Just a quick question: Among those who agree that the Miley Cyrus bareback-in-a-sheet photos are inappropriate, where is the passionate critique of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz?
The magazine, Vanity Fair, seems to be getting a pass because people expect media magazines such as VF to display shocking images. Do I think this is right? No, and Vanity Fair deserves to be criticized, as well. However, I think they would be pleased with this, as it would inevitably generate an increase in readers.
But where is the widespread criticism of Annie Leibovitz? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published (yet another) article on the issue today (“Another Kid Star Throws a Curve” 5/4/2008), and I searched for criticism for Leibovitz in the article but found none.
Now, there was criticism for young Miley’s decision: “Dr. Shannon Fox, a psychologist who studies the sexualization of young girls in media, was unequivocally critical of Cyrus’ decision to pose in such a manner.”
And Dr. Fox is right to be critical of such a decision. That’s one way children and teens learn right decision making — having their decisions evaluated by adults. Another way they learn is by experiencing the fruits of those decisions. Miss Cyrus may now be asking herself, as the Apostle Paul prompts the rest of us to ask ourselves: “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Romans 6:21)
Proverbs (22:15a) tells us that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” but that’s one reason it is called childhood. That’s one reason (among many) why children don’t (and shouldn’t) vote or have legal authority for themselves in all situations. That’s why they need responsible adults in their lives.
I have heard some criticism of Miley’s parents, grandmother, and teacher, which is appropriate. Most accounts say Mom and Dad were not there, and that’s their “out.” As for grandmother and teacher — well, perhaps they felt an awkward discomfort during the shoot but went along with the “spirit of the moment.” I don’t know, but I would like to assume the best (and I would definitely want others to give me the same benefit of a doubt).
But where is the outrage concerning Ms. Leibovitz’s choice for doing the shot in the first place? People.com has reported that the renown photographer thinks the image is “simple” and “beautiful,” but does this absolve her of her ethical lapse? Are “simple” and “beautiful” sufficient justifiers for any photograph or image we wish to publish? I shudder when thinking of the sheer size of the flood gates that would be opened if that were so — and all the more when I think of what would come through those gates.
Not that Ms. Leibovitz has not apologized. She has. Sort of. In the same People article, the photographer is quoted as saying: “I’m sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted.”
But of course, that’s not really an apology. It’s an insult. “I regret that people are so unenlightened and are so distracted by their hangups.” This may not be Ms. Leibovitz’s thinking — again, I would like to give the benefit of a doubt — but it’s how it comes across.
Let me suggest a different apology for the celebrated picture taker: “Miley Cyrus is a beautiful girl on her way to becoming a beautiful young woman. In my efforts to showcase that beauty in an artistic manner, I crossed a line without thinking. Our society has succeeded in paradoxically trivializing sexuality while simultaneously glorifying it, and consequently borders that were once obvious are now effortlessly crossed as our moral and ethical confusion deepens. I apologize for contributing to this confusion, and for taking an inappropriate picture of Miss Cyrus. There are more important measures of what is right and wrong than what a photographer or her subject thinks is beautiful or artistic.”
(I’m not going to hold my breath until I hear such an apology, but I suppose you never know!)
Miley Cyrus made an unwise decision. Fifteen-year-olds make unwise decisions every day, though most of them are not as public as Miss Cyrus, nor are they surrounded by as many adults and professionals who should have known better and yet who participated in the decision. The adults in a teen’s life, and even in the teen’s larger environment, should be reliable sources for providing that teen with the wisdom that he or she naturally lacks. To be sure, nobody’s perfect (Romans 3:23), and there are numerous times that I fail in that duty towards my own children — more often than I am comfortable with. In this particular case concerning Miss Cyrus, it certainly does seem like the adults failed in their responsibilities. Without a doubt, Ms. Annie Leibovitz is among those adults.
Kids often wish to seem older or more mature than they are, and how much more tempting must this be for someone in the world Miley Cyrus lives in. But how sad it is that the means of wish fulfillment our society most readily and easily provides for them is sexualization. It’s part of what makes the KGOY marketing (Kids Getting Older Younger) principle so powerful and profitable. And it’s just one more reason I rejoice over Bible passages such as Zechariah 8:5, knowing that God promises a coming age when kids will finally be allowed to be kids.