Tuning In: Postfeminist Miley, post-Montana

For the final week of "Tuning In," I'll bookend with entries on television I'm looking forward to watching later this year, taking time on Wednesday to focus on how Lady Gaga is incorporated into Glee's "Theatricality" episode.

Summer is shaping up to be a good season for television. Several programs like Treme, Breaking Bad, and Friday Night Lights wrap soon. Other shows, like True Blood and Mad Men, will begin new seasons. As season three of Mad Men was filled with interesting musical moments from Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, I'm especially looking forward to its return. I also wonder if they'll give one to Kiernan Shipka, who plays Betty and Don Draper's daughter Sally, after belting part of "Bye Bye Birdie" in a staff video card for creator Matthew Weiner. I'm also interested in The Secret Life of The American Teenager, which returns for its third season on ABC Family. While I don't follow the program, and thus am not sure if I'll agree with its stance on teen pregnancy and motherhood, I am interested in seeing Bristol Palin play herself following the controversy around her teen pregnancy PSA, as she will be also participating in a music program for teen mothers on the show.

Today, I focus on Miley Cyrus, who is distancing herself from Hannah Montana, which airs its final season on the Disney Channel in July.

In case you weren't already aware, Miley Cyrus has ruled the pop landscape for the past few years. She has done this both as Miley Stewart, the everygirl who lives a secret life as pop star Hannah Montana in the juggernaut Disney TV/film franchise of same name, and in her own career, which the brand that catapulted her to superstardom foretold, if not entirely assured.

But Cyrus is hoping to branch out, starring in movies like The Last Song, singing with Poison's Bret Michaels on a version of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," doing edgier music videos, and releasing a new album. This is clearly strategic positioning to make her over as an adult rather than child star or tween sensation. It's also caused much debate, as critics like Stephanie Zacharek derided her performance in The Last Song and Jessica Wakeman and Chloe Angyal disagreed on whether the music video for "Can't Be Tamed" exhibited feminist politics.

At the risk of sounding like a lady-hater and cranky music snob, I don't care what happens to Cyrus professionally. As far as I'm concerned, she's a rich white girl with no charm who can't sing (note the burn on Cyrus's limited vocal ability in Glee's "Laryngitis," wherein Rachel Berry delivers a tone-deaf performance of "The Climb"–that Berry thinks of her laryngitis as a disability seems to be rich terrain for TelevIsm's Rachel McCarthy James to traverse). She was born into a successful family and will continue to be financially secure regardless of whether she can pull off a transition that has vexed many teen celebrities. Britney Spears even has a song about it, which commemorated her time in the position Cyrus occupies now. South Park also made connections between Spears's and Cyrus's careers in the season twelve episode "Britney's New Look," which is decidedly in a minor key.

But I am curious as to how, if, and why Cyrus will have to disavow girlhood in this transition. This may be something Cyrus's audience has difficulty relating to as they enter high school and college, negotiating a post-adolescence without a multi-million-dollar brand and career, much less a fully secure sense of self. Will womanhood be defined by her (or for her) purely on the basis of postfeminist sexual and material gratification, as her recent music videos and cameo in Sex In the City 2 may suggest? Why does she have to distance herself from the Mouse to pull this off? Does the network already have a successor in place? If so, what does this suggest about age, gender, and the short shelf life (sexist market imperative language used deliberately) for teen girls on the network? What if Cyrus doesn't make the difficult transition from Disney princess to legitimate star, something Hilary Duff couldn't pull off and Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale haven't yet accomplished?

Thus, while I'm also not a fan of Hannah Montana, as I find it loud, broad, one-dimensional, caustic toward any threat to normativity, and surprisingly mean-spirited, I am interested in how the season's narrative will play out for its titular heroine. In the movie, father Robby Ray (played by Cyrus's own father Billy Ray) decides that his daughter is too big for her designer britches and makes Montana get reacquainted with Stewart and her Tennessean roots. The movie ends with her revealing her true identity, which was then incorporated into season three. In the series finale, will her audience discover that Stewart's been Cyrus all along?

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Comments

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Miley at al..

Oh! I saw this hyper-sexualization of Miley Cyrus coming a long time ago. I mean wasn't it inevitable and not surprising? The same thing with Lindsey Lohan and Hillary Duff. Around the middle to late teen years---the sexy teenage girl vamp emerges.

Miley at al. .

Yes, I think it was completely inevitable and built in to her trajectory, AitchCS (see also her pole dance, the multitude of sexy "candid" pics Cyrus took that are all over the Internet, and the bare-backed Vanity Fair photo -- though I think the photo of her laying across her dad's lap is creepier and invites the comparison between Billy Ray, Joe Simpson, and Jamie Spears). Frankly, I find it surprising that so many people feel compelled to comment on such a clear strategic shift to market Cyrus as an adult, apart from the incentive to write about a successful pop star who will attract page views. And there's clear precedence for this, as we both suggest. So, to an extent, I'm actually commenting on the discourse around her and positing what it will mean for the last season of Hannah Montana.

But I'd also like us to question the inevitability of career maturation coinciding with normative sexiness for female celebrities. I do find it interesting that the message for female artists often shifts to one of agency previously denied on the basis of age (Janet Jackson's "Control," Britney Spears's "Overprotected," Cyrus's "Can't Be Tamed," etc.). Male artists often make similar claims to newly found agency, but it's usually foregrounded in musical integrity rather than the cultivation of a sexy image (I'm thinking specifically of Hanson and Nick Jonas here).

Finally, I'm also curious how Cyrus's revamped image will be portrayed on her show and what her relationship with Disney will look like once Hannah Montana wraps.

Alyx Vesey

Disney actresses

yes, the infamous pole dance. And just to add to it all- her "off-the-clock" bump and grind on the movie producer's lap, seen all over the web recently.

Other Disney teenage princess/vamps in regards to their image and post Disney success that Alyx writes about:

Britney of course played up and cashed in on establishing her "Lolita-ness" post Disney-- almost immediately.

H Duff: Her "Lizzie" character was cute and fashionable but never seemed to get overtly sexy. When the show ended- that didn't last long--see her music videos and red carpet appearances.
Duff has too much competition from blond look alikes Kristen Bell, Hayden Pantinerre and Amanda Seyfried-- she would likely be in the market for the roles they are filling.

Ahsley Tisdale--always been at least kind of "sexed-up" image wise. Her character in Zach and Cody is on top of my most annoying list. Her and the other teen girl's characters on that Disney show are whiny, spoiled, materialistic and the ultimate air-heads all while wearing sexy clothing.

Vanessa Hudgens--always sexed-up. don't know much about her career yet.

Jamie Lyn Spears-- I don't know much about her image or development of the character on the Disney show "Zoe 101"---but she became pregger and retired--it didn't have a chance to develop. I think Disney never really had to deal with that image "problem" due to her disappearance.

Lindsey Lohan---well, you know.....