Oh, she’s just being Miley

By Jonathan Jacobson

I’m not the most fashionable person you’ve ever met. My favorite colors are blue and brown. I don’t like to wash pants (I like my corduroys to feel like pajamas). Oh, and also a significant percentage of my T-shirts are leftover junior high gym wear.

In short, I don’t purport to know much of anything about fashion. But every once in a while, some ladies I know – and, yes, this includes my mother – bust out the girly magazines and I can’t look away. I am especially entranced by fashion photography, which, in some cases, is just a hair shy of pornography.

It’s no surprise, then, that I managed to catch wind of the fiasco surrounding the semi-nude Vanity Fair photos of 15-year-old child star Miley Cyrus.

Cyrus, who plays the title role in Disney’s Hannah Montana, is nothing short of a phenomenon. Her concerts have brought in tens of millions of dollars. Last winter, to score concert tickets through an essay contest for her daughter, one woman pretended that her husband died in Iraq.

“We did whatever we could do to win,” the woman told a local television station.

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Clearly, Miley means business. Literally.

With the world’s spotlight comes some sweet opportunities, and posing for Vanity Fair with famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz behind the camera is certainly one of them. It was an offer too difficult to pass up.

The photos in the May issue, which comes out today, include one of Cyrus covered only by a silver bed sheet. Couple that with her rapturous dark hair and pursed red lips, and she’ll probably make some teenager very happy.

But that’s just it. Some teenager is not really the target demographic of Vanity Fair. According to their press kit, 93 percent of Vanity Fair readers are over 21. Miley’s reaching out to a whole new audience, even if a bit prematurely.

While she’s still a pre-teen heartthrob, Cyrus has an image to protect, which makes this a silly decision on her part. As soon as she slipped off her shirt during that photo shoot, she should have been ready for calls from the Christian Coalition and the like. After all, someone has to watch out for the seven-year-olds who litter their bedrooms with Hannah Montana merchandise.

The parents of these children will rave and rant about another girl gone wrong, another role model tainted and deflowered. And there’s no doubt that Cyrus has a long list of predecessors in that arena.

But the reality is that the kids will never see the photos unless they pick up their parents’ copy of Vanity Fair. Cyrus’ partially naked body exists now in a world completely divorced from her Disney personality.

What’s being felt right now, with all the media commentary and the message-boarding, is the push and pull of Cyrus’ two disparate personalities – and the expectations associated with each – trying to reach equilibrium.

“I feel so embarrassed,” Cyrus said in a statement to People magazine.

That’s strange. She didn’t seem particularly embarrassed in the photographs. Even stranger is that her parents – her father Billy Ray is the man who brought you “Achy Breaky Heart” way back in 1992 – attended the photo shoot and were unfazed.

Leibovitz released a statement claiming that Cyrus and her family discussed the photograph and the context with her before the shoot. So everybody had some idea what they were getting into.

The coup de grace is that every party involved will actually benefit from this uber-scandal. Vanity Fair will sell more magazines because people are interested to see the buzz. Miley Cyrus is going to make some new fans, even if they aren’t quite in her age range. Annie Leibovitz – as if she needed any more publicity since last month’s racially charged “King Kong” Vogue cover – will sign some more contracts.

If this really is Miley Cyrus’ fall from grace, it could definitely be a lot worse.

Jonathan is a senior in English and rhetoric. He wishes he had not called Miley Cyrus’ hair “rapturous,” but it’s too late.

Editor’s Note: Jonathan is this year’s recipient of the Raymond Clamage Award in recognition of being the staff member who contributed the most to the progress and quality of The Daily Illini during the 2007-08 year.