An iconic child (now teen) star performs a pole dance at an awards show aimed at teens. Most of the media shrug. Welcome to Hollywood 2009.
At the Teen Choice Awards, which took place Aug. 9 and aired Aug. 10 on Fox, Miley Cyrus, the 16-year-old Disney-created star of the wildly popular "Hannah Montana," franchise performed "Party in the U.S.A." Clad in short-shorts, high-heeled boots and a tank top that revealed a black bra, Cyrus danced around a pole affixed to the top of an ice cream cart.
Admittedly, the pole moves were a small portion of her performance, but it raised the question of whether a pole belongs in any dance choreographed for a 16-year-old performing for others her age.
Cyrus' stunt, clearly designed to push decency boundaries without actually crossing them, looked more appropriate for MTV's Video Music Awards than for a show that sought the input of kids as young as 13.
Even Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, not exactly prudes, thought Cyrus crossed the line. EW's Tim Stack wrote, Cyrus' "stripper-esque choreography, coupled with [her] questionable red-carpet attire, came off completely inappropriate and ill-advised." The Los Angeles Times' entertainment blog read, "Miley goes to far (and too low)" and advised the young singer to "focus less on her props and more on her material." Even MTV's "Hollywood Crush" blog questioned the appropriateness of Cyrus' performance.
Besides EW, the Times and "Hollywood Crush," few media outlets seemed to notice Cyrus' act - strange, since she's perhaps the most famous teenager in America, and is idolized by millions of young girls.
That idolization makes the Cyrus stunt all the more troubling. Carol Platt Liebau explored the effect of sexualized music videos on girls in her book "Prude." She argued, "When admired pop or rap stars model over-the-top sexual availability and sexual aggression ... that behavior normalizes and romanticizes the vulgarity and makes it acceptable. The repetition of the message ingrains unwholesome concepts and builds on them."
For producers though, it's okay to showcase a 16-year-old pole dancing. It's mention of nude photos that crosses the line.
Another crop of nude photos of "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens surfaced on the Internet recently and provided fodder for crude comedian Dane Cook during the show. Cook, 37, called out Hudgens during his presentation of the "Choice Hottie" awards and told her, "Girl, you gots to keep your clothes on! Phones are for phone calls, girl." This line was cut from the taped broadcast, but video of it can be found on the Internet.
Nobody suggests the producers should have kept Cook's "joke" in the broadcast, especially as the show is marketed to teens. But neither should Hudgens be shielded from the consequences of her actions.
Cook's joke, and the subsequent editing it invoked, revealed an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, viewers saw a 16-year-old girl dancing with a pole in skimpy clothing. On the other, a joke made about an adult woman keeping her clothes on was cut from the broadcast.
So what's the message here? Is it that pole-dancing 16-year-olds are acceptable, but calling out adults for indecent behavior is not?
Unfortunately, the Cyrus performance and Cook's comments didn't do justice to the substance of the Teen Choice Awards, which culture warriors might find comforting.
The program allowed 13 - 19 year-olds to celebrate their favorite stars, movies, music and television shows. Despite the appearance of R-rated movies, such as the alcohol-infused Vegas caper "The Hangover," the pot-laden "Pineapple Express" and the raunchy "I Love You, Man" on the nomination list, it was the teen-friendly "Twilight" series that dominated the night with 11 wins. Vulgar comedians Kathy Griffin (who inexplicably turned up with Levi Johnston, the father of Sarah Palin's grandson) and Chelsea Handler lost to the more family-friendly George Lopez.
Disney, the company of (non-pole-dancing) Hannah Montana, "High School Musical" and the Jonas Brothers, claimed 20 awards by the end of the night for its various entertainment offerings.
Teens that voted in the Teen Choice Awards indicated that they know what is appropriate for kids their age. Now if only the adults who run the program would take the hint.