I’ve a Reason to Believe We all Shall Be Received

I come down to find that the Butcher has left me a note to put the camera in the car and my first thought is “You’re emptying an attic.  What do you need a camera for?”

But, of course, my friends, he’s taking his own journey.  It hadn’t occured to me that he didn’t want to take this trip with me, but that he has stuff he’s got to work out on his own, and that’s why he can only get time off during the week.

Fair enough. 

I’ve been thinking about those two Americas again, not the political two Americas, but the artistic two Americas.  It’s interesting to me to think about it in terms of this whole Miley Cyrus/Annie Leibovitz thing.  Because, it seems to me that both women have their feet in both worlds. 

On the one hand, Leibovitz is a member of what we here in the middle of America might term the Hollywood elite, some insider hipper-than-thou.  On the other hand, of course, she’s an artist and artists in general tend to have an uneasy outsider relationship to their communities.

And then, here is Miley Cyrus, who could not be any more mainstream, with her hit TV show and her hit concert tour, and a movie in the works.  If ever there were a child of craptastic opulent America, she is it.  And yet, now that there’s even the slightest furor about the photos, the Cyrus camp is all “We didn’t know them photos were going to look that way.  We is simple country folks, taken advantage of by them city slickers.”

Yes, it’s bullshit.  Her dad was at the photoshoot.  She certainly saw that she was putting a sheet around herself and thus had to know that the photos would be of her in a sheet.  And the photos aren’t trashy.  They’re beautiful.

I mean, come on.  Of course they make her look sexy, of course they make us uneasy to see her so blatently displayed as if she is sexy.  But people, Leibovitz is an artist.  She’s not taking photos so that you can say “Oh, that’s what Miley Cyrus looks like.”  She’s taking photos that are designed to provoke you in a way that art functions to provoke.

Cyrus, let me emphasize, is already made to look sexy.  That’s the whole conceit of Hanna Montana–that she’s an ordinary dorky teenage girl most of the time with a secret life as a super sexy awesome rockstar.  It’s just couched in such a way that the little girls get it while the parents can overlook it  (which, if you think about it, puts those little girls in a troubling position of being the ones who most clearly recognize Cyrus as sexy and who have to figure out why it’s okay for her to be sexy in some ways and not in others).

Leibovitz’s photos are designed to make you see what Disney only wants your children to see.

Disney doesn’t want you to see it because Disney doesn’t want you to think “Hmm, Disney… Haven’t they had a hand in Spears, Lohan, High-School-Musical chick, and so on?  Isn’t it weird that all these girls run through the Disney mill–the mill I sit my little girl down in front of every night–come out with such fucked up ideas about themselves and their own sexuality and where their worth as people is located?  Hmm, I wonder what it might be doing to Miley Cyrus, who I also let my little girl watch, and, by extention, what that might be doing to my little girl…”

So, instead, now it’s going to be framed as a naive good girl who just didn’t realize what that mean old corrupt Hollywood-type was doing to her.  And now she’s so disappointed and begs her fans to forgive her and for their parents to understand how she was duped (because if there’s one thing we find titilating, it’s young women begging us not to punish them, not that we’re supposed to recognize that on a conscious level, either).

Right now, it’s a battle of which story will win out.

Because, normally, there can be only one version of the truth.

Which, frankly, sucks.

Because the best stuff happens, I think, the most creative, the most positively that America in which I want to dwell stuff happens, when multiple, sometimes contradictory narratives are left to stand.

That’s why I’m so loving reading about the Boston contingency going to Graceland.  There is room for us all–the country folks and the drag kings and the Irish Rock Gods and the curious and the disbelieving–at Graceland.

Maybe it’s always the One Truth versus the many truthes.  Maybe that’s always what it comes down to, and the fight we have to have with ourselves, to recognize the difference between “The Way It Is” and “You’ve got your story, I’ve got mine” and to always throw in with the side of many voices.

At least, that’s what I think.

Edited To Add:  Ginger’s got a good conversation (and a copy of the image) over at her place.  The only thing I see people ignoring is the Disney angle and the fact that she’s already marketed as being sexy.

16 thoughts on “I’ve a Reason to Believe We all Shall Be Received

  1. I’ve been thinking about this brouhaha today as well – mostly because it’s inescapable on tv, internet, pirate radio, etc.

    She obviously knew. The pictures aren’t offensive. In fact, they’re far less offensive than the rampant stream of products that Hannah Montana sells on every tv, in every store aisle, and on every disney website. Parents should be thrilled that photos didn’t come as an ad for a specific product.

    From the Cyrus side, it was a calculated (and possibly brilliant) risk. She’s fifteen now and can’t continue playing to the 8-13 market forever; they had to take the first step towards a more adult concept of what the little show pony would become. As they look ahead at the next career phase, 18-25, what are the successful starlets selling?

  2. According to Vanity Fair, both she and Billy Ray reviewed, and approved, the digital photos at the photo shoot. They quoted her as saying that she really liked how they came out, and that they looked “artsy, not skanky at all”.

  3. So, if she were three years older, this wouldn’t be a controversy, right? Some arbritrary decision set long ago to decide when a woman becomes legal. Well, I’m thinking this 15 yr old ain’t the girl next door…and so what?

  4. Only one article I’ve read has noted that the picture of her draped over her dad is actually worse — it’s the sort of pose you’d see with couple, not a father and daughter.

    Did anybody else see the South Park episode where Britney Spears blows her head halfway off and people still stalk her, but she has to die for Harvest?

  5. It was just about a year ago that a friend of mine told me that he’d been talking with some of the Disney people. And that they had told him that they were trying to figure out a way to take one of their girl music stars from childhood into adulthood within the Disney fold, instead of losing her* as they had with Spears. That is, how to grow her up and take her audience with her. It would not shock me unduly to learn that these photos are exactly the next step that Disney wants.

    * ‘Losing her’ in this context meant that Spears had moved on to other record labels and the wider entertainment press and wasn’t still under their financial/creative control, not that the poor young woman had fallen apart and destroyed her life.

  6. This is, perhaps, the most cohesive explanation of the whole thing that I’ve read. But what you failed to mention is the underlying madonna vs. whore thing.

    Also, Annie Leibovitz is a rock star in her own right. Even Miley herself said something to the effect of “…you don’t say no to Annie Leibovitz…” — of course, now we see that while it’s not ok to tell her no, it’s apparently ok to throw AL under the bus when some criticism hits.

    I found the link to where Whoopi Goldberg, a Leibovitz subject from years ago, discusses this topic with the ladies from The View – Note: I hate Joy Behar’s voice as much as most, but in the clip is the photo The Shill mentions, the one with her and Billy Ray — y’all, it’s kinda creepy. Anyway, the link is via Perez… yes, I read that crap.

    http://perezhilton.com/2008-04-28-everybody-has-an-opinion-2

    Meanwhile, as a VF subscriber, while I think the photos are inappropriate for a 15 year old, I will hold my final judgment until I see all of the photos and read the article.

  7. I’m totally with B. and NM on this. Disney is already pimping out these young girls, selling them in the context of preteen and early teen versions of the Madonna/Whore complex. What this Cyrus kid is doing is just taking it to the next level and pre-marketing herself. All the protestations of innocence are just for giving a cover of plausible deniability to the p.r. stunt so that the hand-wringing parents of kids who are hooked on the vile banality of this Disney manure can have an excuse to not question how they’ve been shoving their kids into crass pop culture consumerism.

    I was reading the comments over at Ginger’s place and couldn’t bring myself to chime in. To me it just seems like a bunch of naive moralizing over some crass marketing ploy, and I don’t want to snap at some well-meaning mom who’ll suggest that I don’t care about my daughter or don’t know what I’m talking about because I don’t piss my pants over yet another Disney ingenue showing some skin.

    You are dead on, B.:

    Isn’t it weird that all these girls run through the Disney mill–the mill I sit my little girl down in front of every night–come out with such fucked up ideas about themselves and their own sexuality and where their worth as people is located?

    Disney isn’t some wholesome company that’s looking to make your children better people. They’re a mega-corporation that is selling shit to you through your children, and they’ll use the same marketing techniques that everyone else is using to sell shit. They’ll use sex and violence, and they’ll hide it behind that layer of plausible deniability and make it bland enough so that you as a parent can see fit to look the other way.

    Don’t get angry at Liebovitz or Billy Ray Cyrus; just sit your kids down and tell them that the Rat isn’t their friend.

  8. Shill, I agree. But it was that picture, of her and her dad, that got me thinking about just what Leibovitz was up to and what exactly she was trying to get us to see.

    NM, that doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure they look at Timberlake and Aguilara and cringe that they’re not getting a cut of that, or Spears before it became obvious how screwed up she was.

  9. Leibovitz’s photos are designed to make you see what Disney only wants your children to see.

    That’s where I’m not sure I agree. I think that Disney wants to grow Cyrus up, under their control, bit by bit, and I think that these photos will help them do so. But I think Leibovitz is an artist in her own right, and I think that Vanity Fair often tweaks the subjects on its cover as much as it celebrates them. So I don’t think it’s completely an accident that the first two things I thought of when I saw the ‘girl in a sheet’ picture were David’s pictures of the dead Marat and Napoleon’s horse. That’s not exactly a brilliant future I’m reminded of.

    Even if I’m way off base, it’s an incredible composition.

  10. I agree with NM regarding David’s pictures of Marat and Napoleon’s horse… I kept thinking “something here is familiar” — good eye, NM.

  11. I guess I’m alone in not finding the photo sexy. It’s a lovely composition and maybe — since my daughter has yet to see an entire episode of Hannah M and is more likely to be able to identify a photo of Billie Ray than Miley — I can see it not as a kid that I’m supposed to know, but as just an artwork in and of itself. The arresting thing is the calculation in the subject’s eyes. If I wanted to work up into being disturbed, that’s what would do it for me.

  12. Bridgett, it reminded me of a dead body — that’s not sexy. If she weren’t wearing lipstick (also a comment by AL, I’m pretty sure), and the calculating face you mention, no one would have blinked. As it is, I can see that she’d rather not have the controversy going on about it, at least not for longer than a day or two.

  13. Hm. As artwork qua artwork, I kind of like it. Her face isn’t exactly what I’d’ve gone for, but I love the body language and the way the blanket drapes. It reminds me of any number of old paintings. That she’s 15 doesn’t bother me in that context – she’s old enough to know her mind and body enough to make the decision about whether she wants to be seen like that, in the limited context of the existence or non-existence of the image.*

    Of course, it’s not a painting or a privately taken image, and she’s not a more-or-less anonymous 15 year old, and that’s where it gets complicated for me. A photo shoot of an absurdly popular star in a major magazine is a really different context, especially in light of all of the Disney stuff pointed out above. You lose a lot of control there, and she’s already conceived of as public property. (Which, of course, is a lot of what people are getting fussed about. They’re not so much upset at the existence of the pictures as that they’re upset that their Miley Cyrus is being sexualized in a way that they don’t approve of.)

    I do think that the picture is sexy more blatantly sexualized than her usual image. I didn’t write “sexy” there because a) that’s in the eye of the beholder, and b) my beholder’s eye doesn’t actually think it rises to that threshold. It’s a tease, a glimpse of what might come, and the perceived sexiness comes as much as (if not more) from the juxtaposition of it against her normal public image as from the actual content of the picture itself.

    * My opinion on this is probably shaped by the fact that I was 15 relatively recently, and I still have a little sister in that age group. I would credit both my 15 year old self and my sisters’ 15 year old selves with that self-awareness under that limited context. If I were a parent, or just a bit older, I might not.

  14. Ya know, I’ve been thinking about Bridgett’s comment about the calculation Cyrus is showing. And, while it’s potentially disturbing within the context of the picture, it’s actually somewhat reassuring (to me) about Cyrus herself. First, it’s far less off-putting than the faux coyness Spears used to specialize in: give me someone who is aware of what she’s doing and admits it over “did I say that?” any day. It suggests that, at least, she’s open to being moved in a less oooky direction. Second, that look reminds me a bit of Jodie Foster at that age, and she turned out to have an admirable handle on both fame and privacy.

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