Annie Leibovitz exclusively for Vanity Fair

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By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In this week's celebrity scandalette, we've got Disney darling Miley Cyrus, of "Hannah Montana" fame, posing in the almost all-together for Vanity Fair. Cue the predictable outrage. See the hype machine crank into gear. Watch the spin get spun. Listen to pundits calculate the alleged economic fallout from said disgrace. Smell the hypocrisy as tabloids and bloggers grab a piece of the action, weighing in with finger-wagging judgment.

Perez Hilton: "Slutty Miley!"

New York Post: "Miley's Shame!"

More like Miley's Moment.

Yesterday, all three broadcast network evening newscasts devoted time to dissecting the drama involving Disney's biggest franchise. The women of "The View" shook their heads and tsk-tsked. Right on cue, the Christian Coalition demanded that Disney "reprimand" Cyrus. They've got innocent minds to protect! Disney's PR people leapt into the fray, releasing their own statement: "Unfortunately . . . a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

(Note syntax: "a situation was created." Unsaid: created by whom?)

Meanwhile, Cyrus engaged in the requisite backpedaling, releasing a statement that she was "embarrassed," never mind that she told a Vanity Fair writer that she thought her pics were "artsy."

The magazine defended its turf, insisting that Cyrus's parents were at the shoot and approved of the pictures. Then star photographer Annie Leibovitz, fresh from last month's scandal with the LeBron James "King Kong"-esque Vogue cover, issued her own statement, insisting: "I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted. Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it."

Is this scandal real? Or manufactured? One could debate which photo is more offensive: the one of Cyrus's bare shoulders, or the shot of baring her midriff while sprawled across her father's lap?

There's a fine line in Hollywood between promoting and pimping. Cynics might see a carefully calibrated attempt to expand the Miley Cyrus brand beyond the tween demographic.

"They knew perfectly well it would cause a storm," says cultural critic Camille Paglia. "I'm so tired of Annie Leibovitz."

Counters Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak: "We're a little bit surprised that one photograph of a teen star has gotten so much attention."

At first blush, looking at the pictures, we were tempted to rail against the increasing sexualization of young girls in the media. To quote studies like one conducted by the American Psychological Association, which found that the hyper-sexual images of young girls and women in advertising and merchandising have a harmful effect on young girls. All of which we believe to be true.

But then we couldn't escape the feeling that we, too, were just speaking our lines, as directed. And we can't help but feel that Cyrus, a budding billionaire who's got an upcoming CD to peddle, knows a thing or two about manipulating the media.

"Miley Cyrus may realize that she's not going to be able to play Hannah Montana forever," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

"The role of a teenage heartthrob" has an exceedingly short shelf life, he points out. "She's probably at a point where she's trying to evolve her persona, to move into Jodie Foster territory."

Speaking of Foster, remember her playing the preteen prostitute in "Taxi Driver"? Hands were wrung, all kinds of outrage ensued. Didn't exactly hurt her career.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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