fifteen. She can’t possibly have memories worth seven figures. In a culture where reputation is everything, the Mouse-marketers have created an image for Cyrus that few ever could live up to. In an effort to make as much money as possible, they placed a teenager in an almost no-win situation. Disney’s only concern with Photogate is how it will impact its bottom line.

Of course, Vanity Fair is just as complicit as Disney. The magazine hopes to capitalize on Miley’s celebrity and milk the current controversy for all it’s worth. Magazine sales mean money and Vanity Fair will push as many as possible, and at the expense of a 15-year-old.

To put it simply, Miley Cyrus Photogate is just another symptom of a dysfunctional society.

Pop culture parents feed the cult of celebrity by encouraging their children to adopt role models on the basis of fame. Few, it seems, are able to discern the difference between fame and significance. Miley Cyrus is an example of the former; Helen Keller the latter.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs