Cyrus a teen star for different era

The Baltimore Sun

I don't recall any photos of Marcia Brady wrapped in a bedsheet from my boyhood.

But times change. Miley Cyrus, who won fame as the character Hannah Montana, is a child star in a fishbowl-media world. She isn't the first young pop star of the Internet age, but she's among the biggest at a time when blogs, photo-sharing and other new media have grown by leaps and bounds.

It was ironic that the photo that touched off a cultural wildlfire for Cyrus last week was not an ill-gotten paparazzi shot posted on some dodgy Web site, but a portrait by the renowned Annie Leibovitz for the sophisticated culture periodical Vanity Fair -- a project the Cyrus family seemed happy to participate in.

Once the photo was made public last week, of course, the wild world Web very much came into play, allowing the image to multiply like mushrooms and fanning the debate over whether it was artistic or exploitative.

Imagine a variation of a Web site domain with her name in it, and rest assured it's already taken. Scores of Miley Cyrus fan sites chronicle her every move. There are hundreds of YouTube videos, including her on the Jay Leno show last winter drinking ketchup -- apparently her favorite food. Even before last week, other photos online caused a stir, including shots of her in her underwear and draped over a boy, but nothing sent talking heads chattering like the Vanity Fair shots.

A sampling from the many headlines on just one of the sites,, portray the odd spheres of adolescence, music superstardom and youth role model that define Cyrus and that collided in the offending, suggestive photo by Leibovitz:

Dec 13, 2007: Miley has a boyfriend!

Jan. 10: Miley defends risqu? photos [different ones]

Jan. 24: Miley uses a body double to speed up transformation on stage

Jan. 31: Miley brings joy to sick children

Feb. 29: Miley and her dad apologize for unbuckled seatbelts

March 14: Miley sports diabetes dog tag to support sufferer friend Nick

March 27: Miley wants to change name officially

April 11: Miley had her teeth fixed?

April 22: Miley to put her short life in a book [gets seven figure advance]

The wholesome image Cyrus has cultivated, in real life and as rocker alter-ego that brought stardom on the Disney Channel, makes her youthful prance through a media minefield all the more treacherous.

And judging from the perhaps even creepier photos that Leibovitz took of her with Billy Ray Cyrus -- photos that didn't seem father-daughter-like at all -- maybe parental vigilance wasn't what it needed to be to forestall something like this.

While a photo or two were in questionable taste for a 15-year-old, they were hardly scandalous. In a season when the straight-and-narrow governor of New York became a joke as a call-girl ring's "Client 9," and a baseball star who contends his good name is being defamed by steroid accusations turns out to have had a lengthy affair with a country-music singer, Miley Cyrus doesn't come close to qualifying for the hypocrisy hit list.

On, comments about the Miley Cyrus photo eclipsed those about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. controversy that was affecting the presidential race. Elsewhere on that blog, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, herself raised in the public eye as the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, wrote about the difficulty for modern child stars.

"Today's generation of performers have had to navigate the treacherous shoals of adolescence in full frontal viewberty of the peering voyeurism of the media and its voyeuristic participants," the actress wrote. "We have watched them as they stumble out of the safety of childhood, not that being a professional actor as a child is safe, but that is another blog, into the glare of celebrity, rehab, prison, teen pregnancy and now this, a backless shot of a young girl.

"It was called 'artistic'. If we keep a young person's natural sexuality in check during their performing years what happens to it? It has to come out. Daniel Radcliffe is starring in Equus, which includes nudity, and parodied his natural urges (hilariously) on Ricky Gervais' Extras. He has had to carry the weight and morals of Harry Potter and Warner Brothers and can now, as Harry has grown up and the series is nearing its end, tread lightly into adult fare and explore his art. ...

"I know how Miley feels. I too was a little embarrassed by my recent topless 'scandal' and the subsequent parodies, but I am an adult woman," Curtis wrote, alluding to a shot of her appearing to be nude on the cover of, of all things, AARP magazine. "I protected myself during the shoot and I can take the heat. I only wish that her guardians had protected her."

The Vanity Fair shots mostly caused a stir because of Cyrus' age and what she represents -- to her fans, but even more so to the parents of her fans.

By mid-week, emotions were already cooling and attentions waning, at least measured by blog trackers. By Wednesday afternoon, "Miley Cyrus photos" was running well below the search phrase "Today is free cone day at Ben and Jerry," according to Nielsen's blogpulse.

Days before the Vanity Fair flareup, one of the many unofficial Miley Web sites showed the cover of Twist, a tween magazine. The cover story was "Breakup Feuds" with photos of Miley Cyrus and Nick Jonas, her former boyfriend from the band that had toured with her.

"Team Miley vs. Team Nick: Whose side are you on?" the cover headline demanded to know.

Now those are the teen star controversies they had back in the day.

Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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