Every since her radical performance at the MTV Video Music Awards with Robin Thicke shocked and stunned audiences, Miley Cyrus has been a lightning rod for attention and discussion. Pushing boundaries left and right, the singer has become emblematic of the classic narrative of a children’s star gone wild. The media seem fascinated with former squeaky clean role models who become scandalous or controversial, particularly when it comes to former Disney stars. Perhaps it is because of Disney’s desire to be absolutely wholesome that this trend of their child stars gaining notoriety is so remarkable. Regardless, the former Hannah Montana is the latest example of Disney’s history of creating rebels.
Cyrus herself is a primary example of this. Having grown up playing the singer Hannah Montana, she wanted to transform herself and create a new image that would completely shatter the old one. The singer distinctly told her godmother, country music legend Dolly Parton, that she actually wanted to murder the old Montana character in order for people to see her as something new. So in a way, she did. By giving performances that were full of overt sexuality and drug paraphernalia, the singer definitely eliminated the public’s old conception of who she was creatively. Now, if the average person was asked what they think of when the name Miley Cyrus is dropped, it is not very likely that memories of the children’s program will be conjured up. More likely, instead, they will remember the former child star twerking on stage or swinging naked on a wrecking ball in her latest music video. The strategy worked, too–replays of that same music video earned it a number one spot on the Billboard charts.
Miley Cyrus would not be the only rebel created by Disney; Shia LaBeouf is another recent example. He achieved fame playing wacky Louis Stevens on the hit Disney Channel sitcom Even Stevens. Lately, however, he is known for much more controversial work. Recently, LaBeouf became embroiled in a large scandal when word came that the short film he had made, HowardCantour.com, had been entirely plagiarized from a graphic novel by artist Daniel Clowes. In lieu of an actual apology or admission of wrongdoing, the actor responded by releasing several apology statements that were all themselves copied from others. He then wore a paper bag on his head with the words “I’m Not Famous” to the premiere of the Lars Von Trier film Nymphomaniac – a film where LaBeouf appears nude and in highly sexualized situations, another form of Disney rebellion. His odd behavior continued with him storming out of a press conference for the film, then opening an exhibit in downtown Los Angeles wherein visitors could enter and find LaBeouf sitting in a chair with a bag over his head.
So while Shia LaBeouf may be alongside Miley Cyrus in the Disney history of creating rebels, he certainly was not the first nor will he be the last – Disney stars with public troubles range all the way from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan and Zac Efron. Whenever child stars want to find a way to shed their old persona, they will find a way to do it, be it through wild antics, trips to rehab, or overly sexualized stylings. If Miley Cyrus is any proof, the strategy seems to be working.
Opinion by Alex Warheit