Miley Cyrus and the Disappearance of Childhood
Sometimes I think the late Neil Postman is the prophet for out time. After reading about the Miley Cyrus photo fiasco, I am convinced of this.
If you have a pre-teen daughter, you know that Miley is the star of "Hannah Montana," the hugely popular Disney television series. This 15-year-old is the singing-acting-dancing daughter of country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus. "Hannah Montana" and Disney have crafted the image of this young lady as a safe role model for little girls.
Even if you don't have a pre-teen daughter, by now, you know all about the Annie Leibovitz photographs in the May issue of Vanity Fair. The photographs depict this 15-year-old girl in semi-nude poses with clearly lewd overtones. Today's Wall Street Journal put it like this:
"The photo" showing Miley draped in a sheet, back bared, hair tousled, with a come-hither smile, upset countless parents who immediately grasped the photo's essential vulgarity."
Of course this doesn't shock us anymore. The reason? We have come to expect this. In fact, we have come to demand it. The April 30 edition of USA Today ran an article on the phases of Madonna's career showing her in various provocative outfits. Today's styles worn by young women have been influenced by her and others.
In other words, the Miley Cyrus photo fiasco is simply the symptom of a sick society. This sickness will lead to sadness, in Miley's life and in ours as a society. This is the heart-breaking part of it all: the alluring fashion styles, aimed at making young girls look like seductresses, is robbing these little girls of their innocent childhoods and promoting a culture of sensuality that will unleash further sexual perversion in our already sex-saturated society.
And here is where Neil Postman comes in. The late Professor of Communications at New York University wrote numerous books that are worthy of reading, but one in particular is important for this story. In The Disappearance of Childhood Postman saw the erosion of morals in the dress of little girls as an indication that our society as a whole is not taking care of our own children. He wrote that our image-based society is drunk on sensuality and the cameras have turned on our children robbing them of childhood.
What is ironic about his insights, given this Miley Cyrus story and her relationship to Disney, is that Postman reflected on how Walt Disney protected the innocent childhood that post-Reformation, Western Christianity produced. Martin Luther and the Guttenberg printing press brought a new emphasis on the Word. (Previously there existed a culture of illiteracy, where images were the popular means of communication.)
Postman posits that childhood, as we knew it under the old Disney model, was essentially a childhood of protected innocence that Jesus taught. In a day when children were thought of as insignificant, our Lord taught:
"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:15-16, ESV).
And again Jesus said, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:5-6).
Postman was right. Jesus invented "childhood" as a protected time of innocence in which little ones must be guarded, trained, and loved, not abused nor led to sin. According to Jesus, the kingdom of God itself is like unto children, therefore to remove childhood, as Jesus taught it, is to remove the motif of the presence of the kingdom of God in our midst. Postman's prophetic Disappearance of Childhood creates a culture where there is a simultaneous disappearance of the Kingdom of God.
So what is the role for Christians today?
Bring your children to Christ. Their hearts are open to Him. Pray for your children, and let them hear you speaking their names before the Lord. Lay your hands upon the heads of your little ones and speak the name of Jesus often.
Do your best to guard your little ones from the merchants of ungodliness. Jesus warned that if I don't take action, He will! Against me! Christ is the ultimate Defender of children! I would rather throw all of my computers and televisions out of the window and be called a "kook" than to let a little child see, hear, and be inculcated in a culture of decadence.
Don't worry about your children not getting exposed to the culture. They will hear more than you ever will want them to hear. They will see more than you ever want them to see. Give them the Christian gift of "childhood" before they are thrown out into the sensuality-driven society in which we now live.
I appreciate the innovations in technology we have at our disposal. They can be used for good, but images of human beings in provocative poses do not help any of us. They always hurt the weakest. Usually children, especially girls, are the ones to suffer. As the morals of women are undermined, then the soul of our nation becomes sick. Unless there is a realization that this is so, with repentance in our hearts, then eventually this sickness leads to death.
How I pray God will raise up a generation of preachers who will confront and expose the promoters of ungodly images and show the horrible consequences of this sort of sin. Vanity Fair ought to be ashamed. Disney ought to have seen it coming. Annie Liebovitz ought to denounce her own work, repent, and ask forgiveness. Miley's parents need to take her home, love their daughter, and give her the years the star-making machine is taking from her. Oh, how I pray for that family.
May God raise up men in our pulpits, and men and women in our homes, who will lead our little ones to the Lord, teach them His Word, and protect them. May the Lord Himself raise up gracious men, and especially women, who will step into the lives of our little girls, who are being exploited by the purveyors of iconoclastic filth, and lead them back to the shelter of a Christ-commanded childhood. There under the shade of God's plan for our lives the enchantment of childhood with a sweet purity that leads to happiness will be restored. This is what Christ offers. This is what our hearts long for.
The book referred to in this article is Neil Postman's Disappearance of Childhood (Random House, 1994).