Friday, April 25, 2008

Boedeker: Media Analysis

Hannah Montana: The Best of Both Worlds!

More-so than ever, Disney influences young females at their most impressionable ages. The “tween” age group, six-fourteen, is highly sought after by marketers. More importantly, Disney marketers seek to create a “mom approved” product that six-fourteen year-old girls demand. That product comes in the form of Hannah Montana aka Miley Cyrus: a pop star sensation who is really just an easy-going, identifiable, average girl. Recently, however, the “mom-approved” brand image of Hannah Montana plummeted after racy photos of Miley Cyrus surfaced on the web. So, ironically, is Miley Cyrus becoming another Lindsay Lohan? Is she paradoxically aligned with her public image? Perhaps, however, this paper will focus the effect that Disney has on girls when they are most impressionable, how Disney creates and manipulates a perception of beauty to these girls, how the show “Hannah Montana” profits off this new brand of beauty perception, and how Hannah Montana aka Miley Cyrus transmits positive feminist messages to young girls-even if she is making billions off of them.

The “tween” demographic is the age when females are most impressionable. As a result, these young girls are naïve. The six to fourteen years are when females construct their sense of self as well as the world around them: “Tweens and teens are undergoing an identity formation process -- they are still developing who they are, what they believe, and what they will become (” According to The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, “We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement”(Wolf 120). With that being said the female image is important to feminist because it is one thing that women have control of to develop their own self-image. Knowing how impressionable this demographic is we must understand, from a feminist lens, how Hannah Montana, a girl whose concert movie, “debuted as the No. 1 film in the country (,” impacts the mindsets of these impressionable six-fourteen year-old girls.

Economically speaking, the impact is astronomical: “‘Hannah Montana 2’ album that debuted at the apex of the Billboard chart last summer still maintains a vise-like grip on the top 10, a few slots down from the new ‘Hannah Montana 2 Non-Stop Dance Party’ (Williams).” And that’s just cd sales. In Naomi Wolf’s, The Beauty Myth she states, “Beauty: is a currency system like a gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics….”(Wolf 121). Yes it is true that beauty is highly impacted by the media and its’ consumers, however; Hannah Montana is positively empowering young women to self-identify even though she is economically benefiting. In Becoming the Third Wave, Rebecca Walker says, “To be a feminist is to integrate an ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of my life” (Walker 601). Miley Cyrus I think promotes this female empowerment in her show by encouraging individuality in young women. This is third wave text because even though she may not intentionally be a feminist she is still empowering herself and others. Hannah Montana is not merely a television personality or a musician. Hannah Montana, according to the director of Disney Consumer Products, is a new breed of marketed material: “It's not just about creating a show. We develop movies behind them. Records. We put them in our theme parks for major appearances. And we can also create consumer-product lifestyle brands around them (Advertising Age).” Knowing this, it is apparent that Hannah Montana is big business in the fashion industry. Her ability to produce direct sales is staggering, “helping fuel a $23 billion consumer-products business-$2.2 billion of it made up of health and beauty items (Advertising Age).” These figures show that entertainment, not fashion magazines, are today’s source of ideal beauty and trends: “Sheila Ullery, director of Disney Consumer Products and a former L'Oréal executive, said she used to look at fashion magazines or cosmetics from other countries to tap trends. But she now believes the entertainment industry is by far the biggest trendsetter (Advertising Age).”

So, from a feminist lens, it is reasonable to conclude that a huge amount of young girls watch Miley Cyrus, listen to Hannah Montana, dress like Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus, and want to be a mixture of Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. The dualism of Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus allows “tweens” to dress and act in a fantastical world while preserving their realistic sense of self. On one hand, they try to attain glamour when they’re outside the house while, on the other, they maintain their at-home personality:

“girls long to escape the confines of their ordinary, sometimes difficult lives, and dream of a hidden identity -- something far beyond the imaginations and limitations of their very normal lives. Almost every girl wants just that -- the best of both worlds -- people to love them for who they are and people to love them for their celebrity. But in the end, girls just want to be valued and loved -- no matter which world they live in (”

So, is this duality bad from a feminist perspective? No. Hannah Montana represents a strong, powerful young woman that doesn’t have to dress and act like a nympho to achieve the cliché Britney, Christina Aguilera pop-icon status: “Just when you thought each new pop tart would be sexier and more brazen than the last, Hannah breaks the downward spiral. She, like Miss Cyrus, dresses conservatively, wears only a little makeup and smiles more often than she pouts (The Economist).” She can be a star while being herself. It’s not a catch-22. In fact, there’s no catch. The message: be a star, be yourself without being sexually exploited and without forgetting who you really are. It’s inspiring to see that the pop star doesn’t have to be the typical cheerleader rooting on the team and having sex with them after the game. I think that many third wave feminists would also agree; one point in Baumgardner and Richards agenda of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future would also relate to Hannah Montana’s ideology. “10. To liberate adolescents from slut-bashing, listless educators….and the silence that hangs over adolescents’ heads, often keeping them isolated, lonely and indifferent to the world”(Baumgardner & Richards 628). In one show, Miley Cyrus actually fails to make the cheerleading squad (imdb). I hope that in the future there will be more influential people that help accomplish more of the manifesta agenda’s points.

Hannah Montana aka Miley Cyrus is freed from the societal demands of her pop-star character by holding onto who she really is on the inside. In a song titled, Nobody’s Perfect, she tells girls that perfection is impossible, and that everyone, especially her, makes mistakes: “Nobody's Perfect! You live and you learn it! And if I mess it up sometimes...Nobody's Perfect (imdb).” Perhaps even more important is Hannah’s focus on self-actualization and female sense of power in dealing with the struggles of everyday life in I’ve Got Nerve: “I know where I stand. I know who I am. I would never run away when life gets bad, it's Everything I see. Every part of me. Gonna get what I deserve. I got nerve (imdb).”

Given her power as a positive role model for young girls, Hannah Montana embodies female stereotypes. In one episode, Hannah reinforces the stereotype that girls are materialistic, especially when it comes to shoes:
Miley: I just have to have the shoes!!

Oliver: Why?

Miley: I’m a girl, they’re shoes, do the math. (imdb)

From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense to re-iterate these cliché stereotypes, but it is a negative stereotype from a feminist perspective because shoes to not make up a women’s identity. Furthermore, Miley speaks out against superficial judgments even though she knows that she embodies the ideal surface:

Miley: Looks don’t matter.

Lilly: Easy for you to say. You’re the poster child for perfect skin.

Miley: This isn’t about me. Or my perfect skin. (imdb).

In this case, Miley acknowledges that she is perfect while it’s alright to be imperfect.

So what? Every tween and their mom in middle America loves Hannah Montana. As such, it makes sense Wal-Mart is installing “Hannah Montana shops in 750 stores (” She makes money. She produces self-esteem. She shows little girls that it’s ok to be themselves no matter who they are. This isn’t so much of an identity crisis as it is a pragmatic way of dealing with the imaginations of young girls. It makes sense to big business, it makes sense to moms, it makes sense to young girls, and it makes sense to me-from a feminist lens. It’s called having your cake and eating it too or as Hannah Montana says in her theme song: “the best of both worlds! (imdb).”

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