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A Dad Ponders the Hannah Montana Cult (and the music)

I’m a dad of a girl. And I have been to Libby Lu.

Have you ever been to Libby Lu? It is a pink den of cultic paraphernalia for Hannah Montana worshipers. I’ve been there a couple times with my daughter. And since I discourage her from anything with Hannah Montana on it, there is very little for her to hope for from that girly little place.

I don’t mind that my daughter likes that store. I actually flatter myself for my admirable patience and tender fatherly love for being able to stay calm in that pink torture chamber while she browses through worthless trinkets and admires gaudy and cheap jewelry. She’s a girl. And I like my daughter being a girl.

I also do not mind that my daughter has an interest in and knowledge of some of the more benign trends of our American culture. Yet, having said that, I am quite firm about not letting my daughter get caught up in trends. While some parents — particularly home-schooling parents — choose to isolate their children completely from the culture around them, I have chosen to carefully monitor what I call an “interactive integration and independence” for my daughter with the culture in which she lives.

My daughter has lots of friends both in the neighborhood and at church. She has cousins and friends at other places, and it seems that the whole world has gone after Hannah Montana; and my daughter’s daddy objects. While I am quite conscious of the fact that I am risking offending some of my daughter’s friends’ parents, I want to say as strongly as I can that I in no way am judging anyone else on this matter and there is no need to hide your Hannah Montana ear-rings and bike seats if my daughter comes to your house. My daughter has no idea that our efforts to bolster her against what TIME referred to as “Hurricane Hannah” are anything more than the fact that we prefer other things over pop-culture. Some people like McDonalds; others like Burger King. That’s as deep as it gets for her.

With that caveat stated, allow me to pontificate a bit on the subject of the fourteen-year-old sensation.

As already stated, I don’t want my daughter to be isolated, but I want her instead to be interactively integrated with and independent from the culture in which she is growing up. I particularly want her to resist marketing strategies that are geared to be successful with a part of humanity that is normally not very thoughtful, young girls. In short, I want my daughter to think independently about phenomena like Hannah Montana. So what if sixty gazillion girls from pre-schoolers to tweens love Hannah Montana, I choose to be only partially interested because of the cultural indicator such a temporary fad proves to be of the mental and psychological condition of all my friends and peers that are part of the cultic frenzy.

A lot to ask of a seven-year-old, I know.

But then again, it isn’t. Children tend to pick up on their parents sensibilities when parents parent sensibly. God actually wired them that way. So when a parent says to his daughter, “Why do you like Hannah Montana so much?” and she can hardly articulate a single reason that justifies the expense of anything more than 22 cents, it makes sense for that parent to say, “Why don’t you like something else?”

Just because Hannah Montana is marketed to you child doesn’t mean you have to shrug your shoulders and let her be swept along in a wave of prepubescent euphoria. Hannah Montana is Disney’s latest display of marketing genius. That is all she is. There is no substance.

What was said of Fabian, the teen sensation of the fifties, could be said of Hannah Montana: “a critic called him ‘the star who was made, not born,’ a ‘musical Frankenstein’ created by showbiz hustlers to pander to the tastes of teenage girls” (Rosemary Clooney quoted by Diana West in The Death of Grown-up). Hannah Montana was made to pander to every kind of girl from pre-schoolers to tweenies. And her squeaky clean image panders to the childishness of their parents who feel as if they are doing something virtuous and moral for their children because they allow them to ride a tidal wave of cultic adulation of someone that is not blatantly immoral. How refreshing. This is the new morality.

But as Clooney bitterly said of Fabian, Hannah Montana is a “lightweight piece of photogenic flotsam.” And to scream and pant after flotsam, paying hundreds of dollars for your daughters to stay current with an infantile mob of mindless little girls borders on the immoral in my book. Especially when the money Christians spend is God’s.

Granted, “my book” is not the same as everyone else’s (Perhaps the blessing – or curse – of having been raised by parents who had the nerve to train me when I was a little child that I didn’t have to like or dislike anything just because it was the rage of the day among all my friends. Who cares if all your friends think spinach is gross? Taste it and decide for yourself.). Thus, Christianity Today celebrates the fact that everything Destiny Hope Cyrus does is “for Jesus.”
The Hannah Montana star gushes in a recent interview, “Jesus rocks! That’s why we do what we do. She (Mandy) dances for Jesus. I sing, dance and act for Jesus! … Now that I think about it, I do everything for Jesus. We make the YouTube videos for Jesus. We’re all about it.” (CT)

I suppose that I should desist. She’s all about Jesus. How can anyone criticize that? But, alas! I carry on . . .

So while Destiny Hope Cyrus does “everything for Jesus,” her marketers and “showbiz hustlers” do everything for Mammon. Apparently, despite what Jesus said, if the right arrangements are made, one can really serve two masters. The “showbiz hustlers” smile all the way to the bank as Christianity Today decimates the very last vestiges of common sense restraint that thousands of Christian parents might have retained about rushing to the store to buy the latest Hannah Montana gear.

I don’t want my daughter hustled. And hustling is not too harsh a word. The culture says she has to be a fan of Hannah Montana purely and simply on the basis that Hannah Montana is the character that has been foisted on our girls. That’s a senseless sell that most people wouldn’t buy. Mature people don’t like things just because that thing has the quality of having many fans. Already at the age of seven my daughter is going to have to make choices that show her independence from the herd mentality. Even at church.

To like or not to like independently is one reason to not let one’s daughter be swept along by the Hannah Hurricane. It is, in fact, so good a reason that it is almost good enough to stand alone as the only reason. Peer pressure can be intense and sometimes actually make sense to a reasonable person, particularly when the sin nature of that reasonable person is collaborating with the external pressure of peers to glamorize the benefits of a particular choice. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. The enticement is due to rationale (though sinful), not merely that there is a group of sinners doing the enticing.

On the other hand, when peer pressure coerces an unreasonable fad, morally benign as it may appear, on affections of child’s soul purely and simply because it happens to be the flavor du jour it fails to dignify itself even as rational. And what can be more irrational than a mindless adulation of a fictional actor (Hannah Montana) played by the fictional character (Miley Stewart) played by an actor (Destiny Hope Cyrus) that no one really cares to know because they prefer to love the fictional actor her fictional character plays? How many degrees from reality do we need to go?

Hannah Montana’s Miley Stewart Destiny Hope Cyrus’ dad, says it’s “art imitating life imitating art” (TIME). It’s almost mind-bending if you try to think about it too long.

“What my fans get, which parents have a harder time grasping, is they know who’s underneath Hannah Montana,” opines the fourteen-year-old sociological savant. “They like the girl who’s underneath.” (TIME)

In your dreams. Tween girls are too superficial to even be cognizant of the fact that there is such a place as underneath. Or, maybe we should clarify which level of “underneath” Cyrus means? Does she refer to the Miley Stewart or is she so hopelessly caught up in the euphoria of the Hannah Hurricane herself that she actually thinks that the millions of tween girls of America actually know Destiny Hope Cyrus?

And, by the way, Cyrus is in the process of legally changing her name to Miley Ray Cyrus. Is that because it was the nickname her daddy used for her or is it because she, the real person, is now attempting to tap into the idolized Miley, the fictionalized real person of Hannah Montana? I guess we’ll never know. But since she’s fourteen, I think it is naïve to assume that the line between “art” and “life” hasn’t gotten blurred somewhere. Destiny has now taken on the name of the fictional real person named Miley. Wouldn’t that now be life imitating art imitating life imitating art?

What’s wrong with reality?

I personally think that if we want to rear our children to become world-changing adults we need to teach them early to shun marketed fads that are projected on their age group exclusively, thus isolating them from their parents, more mature affections, and reality thereby giving them a sense of belonging that ultimately weakens their will to be different in the real world.

To allow our children to follow after the herd just because they’ve been branded as a particular niche in the market teaches them subconsciously that the market knows what’s best for them. It produces lemmings who are being trained to think that the only things in life that are pleasant to anyone their age are those things that were designed exclusively for their age and the only ones who know what those things are happen to be the invisible marketing gods. And this is the main problem with the Hannah Montana music.

My main objection the Hannah Montana music is not that it has a pop-rock beat. My main objection is simply that it is pop-rock. Wikipedia is sometimes right, and this time they are right: “Artistic concepts such as musical form and aesthetics are not a concern in the writing of pop songs, the primary objectives being audience enjoyment and commercial success.” In other words to relate this to our topic, Hannah Montana’s music was written for girls between six and twelve years old. Period. Music that is written to be popular with a slice of humanity that is not otherwise known to have discerning or critical tastes is not music that I want my daughter listening to in some of the most formative years of her life. “In opposition to music that requires education or formation to appreciate,” says Wikipedia, “a defining characteristic of pop music is that anyone is able to enjoy it.”

Again, Clooney is quotable: “When I was a kid, we listened to grown-up music and bought grown-up records, the only records there were. But unlike my generation or those before me, these kids [the Fabian fans] had their own money to spend. That meant that they had their own market, for the first time in popular music.”

That was then. Today children who still do not have their own money nonetheless claim their own market! And parents gullibly and stupidly pony up.

We splurged and went wild for my daughter’s seventh birthday and bought her a CD player/alarm clock with a sleep mode on it. Every night she goes to bed listening to adult music, classical or sacred; the kind of music that “requires formation.” If I let my daughter go the way of the herd, she would be wearing a Hannah Montana watch without a moment’s hesitation. She’s only seven. But since I happen to think that adult ideals and affections, particularly parental ideals and affections, are the ideals and affections she should aspire to I simply don’t pay for the heroization of a fourteen-year-old fictional actress. For that matter, I wouldn’t pay if the actress were not fictional.

If my daughter likes little girl things because she is a little girl that likes those things, that is one thing. But if she likes something because “showbiz hustlers” and her peers like it then she has begun the dangerous descent into the abnegation of self as a unique person created in the image of God and the quiet mutation into a bland copy of a fickle mob. That’s why sometimes littler girls need to learn to love what daddys love instead.

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9 Responses

  1. This is a great article! I plan on recommending parents in my church to read it. Thank you!

  2. “Mature people don’t like things just because that thing has the quality of having many fans. Already at the age of seven my daughter is going to have to make choices that show her independence from the herd mentality. Even at church.”

    This was my favorite quote of all. This may be the most important thing you said in here. Thanks!

  3. You probably want to check your computer. It’s not working. It keeps on deleting my posts.

    Thank You

  4. Fabio, that star that manufactured star of the 50’s, really had a downturn after that horribly tragic roller coaster incident. It would breaky my heart if the same thing happened to Miss Montana, even if her music is contemporary. I don’t wish that upon anyone.

  5. Bob,

    Excellent thoughts. And as a parent of a mild HM fan (not fanatic), I was not offended.

    Pat

  6. Bob,
    Thanks! Working in an elementary school, I am bombarded with HM everyday, but I really have no personal idea of who she is. I didn’t realize that it was “art imitating life, imitating art.” (I’m actually confused.) The principle is excellent and can be applied to many other areas besides HM.
    Thank you.

  7. Sometimes living overseas has tremendous advantages. The thoughts and reasoning in your article are perfectly appropriate for the Southern Hemisphere, but, so far at least, we have been spared of this particular virus.

  8. With guidance like this, I think your daughter is going to grow up into a wonderful and remarkable young lady. Would that more daddies were so actively involved in their daughter’s lives!

  9. As the mother of a 10 yr old Hannah follower (much to my dismay) I love your description of Libby Liu as a “pink torture chamber”! I thought it was just me, that I’m getting too old for this stuff. You hit the nail on the head when you said that she was made, not born. My daughter, also, when asked why she likes HM so much cannot give a good reason. It’s all marketing. We have not paid one penny for any of the outrageously priced merchandise, however, she has aunts and uncles who have caved in. I just pray this young “starlet” does not end up like the rest of the girls in the spotlight.

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