Annie took, like, a beautiful shot, and I thought it was really cool. That’s what she wanted me to do, and you can’t say no to Annie. I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way. -- Miley Cyrus
I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about. -- Hannah Montana
Annie Liebowitz is a good photographer but I am bone tired of Annie Liebowitz. I can say no to Annie, even while saying yes to her better pictures. The photo of Miss Cyrus is a very pretty photo and very tasteful, but it is also a worshipful celebration of the fecundity of the pubescent female body, and the pre-legal body at that. Which would hardly be a problem if we didn't live in a culture in which 'worship' seems to mean corrupting unceremoniously and kicking to the curb. We have a major problem here: the cognitive dissonance involved in sexualizing ever-younger girls issues in an unholy amalgam of mini Madonnas and major whores. Poor Miley, caught in the crossfire: despite our heroic efforts to the contrary, it is still sometimes impossible to have one's cake and eat it too.
There's another problem: Miley Cyrus is not particularly gorgeous. I mean, she's a nice-looking girl, but the country and the world is teeming with girls that look that nice too. Public beauty as we've constructed it has less and less to do with the actual physical beauty of 'prime specimens' than it does with the social-status trappings of appeal and the arts and sciences of beautification. The innocence factor can't but plummet under conditions like these, because the beauty that makes Miley's picture possible and that makes this commentary possible is manufactured; yes, she herself has something to do with it, but hardly all and probably not most. So what we are worshipping turns out to be less Miss Cyrus' marvelous fresh fecundity and youthful radiance and more the erotic appeal of a giant confection. In an earlier era, this picture would in fact be a painting of a nameless young girl, and it would be a work of art. In this era, it's a brick in a long, high wall.
Pity. I've argued before that our problem isn't honoring the sexual power of young women, it's in aggravating that power for the purposes of dishonoring it. Miley's evocative portrait alone doesn't contribute to this problem. But the premise of the picture, and so much of what brought it into being, does. So people decry its classic pose and echo of nobility while smiling away at this getup. Tell me: which is cheaper? It's going to take a long time to untangle the psychosexual web this culture's woven. Maybe forever.