I agree with my fellow moralistic scold, Rod Dreher, that the MSM handwringing over how Miley Cyrus's handlers should have known better than to let the fifteen-year-old pose for the Vanity Fair photo that she's now apologizing for is more than a little ridiculous; the whole thing looks like a staged controversy, not a real blunder. If you're trying manage a transition from tween sensation to alluring grown-up star, doing an artsy, sexually-suggestive photo shoot and then hastily apologizing for it seems like a brilliant career move - you reap the benefits of the Vanity Fair treatment while simultaneously distancing yourself from it. And I also agree with Poulos that the photo in and of itself isn't problematic. You can make perfectly tasteful art, as he says, from the "worshipful celebration of the fecundity of the pubescent female body." The problem comes in because we inhabit "a culture in which 'worship' seems to mean corrupting unceremoniously and kicking to the curb." One day you're posing for Annie Leibowitz; the next you've ended up in the Britney-Lindsey-Paris circle of celebrity hell.
Where I part ways from James and Rod, though, it on what this incident portends for Miley's future trajectory. Precisely because I think the Cyruses are stage-managing this whole "controversy" - and doing so pretty adeptly - I'm inclined to think that maybe, just maybe, they have enough worldliness and self-awareness to navigate Miley's adolescence without letting the celebrity machine grind her down into Britney Redux. That machine isn't evil because it corrupts every young woman who steps into its gears; it's evil because it preys upon the weak and the damaged and the dumb, the girls who aren't equipped to deal with the intersection of their celebrity and their sexuality, and with the culture's desire to use them up and throw them away. And while this whole phony controversy doesn't make me think that highly of Miley Cyrus and the people around her, it does make me think that they might be smart enough - and, yes, cynical enough - to play the system, rather than letting the system play them.
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