So, the Miley Cyrus photographs have stirred up quite the storm. As well they should. Depending on which version of events you believe, the photo showing Cyrus with mussed hair and lipstick and a strategically-draped bedsheet (leaving her back exposed) is either an “artsy” idea gone wrong or a deliberate attempt by Vanity Fair and/or Cyrus to broaden her appeal. And this comes just after a couple of Internet photos of Cyrus flashing her bra and midriff were circulated. Suddenly, the wholesome teen whose concerts literally sell out in minutes, who brings home millions of dollars and whose alter ego, Hannah Montana, is the star of a Disney series, is displaying a whole new side. And now the parents of her legions of fans, most of whom are pre-adolescent girls, have some explaining to do.
For her part, Cyrus says she’s embarrassed, that the photos were supposed to be artsy but didn’t turn out that way, that she “couldn’t say no” to the photographer, the famed Annie Liebovitz. Disney says Vanity Fair manipulated her. Liebovitz says it was a “beautiful and natural portrait.” No one is saying, “Yep, we deliberately sexed up a young girl.” But that’s exactly what happened. Of course they’re trying to sell magazines. Of course they’re going to do whatever they can get away with. I can (almost, but not quite) buy the argument that Cyrus got suckered into it. The real blame lies with her parents, who were on the set of the photo shoot all day. They knew exactly what was going on. They should have stopped it, and they didn’t. (Update: Her parents are saying the photo was taken after they left. The point still stands — they should have known what was going on.)
But, is it really all that surprising in today’s culture? Are we really shocked to see a half-naked 15-year old? Maybe with this particular girl, we are. She’s been portrayed as clean, wholesome fun, a role model for anyone to look up to. And it’s possible she has been good for girls (I’m not exactly her target audience, so I’m a little short on details). But to suggest this maneuver is anything other than a calculated attempt to move to the next level is naive at best. There is no way this photo carries anything other than a sexual connotation. (Anyone who says differently has only been desensitized by the onslaught of immodest images in today’s culture.) Britney Spears did the same thing in her late teens. So did Lindsay Lohan. Play to whatever demographic will bring in the big bucks. As these showbiz girls mature, their audience changes from pre-teen girls to teenage (and older) boys. Sex sells. So let’s start using it younger and younger.
The sad part is their strategy will work. Sure, the Cyrus camp is backpedaling now that the photo is out there and they realize that 8-year olds will be asking their mommies why Hannah Montana doesn’t have any clothes on. But the magazine will sell out (Vanity Fair’s website already crashed the other day from everyone trying to see the photos) and over the next couple of years Cyrus’ concerts will become more and more provocative until she drops Hannah Montana altogether and poses on the cover of Maxim. (Of course she won’t do Playboy. That would be pornography.)
I don’t have any young girls, but if I did, we wouldn’t be clamoring for Hannah Montana tickets. Not anymore. Today’s 8-year olds will soon be 13-year olds who can’t wait until they’re 16. This is not who I would want them looking up to. Naked should not be normal.
The whole thing brings to mind Romans 1: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their (young) bodies among themselves … they worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator.”
That’s what we’ve done in America. We’re worshipping the creature. There’s only one way to change things, and it’s not through a wholesome teenybopper role model who will no doubt disappoint us. It’s through Jesus Christ. He can reach through all this muck and mire and transform our hearts so that we worship the Creator rather than the created. Pictures will fade. Christ won’t.
That’s a visual we can embrace.