April 2009 Ethics Dunces

The Disney Channel

The Ethics Scoreboard officially enters fogeydom with this rueful observation: why doesn’t the Disney Channel insist that its biggest star, 16-year-old Miley Cyrus, stop appearing in provocative outfits, situations and locales with her 20-year old male model boyfriend? A recent well-distributed photo showed Miley, showing ample cleavage, jogging shoulder to shoulder with her bare-chested main squeeze. Other paparazzi photos show the adult hunk leaving the teen idol’s home in the early hours after an apparent sleep-over.

Is Disney now endorsing underage, pre-marital sexual relations that would qualify as statutory rape in most states? Nubile 16-year-olds should not have 20-year-old boy friends (and vice-versa), but when a teen icon like “Hannah Montana” advertises hers with the tacit approval of her supposedly kid-friendly employers, her fans and admirers get the opposite message—that having a 20-year old boyfriend while you’re still in high school is not only OK, it’s cool.

It’s not cool, and spare me the rationalizations. Yes, I’m sure Miley is “mature for her age.” This was the same argument given by Mary Jane LeTourneau’s rape of her 13-year-old student (and now her husband), Vili Fualaau. There is little question that the hot- house environment child stars live in tends to create 30-year olds in teen-aged bodies. Shirley Temple, hardly a wild-child, rushed to the altar at 17. But performers with teen and sub-teen fan bases do actual damage when they smoke, drink, use drugs, and engage in sexual relationships that are risky and legally prohibited. One admired role model’s actions can overwhelm the edicts of a dozen laws, and lead many far less savvy teens into dangerous territory.

There are not many options for Disney if Miley’s easy-going country singer dad won’t take stern measures to make sure Miley’s relationships are both legal and age-appropriate, and it is clear that he won’t. They can’t lock the star in Cinderella’s castle. But the company can threaten to cancel her contract, which contains a clause requiring her to maintain an appropriate public image. Reportedly, that would suit Miley fine, who may be trying to get out of “Hannah Montana” and into something more “adult.” Disney is probably tolerating Cyrus’s jail-bait act because it doesn’t want to lose a valuable asset.

Well, too bad. A corporation like Disney, with Disney’s name and audience, can’t facilitate, endorse, promote and legitimize statutory rape. If Miley Cyrus wants to flaunt her relationship with a 20-year-old, she should have to do it on E!, TMZ, and Entertainment Tonight, and maybe Cops.

Not on the Disney Channel.




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