A few years ago, Mickey Mouse ears and Sunday morning cartoons may have come to mind when thinking of Disney. Recently, it seems like that traditional PG image is the last thing pictured when thinking of Disney STARS. Disney attempts to construct a conventionally perfect image for their child stars. Unfortunately, these children grow up under the spotlight expected to live up to a standard they are defined by. In reality, stars like Miley Cyrus are only playing a role, and when they deviate from that role, they are criticized by society. Due, to Disney’s predominant brand and wholesome image, child actors are forced to extreme measures to break away from the person Disney has constructed in order to form their own image.
The Disney image starts with an innocent child star that is molded into superficial perfection. On screen, the child has a happy family, doesn’t swear, and the only problems he or she faces is those that are produced just to be resolved by the end of the episode. Sadly, this is only television, and the actor is doing just that – acting. What viewers and parents of viewers don’t realize is that even Disney actors do not live up to this “golden child” image outside of the character he or she plays. Since Disney provides enormous exposure with a lasting impact, it is the child star that suffers when they finally do break free from Disney.
Miley Cyrus is one of the best illustrators of the effect Disney has on child stars. She got her start on Hannah Montana, blew up into one of the biggest stars of her generation, and as she started to grow up, she desperately attempted to shed her “Hannah Montana” image. Her transformation resulted in countless reputations, critiques, and hate from viewers, outraged moms, and everyone in between. Suzanne Ross from E! describes it as a formula, “from what I've seen from past stars: Disney makes you a star, you make them an enormous amount of money, and then you either crash and burn or you go out and stake your claim in the real world” (2009). Miley chose to stake her claim in the real world, and is still fighting to do so.
The overarching need Miley felt to separate herself from her Disney-given trademark of “Hannah Montana" is a milestone most Disney stars experience. In fact, most teens experience this but on a smaller scale. For example, look at the typical teenager from a strict family who goes to college for the first time. This college kid will most likely act out from the role he or she had to play at home, and do things his or her parents would not approve of. The same goes for Miley, however she has been under a microscope and picked apart by society even when she could finally “go to college” (leave Disney). This picking apart of a normal teen for becoming his or her own person is not only damaging to the actor, but damaging on society as a whole. Sure, some of Miley’s actions are shocking, but are they shocking because we have previous expectations for her to be a PG figure? Or does society truly have a problem with people living outside of the norm and transforming- changing who they are, and becoming something new?
Disney goes to extremes to make sure their actors stay within lines that wont stir up controversy. Ultimately, the pressure lies on the actors who are expected to live up to the image Disney has created for them. Joe Jonas, former Disney star, put this entire concept into perfect words when he told his uncensored story to New York Magazine in 2013. He admits to the pressure saying, “We were frightened little kids. So you got all this responsibility that’s foisted upon you and you’re expected to be perfect” (2013). He elaborates on how him and his brothers originally dealt with Disney saying, “We didn’t want to disappoint anyone—our parents, our fans, our employers—so we put incredible pressure on ourselves, the kind of pressure that no teenager should be under” (2013). He then describes the later Disney life stating that, “Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever. Eventually, I hit a limit and thought, Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am” (2013). He rebelled by cutting his hair and growing a beard to immediately differentiate himself from Disney, just because he could. Miley did the same thing to a much greater extent, and society experienced a type of shock-factor solely from her appearance.
Disney creates an image, child stars attempt to live up to it, but when it comes time to branch away and be his or her own person, society tends to reject this development. The pressure of Disney combined with an un-approving society makes it hard for individuals to deviate from a television role. As child manager and author Frederick Levy puts it, “Disney's an amazing cross-promoter. You will become a teen star. Then you'll have to work twice as hard to prove you are more" (2009). As stars like Miley try to prove themselves as unique individuals, they face an overwhelming amount of rejection. Still, Ann Donahue from Billboard believes that, “For Cyrus, being authentic may be the key to her success as she transitions to adulthood” (2010). As much rejection and criticism Miley and other stars face, she feels the need to prove that she is more than just a Disney persona, and demands to be seen as something else.
The extent to which Miley has gone to break free from Disney such as cutting her hair, drastically changing her appearance, and sexualizing herself has all been a result of her finally being in control after Disney. Interestingly, according to Donahue, “as long as the audience perceives that the artist is in control of their image, they’re likely to be more forgiving” (2010). Although Miley could have a TV show dedicated to all the controversy she’s caused and hate she has received, she currently has a loyal following of fans that admire the person she has become. So why do so many people still reject her change?
People are afraid of change. Watching TV shows us what is normal and socially acceptable, and what we should strive to be. As we consume these messages day after day, often times TV becomes a reality because it is what we are used to. People like “2014 Miley” aren’t common on television, and certainly don’t exist on Disney. Seeing a perfect Disney girl turn into something we wouldn’t see on TV is scary because it is different and not what we are told on a daily basis is “normal”. Television is not forced to depict characters like “2014 Miley”, so society should not force former Disney stars, and everyone else for that matter, to fit a standard of “normal”.
Overall, Disney is notorious for shaping cookie-cutter teenyboppers. In result, these stars reach a point where they can no longer live up to the artificial image, and their extreme attempt to show their true colors typically backfires due to society’s lack of approval to change. Ultimately, Disney, it's stars, and society as a whole is negatively impacted.
Donahue, Ann. "Miley Cyrus: Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon." Billboard 122.22 (2010): 16-19. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Luscombe, Belinda. "How Disney Builds Stars." Time 174.17 (2009): 50-52. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Vineyard, Jennifer. "Joe Jonas: My Life As a Jonas Brother." New York Magazine 9 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Vulture.com. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. December 9, 2013 issue of New York Magazine