Taking Stock & Giving Back: Citizenship in Hannah Montana Forever

Curator's Note

In the early episodes of the current and final season of Disney’s Hannah Montana, now optimistically referred to as Hannah Montana Forever, Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) outdoes herself at showing off new digs (in multiple, excessive iterations), new clothes, and new celebrity friends (President Obama and Sheryl Crow, guest stars Ray Liotta and Christine Taylor). But once in a while she pauses to take stock of the abundance and decides to give something back.

This clip features interviews (about 1 minute in) with the cast at the taping of episode six back in March. The actors and producers seem to agree that this production is all about the kids—specifically, kids with parents serving in the military. Executive Producer Steven Peterman focuses on the potential for this episode to enhance the lives of military families. While the series rarely if ever foregrounds issues of kids’ political or civil citizenship, he presents this episode as, somehow, exemplary of the series since it "is everything we wanted the show to be." While unquestioned patriotism may not be a new tack for Cyrus, her characters, or the Disney Channel, this episode stands out among a majority that avoid mention of larger social issues, most frequently offering up even more consumerist, depoliticized forms of citizenship.

Kids in the U.S. are marginalized from political citizenship, though they exist in dialectical relation to adults via an intricately woven web of power dynamics. Yet, when Cyrus’ young co-star Emily Osment reiterates that “this is all for [the kids],” these Disney kid stars are positioned in relation to the kids in their audience—as particularly privileged and able to recognize the sacrifices imposed on the children of servicewomen and servicemen.

In the episode, which aired August 22nd, Miley wishes “there was something we could do for the families who aren’t as lucky as we are.” She decides to “give back” by providing a Hannah Montana performance for a group of military families (which would later be viewed by their relatives stationed elsewhere). While the “something” Disney is giving these families with the performance, and by featuring them on the show, seems based on a sincere wish to acknowledge the struggles of others, the performance also may locate catharsis and relief in Hannah’s song lyrics and her heartfelt delivery, at once generating appreciation for Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana Forever, and the Disney Channel, in the name of patriotism.

Comments

Jeremy Groskopf's picture

Politics and children's television

There’s something profoundly schizophrenic about the use of politics here.  In reference to our previous discussions, perhaps it comes from the attempt to cross-market - to make a fundamentally ‘adult’ appeal in a children’s format without alienating either party.

The ‘apolitical’ approach to politics here is fascinating.  It seems to want to be conservative (and parent friendly?), while the Obama reference elsewhere in the series plays to liberals (and youth?).  Meanwhile the war reference itself is shorn of clear social meaning and domesticated.  War = absent parents; as though social consciousness in a children’s venue must be somehow both meaningful and perspective free.

Interesting questions arise: what is the point of children’s media?  Often ‘education’ is the stock defense of kids’ TV.  And yet here, we have almost an absence of education - a personalizing of the political to a degree that it effectively becomes a valentine to the children of soldiers.

A laudable enough goal, but a bizarre take on social consciousness.

Steven Boyer's picture

Children's Citizenship

Interesting post, Morgan.

What I find complicated here is what actually constitutes a children’s citizenship, particularly in this case. As you say, children are mostly "marginalized from political citizenship" and have few direct options for impacting the political process. Yet this episode, and the interviews, seem to be promoting a type of active engagement for children by suggesting that everyone should be "giving back" in some way. The difficulty here, as Jeremy points out, is that this giving back is specifically tied to the conception of "War = absent parents" since this is likely the most obvious impact of war felt by these children. Is this, then, really a focus on citizenship, or rather a coping strategy for children trying to deal with a difficult family situation? Perhaps trying to unpack what political power children have is outside the scope of this episode of the show, but it is a worthwhile goal for some children’s media. Are there shows that try to explain complex social and political events and concepts to children, along with ways for children to put this knowledge to good use? What types of concessions would have to be made to convey this type of heavy information to children in an appealing and/or easily understandable way (or do we underestimate children’s interest and capacity for this type of information)?

Morgan Blue's picture

 Thanks for your

 Thanks for your comments!  

As both of you mention, there is a kind of apolitical approach to war in the clip and the related episode which is somewhat problematic. While there is something liberating about not being bombarded with American flags and rhetoric about the A-OK USA, the divestment of any specificity in this discourse about war paints a picture in which children (and anyone else watching) are kept at a precious and deceptively innocent distance from an awareness of what the absence of those relative(s) in military service might mean.

I think it is precisely the avoidance of issues of children’s citizenship in such instances that is particularly interesting. As you point out, Steven, this is not the topic of the episode, however, as the clip demonstrates, the episode is very much about the active citizenship of certain kids—namely Miley Cyrus and her cohort on the Disney Channel who wish to act as role models to those kids in their audiences and who, then, perpetuate this apolitical discourse. 

 

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