Teen Stars Grow Up in the Spotlight A recent Vanity Fair photograph is making headlines — it shows a bare-backed, teenage Miley Cyrus, best known for her role as Hannah Montana. Is this the defining point where Cyrus crosses the line into more mature territory? Guests talk about the road into — and out of — teenage stardom.
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Teen Stars Grow Up in the Spotlight

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. There are few more piercing sounds than 'tween girls screaming for Miley Cyrus or her alter ego, Hannah Montana, unless it's the sound of their mothers panicking over the new, decidedly-adult photos of Cyrus appearing in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair.

The collective shriek over pictures of the 15-year-old, semi nude in a satin sheet, has brought disapproval from Disney, which makes millions on the 'tween-focused Hannah Montana franchise, and an apology of Miley herself, who implied that she was manipulated. Cyrus is not the first clean teen idol to fall on the wrong side of the line between popular and provocative.

Ever since Annette Funicello giggled on a beach blanket or fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears gyrated in a school uniform, the sexy-versus-squeaky line for teen idols has been hard to manage, especially when they want to grow up. Today, we'll look into the strange trip of the teen idol, and late in the hour, a new movie explores teen life in Baghdad.

But first, what role do these teen idols, like Miley Cyrus, play in your child's life? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-8255. And our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

First up is one mother's opinion, and we know there's a range. Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for the New York Sun and creator of freerangekids.com. She joins us from our New York bureau. Good to have you with us, Lenore.

Ms. LENORE SKENAZY (Columnist, New York Sun): Oh, I'm happy to be here, too.

NEARY: So you've seen the photos. What do you think?

Ms. SKENAZY: Well, they made me feel very queasy and I've been trying to figure it out ever since. And it's a mixture of feelings that I have that actually aren't really shared by a lot of the kids I've spoken to. Because grownups, we see these and we immediately feel like, God, I bet she's been exploited by someone.

And then there's that worse feeling, like maybe it's her parents. Weren't they on the shoot? There's the picture of her with her dad. They're sort of yicky sort of, almost cuddling like boyfriend/girlfriend. There's - it makes you squeamish that way. And then, of course, we all are so keenly aware of what I'm calling the "Britney banana peel," and we just don't to want to see her slip on it.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. SKENAZY: So we're worried about that. But the girls that I've spoken to mostly just want to make sure that she comes back to her show, she does what she always did, and they get to keep wearing her clothes and carrying her backpack.

NEARY: How are these girls, first of all?

Ms. SKENAZY: I talked to a couple of girls today between the ages of 9 and 12.

NEARY: Which is about the age range for her...

Ms. SKENAZY: Yeah.

NEARY: Fan base. So what would you say to your - do you have a daughter that age?

Ms. SKENAZY: No, I have sons. And I spoke to my son this morning before I knew I was going to talk to you. And there was this picture and he's like, what's going on? And I said, well, some woman - I blamed it on the photographer, and in real life, I blame it on the photographer, too.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. SKENAZY: I said, some lady asked Miley Cyrus to take off her shirt and then she took pictures of her and that doesn't seem fair, does it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKENAZY: And - yeah, of course, I'm putting words in his mouth.

NEARY: Well, you did reserve a pretty fair amount of anger toward Annie Leibovitz over this - the photographer.

Ms. SKENAZY: Yeah. It does...

NEARY: Why do you blame her?

Ms. SKENAZY: Because she had a silk sheet on the set and she asked this girl, who's 15, to take off her shirt. And then she took pictures of her. That's why. I mean, if she was doing it in a room in Times Square with roaches on the floor, they would it have called it, you know, kiddy porn and thrown her in jail.

But instead, it's considered art for some reason, and they put it in Vanity Fair, which gives it another imprimatur of OK-ness. And to me, it really was. It's a 15-year-old without her shirt. That's gross.

NEARY: What about the Disney machine that's behind...

Ms. SKENAZY: You know, I keep...

NEARY: This phenomenon...?

Ms. SKENAZY: Wondering if the Disney machine really was on the ball or not. I mean, it does sound like maybe they were out of the room. Who knows? It's so opaque to me which person is behind this. Is it her parents, who said it's OK? Is it Annie Leibovitz, who snuck behind the scenes and said, oh, you know, while they're out getting coffee, let's just take a few of these arty shots? Or whether Disney said, you know, she's not going to be a preteen forever.

Let's start her on the path to - I don't think they really want to start her on the path to Britney, but it's - to us, it's such a familiar path. It seems like, well, did they really green-light that? Where's, even, the money in that? I mean, she's a billion-dollar franchise now. What is their thinking? You know, that all popular, really-important lecher vote that she needs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKENAZY: I mean, she's really popular right now. Why are they tinkering?

NEARY: Well, you know, you sort of...

Ms. SKENAZY: Why are they tinkerbelling?

NEARY: Well, you sort of say, you know, the American public seems to expect teen stars or these teen idols to either be totally wholesome or, you know, kind of a big mess, like Britney Spears.

Ms. SKENAZY: Well, that's because that's what we've seen lately between Britney and Lindsey and - you know, I don't think Paris was ever a teen idol - Paris Hilton. But we are very, you know, aware of their trajectories, and we see them going, you know - we hope that, like the Ty-D-Bol Man, somehow they're in the toilet, but they'll never get flushed down.

But right now, we see them in there, and you know, you do feel sorry for them. They're young girls. I picked up a copy of Tiger Beat today when I knew I was going to come here and I flipped through it. And I'm just outraged at this picture of Zach Efron that I have here. They have a then-and-now picture of Zach, who is like the male equivalent of one of these teeny-bopper stars.

You know, he was the star of "High School Musical," and he's great. And there's a picture of him - I'm showing this here to my friend Dave who's here in the studio, too - of him, like a couple of years ago, in 2004, looking kind of dorky. And then there's a picture of him now, looking extremely mature and presentable.

And he could go to a rock concert or he could to into a business meeting. He's wearing a suit and a tie. His shoes are polished. His whole look is great. You don't see him, you know, with a bed sheet over his crotch. You know, that's not how he had to get from teen idol to, you know, slightly-older star. But for a girl, you get the sheet. It's just annoying.

NEARY: All right. Well, let's see. I think we have another mother on the line here. Let's see if we can get her to join the conversation. Diane is calling from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hi, Diane.

DIANE (Caller): Hi. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good. How are you?

DIANE: Fine, thank you.

NEARY: So what is your take on this?

DIANE: I'm pretty mortified. I was not aware of the article and I listen to your show every day. And my daughter is totally obsessed with Miley Cyrus. She's almost 12 and we went to the concerts. She has her posters all over her room. We - I guess I'm naive enough to think that we thought that Miley was going to be the "clean Britney" and not go through all this.

So my suspicion is up. I think - maybe I'm being naive, but I think Miley's been swindled. I don't think that - I don't know. I mean, the way she's portrayed herself so far and everything she said about herself and what her parents are doing with the People article to, you know, try to shelter her from all this stuff and using Lindsey and Britney as bad examples.

I'm just really surprised. So I'm wondering - it makes me very suspicious. You know, who put her up to this and why? And I loved your person's comment about - you don't see Zach doing this, and yet here's the exploitation of a young girl.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, thanks for your call, Diane. And let's see - I don't know, Lenore, if you have any reaction to that call.

Ms. SKENAZY: Well, I'm totally on her side. I also hate the idea that, like, just because she has breasts, she has to flash them. I mean, she turns 15. She starts developing a little. I mean, what was a little disturbing to me is one of the girls I talked to, 12-years-old, I said, how do you feel about it? And she said, oh, I don't feel bad because everybody does this, you know, like, on MySpace and stuff.

And I thought, well, you know, in a way, that's true. There are a lot of - I mean, my friend's daughter had pictures of herself licking other girls on her MySpace page, and she's a straight-A student and she volunteers and she cut off her hair for Locks of Love. So it is out there, but like this other mother who was just on the phone, you do hope that there might be some role model out there who's not busy, you know, licking, winking and taking off her top...

NEARY: All right. Let's get someone else in this discussion now. Dade Hayes is joining us from our New York bureau. He is the New York bureau chief of Variety Magazine, and the author of the forthcoming book, "Anytime Playdate: Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom."

Ms. SKENAZY: Or whatever.

NEARY: Sorry, boom. Dade, welcome to the program.

Mr. DADE HAYES (Assistant Managing Editor, Variety Magazine; Author, "Anytime Playdate: Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom, or How Television Became My Baby's Best Friend"): Lynn, happy to be here.

NEARY: Now, this is not a new phenomenon. I think that we should, you know, look back a little bit and realize that we've had teen idols before, and they've sort of had to ride this line of sexuality before as well, have they not?

Mr. HAYES: Absolutely. You mentioned Annette Funicello in your introduction, and she's definitely one of the originators of this whole phenomenon. I mean, it's the ultimate form of type-casting, in a sense.

I mean, you cannot make a move outside of this box, and it's got to be demanding. And it's the ultimate sort of Faustian bargain, where you live a good life. You know, you're well-taken-care-of, well-paid. You have a bright future, but you do have to stay in character, on screen, on stage, and off.

Ms. SKENAZY: I'm not so sure that's a bright future.

Mr. HAYES: Well, I mean, yeah. I'm just trying to say there's some upside...

Ms. SKENAZY: You have a bright four-year span.

Mr. HAYES: A lot of "American Idol" contestants would love that future, but I mean, it always has had a music component. You know, so you can even go back through David Cassidy, and Ricky Nelson, and you know...

NEARY: But you know, I've always also been struck with this sort of whole string of some of these 'tween stars in recent years, including Hilary Duff, who is another Disney star, and then there were those on Nickelodeon as well.

They are expected to be clean, but there is a little sexuality underneath that cleanness, and that's part of the whole marketing strategy. So why do people get surprised when, you know, when Miley Cyrus ends up, you know, in Vanity Fair with a picture like this?

Mr. HAYES: Well, I'll pass to Lenore in a second, but I would say Disney always rides that fine line with the sexuality because they've built an entire, you know, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate on family-friendly...

Ms. SKENAZY: Titillation. Family-friend titillation.

Mr. HAYES: You know, if you really look at a show like "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody," it's just laden with sexual innuendo and dating...

Ms. SKENAZY: It's all about dating, and when am I going to get a girl?

Mr. HAYES: And this is a show that, you know, five-, six-, seven-year-old boys and girls are digesting whole.

Ms. SKENAZY: That's true.

NEARY: That's right, because we're talking about teen idols. But in this day and age, the teen idols are really being watched by pretty young kids.

Mr. HAYES: That's absolutely true. I mean, I was astounded to see - I've looked at pre-school media. I have two kids. One is one and one is four and a half. And my four-and-a-half-year-old, thankfully, doesn't go too much into this.

But a lot of her friends are into "High School Musical," and you know, some of them dressed as "Hannah Montana" last Halloween. I mean, it's - there is this age compression - that's the industry term for it - where you know, Barbies used to be played with by seven- and eight-year-olds. Now, it's three- and four-year-olds.

NEARY: Right. Lenore, before we say goodbye to you, I'll just give you the last word. What do you say to people if they say, well, she's 15, she's growing up now, she's not a 12-year-old anymore, she's...?

Ms. SKENAZY: Well, even a 15-year-old shouldn't be subjected to a photo shoot where she's forced to take off her shirt or asked even - even asked politely by a world-famous photographer to take off her shirt.

NEARY: And you don't see that she or her family has any sort of responsibility in this, as well? You think that she's that innocent?

Ms. SKENAZY: I have no idea how innocent she is, but to even be placed in a situation where somebody thinks it's normal or not impolite or not downright bizarre to ask somebody that you've, you know, that's coming in to have her picture taken to please take off your shirt.

There's nothing wrong with this, and you're 15? There is something wrong with it. Vanity Fair is wrong. Annie Leibovitz is wrong, and whoever told Hannah Montana, hey, this is normal, it's part of the game. It's a disgusting game. It's soft-core porn. There's something wrong with that.

NEARY: All right. Well, Lenore, thanks so much for joining us today.

Ms. SKENAZY: Thank you.

NEARY: Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for the New York Sun and a creator of freerangekids.com. She joined us from our bureau in New York.

We're going to continue our discussion about Miley Cyrus. Dade Hayes is staying with us. We're taking your calls at 800-989-8255. Send us an email to talk@npr.org. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hannah Montana, is all grown up. Sexy photos of the 15-year-old star caused a collective gasp among 'tween parents. But even the most wholesome teen idols have to grow up. We're talking about that phenomenon with Dade Hayes. He's New York bureau chief of Variety.

And we want to know what you think of the Miley Cyrus photos, and what do your kids think? What about the growing pains of other squeaky-clean teen idols like Beyonce or Britney Spears? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. And our email address is talk@npr.org. Or you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And we're going to take a call now from - I'm not sure who's on the line. Give me - who's on the line, please?

KIM (Caller): Hi. This is Kim from Panama City.

NEARY: Kim from Panama City, Florida. Thanks so much for calling us, Kim. Go ahead.

KIM: Yes. I would like to say that we, as a family, are very disappointed in the photographs, not only from the photographer, but also from Miley's family and everyone who manages her. She was really one of the last few role models that we could look for on television and in movies. And it's just not safe anymore, considering the Internet, Facebook, et cetera.

NEARY: So, what is your strategy now? Do you think that you're going to continue to let your - is your daughter really a Hannah Montana fan? A Miley Cyrus fan?

KIM: No, she is past - she's 14 and her friends are in that age group, but they still look toward the money and the stardom and that area. And it seems like the only way to get ahead for these girls is to take their clothes off.

NEARY: Yeah, and that's what you find so disappointing?

KIM: It's very disappointing. I'm with the Internet and Facebook and the things that are allowed on PG-rated movies, et cetera.

NEARY: Yeah. All right. Well, thanks so much for your call.

KIM: Thank you.

NEARY: Dade Hayes, I guess, is it the natural progression? Is that where it inevitably has to come to, in this day and age, that these young teen stars who start out so - you know, with these clean images end up all - they all seem to be ending up in the same place?

I'm not - I mean, that really hasn't happened with Miley Cyrus yet, I should say. She is not a Britney Spears, but there's this feeling that - somebody said the "banana peel" of Britney Spears, that they all are going to slip on it.

Mr. HAYES: There is an uncomfortable similarity, and I think people are rooting for her to, you know, pull out of this. The bar gets ever higher, Lynn. I mean, it's amazing that, you know, the media world we live in, the celebrity ecosphere of sites like TMZ, tracking every movement of even a 15-year-old star.

You know, Miley Cyrus had run into trouble with some racy, well, not racy, but sort of risque postings on her own MySpace page, so she's no stranger to this. But, from the media perspective, the bar gets higher in terms of what will sell in a Miley Cyrus photo.

NEARY: How do you think this affects her career at this point? I mean, is this going to be easy for her to get past? Or is it really a...?

Mr. HAYES: I do think this will - this storm will pass if she - you know, she took her medicine, issued an apology, and if she continues to just, you know, stick with it, do the show, a movie's coming out in 2009, good things can still happen. This is not a fatal blow, but it's worrisome, I think, for all of us.

NEARY: All right. We're going to bring in another guest now. Joining us from her home in Los Angeles is Mary McNamara. She is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and her most recent op-ed is titled "Miley Cyrus' Vanity Fair Photo Risks Her Squeaky Clean Image." Thanks for joining us, Mary.

Ms. MARY MCNAMARA (Columnist, Los Angeles Times): Thanks for having me.

NEARY: Mary, you say that Disney's strategy with teen stars, you call it "cold-blooded mass-marketing." Explain what you mean by that.

Ms. MCNAMARA: Well, I mean, Disney has perfected how to have a product and to market it on every level imaginable, you know, from merchandise to movies to videos to DVDs to CDs. I mean, they take their properties, and they just run with them.

That is their game plan. And they're very, very successful at it. And, as I said in my article, it's one thing if you're doing it with "Winnie the Pooh." And it's another thing if you're doing it with a real live girl. And I think that that's what they're finding right now.

NEARY: Yeah. What about - I mean, do you think Disney is the only company that's doing this? Or is this just part of part and parcel of our culture?

Ms. MCNAMARA: Oh, no. Not at all, but Disney is, I mean, they are like - they invented the market plan for this kind of synergistic - I mean, they pride themselves on it, and they should, in certain cases. I mean, they know how to create these stars. They know how to create the "High School Musical" franchise. They know how to just move these kids or products on multi-levels. And they do it very successfully.

You know, the question is, though, you know, they've never really done it at this level with an individual child. You know, it's always been a group of people. They tried it a little bit with Hilary Duff and "Lizzie McGuire," but it didn't go that white hot. So, now they have - I mean, she's as big as Mickey Mouse right now, Hannah Montana.

But she's a kid, you know, and she's a person. You know, so you get into a whole different area. And she's also a girl who is growing up before our very eyes. And so, you know, it's really hard to know what to do next. I mean, she did the Oscars. I mean, you know, that's a grownup job, but there was Miley Cyrus, you know, who is not a movie star, who has never gotten an Oscar, but there she is. She is - you know, was presenting an Oscar.

And the reason that she was doing that was that the producers were trying to reach a younger audience for their show. So, they're using Miley Cyrus to do that. You know, the same was true with "American Idol Live." She sung two songs. Nobody else sung two songs. And it's not like - I mean, yes, she's very successful, but nobody would say she's the greatest rock star who appeared on "American Idol Gives Back."

But again, they're trying to reach that younger audience. They're trying to get that 'tween money and the parents' money. And so they're using Miley Cyrus. Now, so where does that end? You know, where does - you know, using Miley Cyrus to sell X, Y and Z become manipulating Miley Cyrus?

NEARY: Yeah, well, I was struck...

Ms. MCNAMARA: I think.

NEARY: Yeah, I was struck, Dade Hayes, I was struck that Disney put out a statement, you know, saying that they were very upset by these - they were shocked, shocked by these photographs. And that, you know, the magazine was manipulating this teenage girl to sell magazines which I thought, well, I was very struck by. That seemed, like, amusing to me. I don't know how you reacted to that?

Mr. HAYES: I totally agree. I think you have to wonder about whether there was some tacit or explicit buy-in from the company. I mean, you know, they want to be careful. Of course they can't claim any responsibility now, but how can you really say that this level of a media hit wouldn't have been vetted by executives at the company?

It's hard to believe. And Mary's right. They do it better than anyone. They invented synergy. You know, she's a billion-dollar property. Consumer products grew 29 percent in 2007. When does that happen? You know, they're on to something huge here. And you know, this is getting them into very tricky territory.

NEARY: I was also struck, Mary - I don't know if you exactly meant to say this, but you were saying they're pushing these kids or products. And when you first said it, I thought you were equating "kids" with the word "products." And I don't know if you meant it that way or not, but that was what I heard.

Ms. MCNAMARA: Well, that's - I mean, that is - Hannah Montana is a product. Hannah Montana is a brand. And Hannah Montana sells everything from underwear to, you know, your own Hannah Montana radio. So, again, you're getting into this weird area. And I said in my article, you know, my daughter has a Hannah Montana doll.

Naked, it looks just like a Barbie doll, you know, with the 38-24-36 or whatever. It made me feel very weird to have it in the house. Because it's like, this is supposed to be, at the time, a 14-year-old girl. You know, and yet, she's being marketed with this body of a grownup woman that most grownup woman don't even have. You know what I'm saying?

So, it's like sort of - it's, you know - so, you have a person. The reason it's been so successful is because Miley Cyrus was able to identify so seamlessly with the Hannah Montana brand, because she was the girl who sort of came out of nowhere, who became a pop star, who was also very normal. If you read the article that goes along with Vanity Fair, it's like a perfect juxtaposition.

It's all about how normal she is, how nice she is, how down to earth she is. And I've interviewed her. She is. That's how she comes off. She's a lovely girl. And yet, then there are those pictures. And it's sort of like that's - like, it perfectly encapsulates the tension between the two worlds, which is, you can't really be a normal human being and also be a pop star. You can't.

NEARY: Let's take a call now from Karen, and Karen is calling from Portland, Oregon. Hi, Karen.

KAREN (Caller): Hi, Lynn. Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: Go ahead.

KAREN: I'm calling - I am an art teacher, and I work with high-school girls all day long. I have young children of my own, but I really think people are missing the point here. I think this is a great opportunity to talk to our girls, our 'tween-aged girls, about art. This is Annie Leibovitz. You know, she is a world-famous portrait photographer who has photographed the most-famous people and created some of the most-enduring images of our time.

And this is Vanity Fair. This isn't the Nicktoons Magazine. You're not going to buy Vanity Fair for your 10-year-old. This is a magazine for adults, and its photographs are Annie Leibovitz photographs and they have - they're a little more adult in terms of content. I mean, how old was Brooke Shields when she did, you know, intimate Calvin Klein ads?

NEARY: Right, and that's part of the point that I think we're trying to make, too, is that this is not the first time that we've seen this, you know, this kind of phenomenon.

KAREN: Well, I think that parents are missing this opportunity. Yes, I understand being disappointed that a 15-year-old - that you feel like, you know, is - has done something that you wish they hadn't done. But welcome to parenting. I mean, you know, that is the absolute essence of being 15.

And whether or not it's right or wrong for her to have done this, whether she was manipulated or whether she did it with a wink and a nudge. Saying, wow, we're going to sell a lot of magazines, or wow, this is going to help you move from a teen star to a young-adult star, whatever the motivation, it's still a great place for us to have a conversation. And as parents, we do have to decide what our kids are going to consume in terms of media.

And so if she's taking that - she's making that choice, and I don't think she's making that choice in a naive way, like, oops, I've accidentally stumbled into a Vanity Fair session with Annie Leibovitz, and I - oops, accidentally. I mean, I'm not trying to say she's a liar. She's a - that's not my point. My point is, you know, I mean this, is an incredible opportunity for any 15-year-old to have, to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz...

NEARY: Great. Thanks, Karen, I'm going to ask for our guests to respond to what you're saying, I think it's an interesting point, good starting place for a conversation. Thanks for giving us a call. Mary McNamara, I don't know how you feel about that, whether this is a place to talk about the great art of photography?

Ms. MCNAMARA: Well, obviously - no. I mean, as a parent, this is a wonderful place to talk about all sorts of things, including, you know, the appropriateness of marketing teenagers in any way, you know. And sort of like - and sexuality, and when it's appropriate to, you know, be showing your sexuality and when it's not appropriate, and, you know, who owns your sexuality.

I mean, Miley is 15. She's entitled to be a sexual person in her own way. It's just a question of whether it's appropriate to be marketed in a mass magazine. Now, what the caller said is absolutely true. Vanity Fair is a very identifiable property. You know what you're going to get with Vanity Fair. You know what you're going to get with Annie Leibovitz - which is probably going to be naked women, I mean, or naked men.

She tends to try to strip down her subjects for artistic reasons, to try to really capture them. So then you have to wonder, well, if I know that, then the Cyrus family must have known that, and so when you go in with your 15-year-old to, you know, to Vanity Fair, to Annie Leibovitz, this is a pose that we've seen.

You know, the over-the-shoulder-with-the-bed-sheet pose, we've seen that a million times with a million different starlets. And as I said in my article, the only difference is that this is a 15-year-old Disney star. You know, were it a 21-year-old star, a "Gossip Girl," we wouldn't be having this conversation.

NEARY: Mary...

Mr. HAYES: I would just quickly add...

NEARY: Go ahead...

Mr. HAYES: You know, she's not paid to offer us teachable moments, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAYES: She's there to perform, you know, certain things, and I just - I guess as a parent of a four-and-a-half-year-old, we just have to remember how young her audience is, you know...?

NEARY: I just have to tell you that my 12-year-old, who's actually not a big Hannah Montana fan anyway, but she looked at the photograph because it was in the paper this morning. And she said, well, why did they want to make Hannah Montana look ugly?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCNAMARA: You know, that's exactly right. And we were talking - I talked about it with my daughter and I'm like, she doesn't look like herself.

NEARY: Right.

Ms. MCNAMARA: That's the biggest problem, is they're trying to make her look like she's a grownup woman, which she is not. And so it's like - it's not even a good representation of 15-year-old sexuality. It's a 15-year-old being, you know, trying to look like she's 22.

NEARY: Mary McNamara is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. We're also talking with Dade Hayes. He's the New York bureau chief for Variety, and you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And we're going to take a call now. We're going to go to Erin in Tallahassee, Florida. Hi Erin.

ERIN (Caller): Hi. How are you?

NEARY: Good, go ahead.

ERIN: I just wanted to second what I heard on the radio a couple of minutes ago, which is I don't - having seen that picture everywhere now, there's nothing even vaguely pornographic about it. It looks more like something out of 18th-century portraiture. And this is a young girl turning into a woman, so I'm not quite sure - I understand, as a parent myself, people's caution, but it also - it just seems like such a - pardon me.

But it seems like such an unsophisticated response that we're having nationally to a very traditional portrait in certain ways. I don't even think the bed - you know, this intimate set and bed sheet doesn't even read that way very much. It reads more like a Manet painting or something. So I'm not quite sure what people are so sure that this is going to. I mean, it's nowhere near the category of Britney or Christina. It seems like apples and oranges to me.

NEARY: Mary McNamara?

Ms. MCNAMARA: Well, I mean, obviously, all art and all imagery is a matter of taste, and it's a matter of what your - you know, your reaction is. I mean, when I saw it for the first time, and I consider myself pretty sophisticated and I've seen a lot of, you know, a lot of starlets photographed. And I was pretty shocked, not, I wasn't shocked like, oh, my God, you know, there's a young woman with her clothes off.

I was shocked that Miley Cyrus had agreed to do that, because of - because she's 15, because she has a certain image, because she is - has been created, you know, to serve a fan base that is very young. And so I - you know, I was shocked. And I still am shocked. I mean, not - again, not that she is, you know, experimenting with, you know, how she looks in different poses, but that her people would allow her to do it in Vanity Fair magazine.

Mr. HAYES: I just think that there's a sameness to it and there's almost a cliched quality to it, which kind of bothered me as well, if you want to look at it just as an aesthetic piece. And I, you know, like Mary, you know, I feel like I'm reasonably steeped in, you know, these kinds of images.

And you know, I welcome, you know, the next Annie Leibovitz spread in Vanity Fair. And I'm - you know, I consider myself a fan. But my reaction was sort of why, you know, why does she have to kind of be fit into that same mold, you know, at this age, and given who her audience is?

NEARY: Yeah, her audience - again Erin, I don't know if you - were you aware, much aware of her before you saw this photograph?

ERIN: Well, it's pretty hard to avoid...

NEARY: Right.

ERIN: But yeah, I was in the middle of Nowhere, Florida, the other day and there were Hannah Montana truck-stop cups or something.

NEARY: Yeah.

ERIN: It hit me as bizarre.

NEARY: Yeah. All right, well thanks for your call.

AARON: Thank you.

NEARY: I mean, I think, just to close this out, Dade, it sort of gets back to this, and just quickly to wrap it up, this idea of creating these teen idols for this very young audience, and then, you know the sexualization that inevitably seems to come.

Mr. HAYES: Yeah, I mean, you're playing with fire. I mean, we saw that with Jamie Lynn Spears, you know? That was a really difficult moment for Nickelodeon. And you know, really, I think it was an interesting point, Mary, who's saying that, you know, that they're not just working with cartoons now. You know, Disney's been at this for decades. They've certainly marketed a lot of stars. But there are real emotions and a real person at the center of this giant machine.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for being with us, Dade.

Mr. HAYES: Thank you very much.

NEARY: Dade Hayes is the New York bureau chief of Variety. He joined us from NPR's New York bureau. We were also joined by Mary McNamara. Thanks for being with us, Mary.

Ms. MCNAMARA: Sure, my pleasure.

NEARY: Mary is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and she joined us from her home in Los Angeles. Coming up, a teen story of an entirely different kind, a new documentary about senior year of high school in Baghdad. That's next. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News. ..COST: $00.00

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