We sympathize with parents of teenage or pre-teen girls who are now trying to explain to their kids how the wholesome Hannah Montana can be the same tarty, half-naked girl in the current issue of Vanity Fair.

We sympathize with parents of teenage or pre-teen girls who are now trying to explain to their kids how the wholesome Hannah Montana can be the same tarty, half-naked girl in the current issue of Vanity Fair.

 

On behalf of those parents, we have a question for everyone involved in the Miley Cyrus photo shoot — from her parents to her Disney handlers to the editors at Vanity Fair: Do any of you have a functioning brain?

Before we delve into answering that rhetorical question (the answer, as you will learn in a few paragraphs, is no), we’ll address a few side issues that might complicate an otherwise extremely simple issue. First, we know this is a portrait by Annie Leibovitz, whose lens has captured some of the great iconic portraits of our time and whose work, including this portrait, deserves respect. Second, we know that Vanity Fair likes to be edgy with its images, and we know it is not a magazine for kids. Third, we know that Hannah Montana is only a character, while Miley Cyrus is a real person.

That said, how about a little reality here.

The photo that has drawn the most public ire — of an apparently naked Cyrus clutching a sheet to her chest — is not in itself child pornography. But it’s not far removed. The implied nudity, the subject’s vulnerable pose, the come hither look in the eyes all conjure a fairly shocking vibe that is light years removed from the wholesome energy that has made Cyrus (as her Hannah Montana character, not that her target audience can readily make that distinction) the biggest star in the country among young girls.

We would wager that while most kids might find the photo inexplicably weird, the vast majority of adults find it creepy. It’s not hard to guess why. Busts of Internet child pornography rings have become commonplace these days. Maybe Vanity Fair doesn’t see it, but when parents see hints of that ugly subculture oozing into the mainstream, they see cause for alarm.

When those hints come in the form of Hannah Montana, the ooze is more akin to a tsunami.

Given the train wreck that is now Britney Spears — the Hannah Montana of the ’90s — you’d think that those closest to the 15-year-old Cyrus would understand the need to carefully shepherd her through the jungle of superstardom. Surely someone in her inner circle, and especially her father, who is no stranger to the perils of stardom himself, could have anticipated and prevented this controversy from enveloping their young charge.

But back to the parents of Hannah Montana fans … Looking at the big picture, the Miley Cyrus Vanity Fair photos are really nothing new. Parents for years have been struggling with the sexualization of girls at ever-younger ages. Whether it’s Bratz dolls at toy stores or “stripper chic” fashions for the junior high crowd, parents are challenged at every turn by a culture that increasingly wants to turn their daughters into sexual objects.

In the character of Hannah Montana, many parents found a respite from this, though it came at times with pressure to buy $500 concert tickets and endure the sonic crush of screaming Hannah fans at those concerts. To those screaming fans, Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are one in the same. For all those involved in the Vanity Fair episode to not recognize that is a disservice to those fans. More importantly, though, it is another a disappointing example of the confusing messages that bombard adolescent girls today courtesy of a culture that consistently abdicates responsibility in favor of willful obliviousness.

State Journal-Register