Right here at the top, before we plunge headlong down the Miley Cyrus rabbit hole, what I want to know is how come none of the real-life Disney princesses want to be the next Annette? What I mean by that is not just what’s wrong with being a generational icon, but what’s wrong with being a generational icon who embraces qualities America once revered as virtues?
On the theory your memory may require jostling, here are just a few Annette personified: Modesty, self-restraint, dignity, taste, responsibility, loyalty, smarts, sobriety, courtesy. And it’s not just that Annette Funicello, the Greatest Disney Princess Ever, was all of that and more; she made wholesomeness sexy.
When she died in April at 70 after a 25-year battle with multiple sclerosis, America wept. Someone transcendent had died; the curtain came down on an era. Even Britney Spears mourned, with no reported sense of irony.
Anymore, it’s as though performers who initially attract our attention as the next sweet young things discovered, developed and made famous under the Disney umbrella are just counting the minutes until they can shed their cloaks of innocence. Literally. At least a half-dozen former Disney starlets have decided the best route to “grown-up” roles is by leaking partly nude photos of themselves via social media.
Then again, if gratuitous, extra-curricular nakedness is a surefire path from ingenue to leading lady, how come nobody told Natalie Portman? Or Anne Hathaway? Or Anna Paquin? Or Clare Danes or Mila Kunis or Hayden Panettiere? I suppose it’s one thing to appear on the big screen in the buff if the public has to fork over $9 for the privilege, but what producer wants to risk investors’ money on a female lead with such awful judgment she’d give it away on Youtube?
And so, then, on to Ms. Cyrus, the formerly precious Hannah Montana, who in an irredeemably vulgar display on Sunday night’s MTV’s Video Music Awards introduced her hopelessly square countrymen to a word – twerking – that sounds like something you’d perform on a stubborn bolt using a socket wrench.
We needn’t rehearse the details here, beyond establishing that similar pelvis-pumping antics at a dance club – especially with a willing partner, as Cyrus had in Robin Thicke – routinely prompts “Get-a-room” hoots. But we should pause to consider the episode’s impact on the impressionable portion of the VMA’s target audience, youngsters who came of age watching Hannah and her sisters vamping on the Disney Channel.
Lots of those youngsters fall under the responsibility of Kurt Browning, Pasco’s first-year superintendent of schools. As if Common Core implementation (and push-back), balancing the budget and stepped-up anti-bully enforcement weren’t enough, now here’s something new to worry about.
“I’d never heard the word ‘twerking,’ ” Browning says, “and then (Tuesday) morning it’s one of the lead stories on the ‘Today Show.’
“I’m getting dressed, and there’s Miley Cyrus up there gyrating, they’re talking about ‘twerking’ and I’m, ‘My gosh, what is this?’ ”
What it is is something else to recoil from, because this week’s scandalous MTV performance – what Vanity Fair’s Julie Miller calls “a natural regression in our MTV-assisted human-de-evolution” – is next week’s football halftime dancerette routine.
And woe be to the school board that doesn’t presciently have a policy specifically addressing it, because (if my experience two years ago commenting on a high school troupe performing a similarly salacious step – the Wu-Tang – is any indication) the cohort of parents who see nothing wrong with the sexploitation of their teenage daughters is larger, and more vociferous, than you might imagine.
Browning concedes if his first nine months on the job have taught him anything, it is to guard against surprise, especially and lamentably, when it comes to things the public, post-Annette, considers acceptable.