Much Ado About Miley

May 1, 2008

I’m really confused as to why everyone is so upset about Miley Cyrus’s now infamous Vanity Fair photo.  I’m not surprised, seeing as Americans have become very good at overreacting to the meaningless and under-reacting to the important, at least until it’s too late to do anything about it. 

I suppose since Britney’s meltdown eventually became a cover story even for the Atlantic Monthly, we could stretch the definition of “important” and at least consider what the Spears saga says about celebrity culture in general.  But, remember Janet’s boob?  The one we’d already pretty much seen all of in 1993, on the cover of Rolling Stone, and again on different RS cover a few years later? 

Janet later blamed the Bush Administration for using her to distract from what it was doing re: Iraq, which a lot of people thought was ridiculous.  Even if there was no concerted Bush-lead effort to keep Tittygate in the news, Janet’s statement does inadvertently pose an interesting question: Why do we care when there’s nothing to care about?

I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the Miley Cyrus picture.  To me, it’s an almost-weathered looking photograph of a girl who actually looks her age.  She’s not wearing any garish makeup.  Her hair isn’t filled with highlighted extensions.  Her gaze is relaxed.  

She’s stripped, it’s true, but not in an Xtina way.  This isn’t a photo dripping with sexuality.  Miley isn’t stretched out on satin sheets with a Teletubby pressed to her breast, ala 17-year-old Britney.  Annie Leibovitz, who around this time last year was photographing the Queen of England , succeeds in showing an over-hyped, over-idolized, overpaid, overworked young woman in her natural state.  In doing so, she puts less of Miley’s body on display than would a modest two-piece bathing suit any other 15-year-old could wear to the public swimming pool without even raising an eyebrow from the local PTA, much less the international media.     

If someone thinks sin when they look at the photo, it would seem they are projecting their own moral sensitivies (or maybe their inhibitions and hangups) on a young girl who hasn’t done anything to deserve being the target of their activism.  If someone thinks sex when they look at the photo, it would seem they were projecting their own perversions onto the image rather than having their depraved interpreation fulfilled by it in any obvious, immediate way. 

Either reaction says much more about the reactors than it does about their stimulus.