I know I’m extremely late to the Miley Cyrus blogger party, so you might not care anymore. But my blog was down last week, and I felt I had to write this post. In the midst of all the concern and anger about Miley’s infamous performance last week, I think we’ve failed to notice one key concept:
Miley Cyrus is no more real than Hannah Montana. Yes, there is a real person named Miley Cyrus. But you and I know virtually nothing about that Miley Cyrus. What we know and see is a facade, a carefully constructed public persona. That may seem obvious to you, but bear with me: this has some serious theological and spiritual ramifications.
Hannah Montana was always built on the idea of a double life. By day, she was just Miley, a normal kid with normal friends. By night, a major pop star with legions of fans. The whole concept of Hannah Montana was that one’s public persona can be radically different from the private reality.
What most of us missed was that Miley Cyrus herself was simply an image. Even the off-screen moments we saw were designed to fit the image that Disney and Miley wanted us to see. None of us had any idea what Miley was like in private. We still don’t, for that matter. The Miley that the world saw a week ago, “twerking” and gyrating, might bear absolutely no resemblance to the Miley known by her parents and closest friends. For all we know, she’s shy and demure and even chaste in private. From the perspective of the entertainment industry, none of that matters as much as what she presents to the world.
In other words, the “new” Miley is no more real than the “old” Miley. The public Miley is as real as the perfect family portrait you took last Christmas. Everything is planned, posed, and carefully executed. The old Miley was designed to appeal to the longing that we parents have for our kids to have positive and sweet role models. The new Miley is designed to appeal to a whole different crowd. She’s designed to appeal to the millions of young women who find themselves wanting to break free of their parents’ values and morals. The shock and outrage that we parents felt last week was the whole point of the performance, in other words. Parents, Miley wasn’t doing her act for the likes of you and me.
All of this leads me to my main point: We live in a world obsessed with one’s public image, often to the neglect of one’s private integrity. As long as Miley’s public image was wholesome, we were fine with her, even though not one of us knew what she was truly like off-stage. Once that public image became offensive, we turned on her in a major way. What’s ironic is that the Hannah Montana image itself suggested that it was all an illusion. It celebrated the type of prevarication that ultimately creates a huge disconnect between one’s character and image. To top it off, Miley and Disney actually told us that from the beginning. They were tongue-in-cheek and subtle about it, but they told us nonetheless. So the deeper problem is really that we want the image to be well-scrubbed, even if we have no idea about the reality behind the image.
This isn’t just about Miley, by the way. We do the same thing with our kids, and even with ourselves. We emphasize “clean” language, inoffensive Facebook and Twitter profiles, outward obedience, and dirt-free ears. None of those things are evil — in fact all of them are good and even necessary — but we often focus on those public displays of righteousness to the exclusion of inner holiness. The result is a shiny peel with a rotten core. Or, as Jesus put it, we clean the outside of the cup while leaving the inside virtually untouched (Matthew 23:25). As long as the public persona seems clean, we assume everything is fine. We rarely care to look deeper until the pretty facade falls apart in such a cataclysmic way that we have no choice.
Jesus consistently directed us to look beyond the outer appearance to the heart. That’s the basic message of the Sermon on the Mount. Our outward conformity to certain standards will never pave our way to the righteousness of God. We need the inner transformation that comes only through the Spirit of God. That transformation comes to those who recognize their failure and trust in the One who can provide true goodness, a goodness that penetrates to the very core.
The Miley Cyrus debacle reminds us of the danger of putting too much stock in one’s outward image. We need to remind our kids and ourselves that celebrities craft their public personas for a particular purpose — to get us to watch and to buy merchandise. The objectives of the entertainment industry are at odds with the purposes of Jesus Christ. It goes deeper than Hollywood, though. The problems we face are ultimately found at the center of our sinful hearts, and they find their solution only in the cleansing work that God’s Spirit can provide from the inside out.
The Miley Cyrus we saw last week wasn’t real. But Miley Cyrus is a real person, and like every person — you and me included — she needs the kind of transformation that can’t be found in the office of an image consultant or publicist. And just like Miley, we need the same eternal and lasting change, granted to us by the One who created us and promises life that is new and real.
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