Let's take Miley off the barbecue for this saucy satin-sheet Vanity Fair photo that's causing all the noise right now and move on to what I, anyway, think is a far more disturbing shot in the spread: the one of Big Daddy, Billy Ray Cyrus, and his daughter Miley. Like a Disney wish sprung straight from Cinderella's castle, Miley lies in all her precocious glory across her beefcake father's lap. His sleeveless right arm drapes protectively (suggestively?) around her right shoulder and reaches down to hold her hand. A hipbone pokes out below her bare midriff, and Billy Ray's Harlequin-like hair ripples out after him. The schism is immediate: they are father and daughter, yet they look like lovers … but they're father and daughter. I have been a 15-year-old daughter, and I can tell you with reinforced steel-studded certainty, there is no way I would ever pose in such a manner for a photograph (and in the age-appropriate parlance, let me just say, "Ick")—unless someone was paying me a billion dollars. Well, wait just a minute. That's right—Disney's hottest commodity is already well on her way to billionaire status, thanks to the Hannah Montana franchise, including the million-dollar-grossing sold-out tours and the Hannah Montana movie she's set to shoot this summer, as well as the de rigueur next step for young Hollywood: the clothing line. And, of course, the fragrance line (you're nobody until everybody smells just like you). So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that when you're playing the lucky cards you've been dealt, that means you sometimes have to recline over your father's jean-strapped thighs and give a pout as only you and the Olsen twins can and call it a day. After all, Miley—and Hannah Montana—can't stay 15 forever. She'll age out of the demographic that has carried her on its fragile butterfly- and ballerina-loving shoulders, and then what? Billions can only beget billions if someone's paying for it.
Right now Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz may be wondering how she could have once gotten Whoopie Goldberg into a tub full of milk for a photograph but is finding herself in hot water now over the Miley photographs. A message posted on Vanity Fair's Web site wants people to judge for themselves: "Our exclusive video shows that the session was a relaxed family event in the picturesque hills of Calabasas, California." Miley's statement is more deflecting, "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. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."
Satin Sheetgate has prompted the second apology in two weeks from Miley, who last week put up the mea culpa for shots that surfaced on the Internet of herself in various suggestive poses: pulling down her shirt to show off her green bra in one, cuddling up to a boy with her stomach exposed in another. The photo in question now in Vanity Fair is of Miley who appears to be nude, clutching a satin sheet to her chest. Scarlet lips, dark flowing hair and a knowing look, and sure, there you have "Lolita Does Disney." Celebrity sniper-blogger Perez Hilton has already christened her "Slutty Miley" on his Web site. But at the time did Miley think it was too provocative? Or was it a case of getting under the mind control of the famed photographer? Leibovitz has released the following statement: "I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted," she says. "Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful."
If Miley were just some neophyte who hadn't already appeared on "Oprah" and the "Barbara Walters 2008 Oscar Special" as well as in countless other magazine shoots, one might entertain the thought that she'd somehow been "manipulated" during the shoot, as a Disney spokesperson is claiming. But her parents attended and monitored the shoot. And Miley herself is by now well steeped in the maneuverings of celebrity. Witting or unwitting, she should have known better. And she plainly did not see the backlash coming until too late.
The ironic thing—there has to be an irony here somewhere, right?—is that Miley was supposed to be the last great hope. With Britney and Lindsay making the rounds of rehab and back again, Miley was the shimmering example of how to keep it together. Or at least not to lose the plot so severely, and so quickly. For now, at least, the girl who found fame by singing about the "Best of Both Worlds" has learned, maybe the hard way, that it's not always as simple as changing from one costume to the other—or out of one.