Why I hate Hannah Montana
Hannah Montana. The very name is enough to chill the heart of any parent desperate to dodge the scourge of our age – the commercial exploitation of young children.
Weak fool that I am, though, I gave in recently to my 10-year-old daughter’s pleas to watch the show.
“You get the best of both worlds,” crooned Miss Miley Cyrus as we tuned in to the Disney Channel. If only, I growled to myself.
Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a supposedly average teenager who leads a double life as pop star Hannah.
Despite my curmudgeonly determination to despise the 16-year-old phenomenon, I couldn’t. Worse, I actually liked her. Cyrus is an accomplished actor and singer, as is her father, Billy Ray (Achy Breaky Heart) Cyrus, who plays the fictional Miley’s dad Robby Ray with obvious relish.
The young supporting actors are equally talented, the scripts are loaded with self-effacing wit, the plots are original and rely on characterisation as much as situation. I was captivated, and I’m far from alone.
Last year the show’s global audience was estimated at 200 million. For us, it was a short step to Disney’s other sitcoms, all similarly entertaining.
So much talent, so many laughs … so what’s to hate about Hannah or her friends?
It wasn’t long before I ceased to be dazzled and spotted the adult-inspired theme of virtually every episode of every show: dating.
The subliminal message is that normal kids, even little ones, have a boyfriend/girlfriend, or at least they want one.
Suddenly, pre-teen girls – the Disney Channel’s core audience – are being pushed into sexual awareness. It isn’t cute and it isn’t funny: it’s a deeply worrying trend that has emerged only over the past decade.
The self-deprecating nature of the scripting only makes the overall effect more insidious. See, these impossibly gorgeous creatures seem to tell us, we are real people just like you!
But they’re not, and to encourage our daughters to copy them is to let them walk unguided through a minefield. Among the injuries they risk are poor self-esteem and a distorted body image that can lead to eating disorders.
Even worse, these star-struck small girls are being actively seduced by merchandisers – not just from Disney – into believing they must be “hot” to be happy.
Check out the pre-teen girls’ departments in stores and online: bras from age six; toddlers’ crop tops and micro-shorts; manicure and make-up sets, heels, jewellery and bikinis.
As if girls don’t grow up too fast anyway, we have virtually sleepwalked into allowing into our homes a culture that threatens our children’s psychological well-being.
And there are males out there who need little encouragement to take advantage of a pre-pubescent girl’s belief that relationships are desirable at her age. These are not optimistic, fumbling little boys, but older boys and men who know exactly what they are doing.
The Disney shows portray nothing inappropriate on screen: all you see is the occasional chaste kiss or hug. But we know where that can lead in reality.
Amanda Gordon, past president of the Australian Psychological Society, says: “If the message is that you should be sexy and grown up, then kids aren’t practising and learning how to be whole human beings … They are imitating adult behaviour without understanding it and that’s very dangerous for their development.”
Not so long ago, the worst Disney did was to sell little girls a dream of fairytale weddings to handsome princes, with matching plastic crown.
It is by no means solely to blame for the fact that those little girls are now tripping over their heels in an effort to be sexy, but it was quick to jump on the lucrative “tween” bandwagon and the enormous influence it wields via characters like Hannah means it must shoulder a large portion of the responsibility for any adverse results.
Now, I am sure Disney and other merchandisers are merely motivated by profit.
An Australian Senate committee on the sexualisation of young children reported last year: “The committee received no evidence to suggest that the production and marketing of products aimed specifically at children and young people was driven by anything other than commercial imperatives.”
But the Disney marketing juggernaut has enjoyed unparalleled success for decades, so why does it need to risk collateral psychological damage to its latest targets along the way?
A Disney spokesperson said: “Disney Channel maintains the highest standards to ensure that its programming is appropriate for children and families. All of the programs airing on Disney Channel first go through a rigorous review by the Standards and Practices department at every stage of development and production. Our policy ensures that all material is appropriate for a young audience.”
But how young?
Until it adapts its shows to the little girls who watch them, my family is tuning in to Animal Planet.
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