But just what were Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus thinking at a recent Vanity Fair photo shoot when they allowed their 15-year old daughter Miley to pose for this suggestive shot for celebrity photog Annie Leibovitz?
And for that matter, what in the world was Ms. Leibovitz - the mother of three children including two girls ages 6 and nearly 2 - thinking when she shot it?
And why - oh why in the world didn't Disney, as well as Miley's PR people and handlers, suspect that something like this was going to happen when they agreed to a profile in a magazine that's featured hundreds of nearly-nude Leibovitz photos of celebrities ranging from Madonna to Helen Mirren?
The provocative photo shows the squeaky clean Disney star (AKA Hannah Montana) seemingly clad in only a satin sheet and exposing a fair amount of skin. The shot is made even more suggestive by Ms. Cyrus' just-got-out-of-bed tousled hair"style" and smudged dark lipstick. The caption addresses the photo's overtly sexual overtones by saying "Um, was Cyrus—or Disney—at all anxious about this shot? 'No, I mean I had a big blanket on. And I thought, This looks pretty, and really natural. I think it’s really artsy.'"
Although "artsy" sounds exactly like something a teenage girl would say, "raunchy" is what the rest of the world sees. "Miley's Shame" was the headline screamed from the front page of The NYPost Monday. And it has Miley, her parents and Disney on the defensive today as they seek to save the soon-to-be billion dollar brand that is Hannah Montana.
"I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed," Cyrus said in a statement through her publicist when the photos first surfaced over the weekend. "I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."
"Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day," retorts Vanity Fair's spokesperson. "Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley."
Disney - which has stood by and watched the self-destruction of a number of its former starts including Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan - took aim directly at Vanity Fair. "Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," according to the network's statement. Manipulating teenagers to sell something should sound familiar to the company that's riding the teens stars of High School Musical, Hannah Montana and The Jonas Brothers all the way to the bank.
But I'm not picking on Disney, Vanity Fair or even Annie Leibovitz...all enterprises which thrive on publicity. I'm not even picking on Miley's parents - who really should have known better. And I'm certainly not picking on Miley -- a girl who's not nearly as naive as the average 15 year old, but who is obviously still learning that life in the celebrity bubble can be dangerous (as you can read here in the LATimes about some some other candid photos of Miley and friends - which have also surfaced and are also threatening Miley's image).
I'm disappointed in all of us who gobble up news of a 15-year old's mistake in judgment, chew on it repeatedly via the mainstream media or the Internet, discussing us like we're "shocked, shocked that's something like this could happen" -- and then spit out the poor girl when she - not surprisingly - rebels or falls off the deep end. Just listen to this spirited discussion on this topic on today's Talk of the Nation on NPR.
But I'm also disappointed in my own cynical attitude, as I find myself questioning everyone's motives in this affair. Because I believe it's entirely possible that everyone involved knew exactly what they were doing -- and it's all probably part of a strategy to change Miley's image from that of pop princess to serious young singer/songwriter/actress.
Advertising Age's Bob Garfield apparently is thinking the same thing I am, because last night on the NBC Nightly News, Garfield speculated that "she's probably positioned herself nicely for the next stage where she can no longer be a 15 year old ingenue."
But right now she is a 15 year old ingenue - who also happens to be a role model for millions of girls, many half her age. And role models need exit strategies if they have other plans.
Because Miley Cyrus won't stay 15 for long. And in this case, it seems you can't have The Best of Both Worlds.