Terence Blacker: Exposed: the world of grubby grown-ups

Share
Related Topics

A mistress of the ambivalent, the American photographer Annie Leibovitz has a talent for catching a cultural mood in her portraits, while exploiting it at the same time. Her photograph of Demi Moore, nude and heavily pregnant, pointed up celebrity exhibitionism, but in an oddly flattering manner. Arnold Schwarzenegger, stripped to the waist astride what looked like a Lipizzaner stallion, managed to be both quasi-fascistic and yet oddly affectionate. Her latest portrait, a controversial semi-nude shot of the 15-year-old star Miley Cyrus, captures that moment of adolescence which is both knowing and yet childishly innocent.

Or so the adults at Vanity Fair, who published it, have claimed. The shot, which showed Cyrus, bare-backed and tousled, draped in a sheet and gazing dreamily at the camera, was simply "a beautiful and natural portrait", they have said. To which, the appropriate teenspeak response is: "Yeah, right".

Miley Cyrus is, it turns out, a superstar. Her TV series Hannah Montana is watched every week by nearly three million viewers, aged between six and 14. At that tricky moment when her career as a child star is almost over, it was decided by her management team that she should be introduced to the sophisticated adult readers of Vanity Fair. Hence the Lolita-esque portrait.

There are few things which expose the galloping hypocrisy of our times more nakedly than our culture's treatment of teenage female sexuality. Seeing Cyrus's new image, many parents have gasped with horror and despair. How were they going to explain this to their little innocents? Disney claim their star was manipulated. Miley herself has been wide-eyed with surprise at the fuss. There was no way that she had been photographed "in a skanky way", she said.

In fact, what was going on was straightforward and cynical. There are billions to made from what is now known as the "tweenie" market. Young girls are great fans and have pocket money to spend. For their part, producers – and indeed many parents – have gone along with the sexualisation of childhood. There is a thin line between Disneyesque cuteness in young teenage girls and something altogether less innocent. The young actress, and her entourage, face a tricky problem as she reaches her mid-teens: how to move her career on from child roles to adult ones. Almost always, the marketing decision is made to exploit her most potent asset – innocence.

In life, growing up is a stuttering, stumbling progress full of setbacks and embarrassments. In the mediated world of public life, there is an illusion to be peddled. One moment, a girl is an innocent, gap-toothed kid who says the darndest things, the next she is a babe. Overnight she changes from being a person for whom any feelings of attraction are utterly shameful to someone who can pose semi-naked for newspapers and magazines.

Annie Leibovitz was clever in putting the child star in a sultry pose. She has exposed the cynical way that young sexuality is exploited, and then she has played the game herself.

But there is something seedy about the whole business. The price paid by stars can be high, as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have shown, and the effect on their young fans must be confusing. But in the grubby, grown-up world, men will be googling themselves silly at the latest product to come off the fantasy production line, and money is being made. That, not the photograph itself, is what is truly skanky.

Sex lives of the rich and famous

Last month a mistress of Norman Mailer sold off various sexual memoirs relating to the late novelist's non-literary performances. Now Jimi Hendrix is at it from beyond the grave. Thirty eight years after he died, an 11-minute tape, alleged to be of Hendrix in bed with a couple of women, is now being marketed at £20 a pop.

Clearly, a new profit centre is developing for anyone erotically involved, however fleetingly, with the famous. A notebook or camera should be on hand at all times. Musicians, writers and artists would do well to consider adding a sex-life exploitation clause to their last will and testament. In the meantime, these archives should surely be collected together in a National Sexual Portrait Gallery.

* That most unlikely of charities, the English public school, is about to make a contribution towards equality of education. Fees for some private schools will be soon be increased to raise money for places for the less wealthy. Parents whose children are at Winchester, for example, have just learnt that they will pay a three per cent supplement on fees this year, which will rise to five per cent. The cost of being a Wykehamist next year will be almost £28,000.

It is not philanthropy that lies behind these schemes but changes to the charity law. A "continual narrowing of access", according to Winchester's headmaster, would threaten the school's long-term future. So the line is that, in order to make public schools more accessible, their fees must be increased. As an argument, this would seem to lack the intellectual rigour on which Winchester prides itself.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam