Blast from the past: this post should have been written and published back in January 2009
Before diving into the lessons I’ve learned, I should probably explain why I ever started watching Hannah Montana in the first place.
Around Christmastime 2008 I purchased a DVD named Bridge to Terabithia. Maybe I’d heard a good review, maybe Amazon recommended it to me, I honestly can’t remember. In any case, it arrived, I watched it, and fell in love, an instant favorite. If you’ve never seen it, you simply must.
At the end of Bridge to Terabithia, the first song during the credits is one by Miley Cyrus called “I Learned from You”. Another instant favorite. I’d never heard of Miley before, but I knew I loved this song, and I needed to have it in my iTunes, so I ordered the soundtrack (the rest of which is also quite enjoyable). After further investigation, I also discovered that Miley stars on Disney’s Hannah Montana, and so, for kicks, I thought I’d check YouTube and watch an episode or two.
I highly doubt I’m among Disney’s target audience for the show, and you can judge me all you want, but I enjoyed it. Why? I like the premise: it reinforces the truth that celebrities are normal people, too, apart from the idealistic pedestals upon which the public places them. They have real lives and real friendships; celebrities may live in a different societal world, but they’re still people.
For those not familiar with the show (which I'm assuming is everyone reading my blog), the story is about teenager Miley who leads a double life as pop-star sensation Hannah Montana. During the day Miley goes to school, and no one knows she's a celebrity. She does this because her fans are, in a word, crazy (not like padded-cell crazy, but autograph and picture crazy), and Miley would never have a normal life if people knew who she was. Only her family and two closest friends know about her split personality.
I love the parallel to reality that Miley/Hannah’s life necessitates: the desire to be treated normally, and because of that, the inability to reveal her complete self to anyone but her closest friends. Isn’t that the world in which we all live? Trapped by societal expectations. For fear of judgement, or simply being “treated differently”, we each keep secrets and hide much of ourselves away. Thought of this way, Miley’s story, and much of Hannah’s music, hits home in a whole new way.
Now I’ll grant that, in her rebellious teen years, real-life Miley is not always a positive role model for the tween/teen crowd. Sadly it seems few teen super stars survive the spotlight unscathed. Nevertheless I contend there are valuable lessons to be sought from her on-camera alter-ego. I will grant that many of my observations are eisegetical, meaning I’m reading more into the text, or in this case TV show, than the author intended. I’m okay with that. I believe in a God that speaks in new, surprising, and unexpected ways, and so whether the Disney screenwriters had the same agenda as I draw out doesn’t really matter to me - the lessons stand regardless.
Episode 1: Miley worries about telling her best friend about her secret double identity as Hannah Montana. “If she knew the truth, I’d never be just _Miley_ again”. Fill that in with your own name. Don’t we all have those feelings? ‘If so-and-so really knew who I was/what I’ve done/where I’ve been/what kind of person I think I am, they wouldn’t see me as myself anymore, they’d only see that label, they’d only see the headline.’ We’re afraid of being treated differently, which is why we’re scared to open up.
For me, this is where I find the appeal in Hannah’s songs “Just Like You” and “The Other Side of Me”. And similarly, Joy Williams song “We”.
Episode 2: Miley and Oliver are close friends, but Oliver has a crush on Hannah. Side-note, Oliver hates gum. What’s admirable about him: even after learning of Hannah’s disgusting [albeit feigned] gum-chewing habit, Oliver looks past this surface blemish and continues to profess his love and affection.
As someone who too often tends toward the superficial myself, Oliver’s example serves as a potent, however comedic, reminder that no one will ever be “the perfect match”; true love means learning to live with the imperfections.
Episode 4: Miley has a hard time asking a guy out. Typical teenage drama, whatever. Here’s why it hits home, though: Miley is a rock star, used to performing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but a one-on-one conversation intimidates her.
The largest crowd I’ve spoken to in recent times was 600 students and teachers at Minnehaha - certainly not thousands. But speaking/singing/playing in front of a crowd doesn’t freak me out. But one-on-one conversations, man, those can be absolutely nerve-wracking! Especially if she’s cute.
Lesson #2: Lack of honesty can ruin a relationship. Miley’s crush invites her to a Hannah concert, and in typical sitcom fashion her double life completely train wrecks their date.
For Miley, physically being in two places is impossible, and leads to romantic catastrophe. For me, being divided emotionally means a failure of commitment. Being divided spiritually means failure to live up to my potential. A servant cannot have two masters.
Episode 6: Miley’s grandmother comes to visit and gives preferential treatment to Miley's brother Jackson, almost to the exclusion of showing any affection toward Miley. In the end Miley learns this is because she’s always been in the spotlight, relegating Jackson to life’s backseat. Grandma knows this, and that’s why she pampers Jackson on her visit.
There are some deep theological truths here. First, God doesn’t necessarily treat everyone equally. I can identify with the sadness Miley feels over being ignored - how many times have I wished for the blessings others have? How many times have I wished God would have given me that new car, that new job, that new guitar?
The flip side is that I'm not privy to the details of that other person’s life. How could I know the gift I coveted came to them timed exactly to lift them from a financial crisis, a deep pit of depression, or a feeling of worthlessness to the world. That’s God’s business, not mine.
Even when it looks like God is playing favorites (and that favorite doesn’t happen to be me), that doesn’t change His unending, uninterruptible love! Miley’s grandma loves her just as much as she loves Jackson, but *shows* it more to Jackson because, after so many years living in the shadow of Miley’s Hannah fame, *that’s what he needs*.
There’s an object lesson for Miley, too: all the time she felt like her grandmother was ignoring her, all the hurt those feelings brought, maybe that’s how Jackson felt with the entire family’s agenda structured around Hannah all the time. So, the next time I’m feeling like God’s ignoring me, I’m going to try to remember all this. Because it’s not all about me. Maybe someone close to me needs Him more urgently.
Episode 10: Miley's Dad says something like, “Sometimes it’s not about what you say, but having the courage to say something.”
This wisdom was given to Oliver specifically as it relates to getting a date, but I see applicability in more areas of life than that. Namely, simply standing up for what you believe. Even if you’re not well spoken, the act of speaking, possibly disagreeing, says more than the mere words ever would. In college intro psych class I read about a study which affirmed people are more likely to stand up for their own beliefs if someone else in the group does so first. Have courage: be the person who puts themselves out there. Sometimes you’ll find yourself alone, but my guess is, more often than not, you’ll find unexpected allies.
Episode 11: Miley, as Hannah, encourages a girl to ask out Oliver. Later in the episode, Miley sees the girl in the lunchroom with another boy… As it turns out, she’s breaking up with her former boyfriend, but the way her email is worded it’s unclear. It’s a sitcom, so everything works out happily in the end.
Appearances are deceiving, which reminds me how crucial getting both sides of a story is before jumping to a final conclusion. For me, this episode also illustrated the idea that God looks at a person’s heart, whereas people only see the outside (1 Samuel 16:7).
Episode 12: Miley encourages her Dad to go back out on the road to perform. He resists, “But–“. She cuts him off: “But nothing. But’s just a word you use when you’re afraid to try.”
“But” is the story of my life: “I want to do more with my music but–“. “I want to be a full-time filmmaker but–“. “I want to exercise and eat healthy but–“.
Miley’s retort hit me instantly, and it hit me hard. Time to stop making up excuses. Time to live.
Episode 14: Another teen superstar enrolls at Miley’s school, and he milks his fame for all it’s worth. Miley (rightfully) becomes upset.
The deeper meaning may not apply to everyone. Or maybe it does, I’m not sure.
I’ve often dreamed what fame might be like. And as I’ve written about before, my ambition toward that end is my Achilles heal, having previously robbed me of meaningful connection to God through my music. Watching Miley play out the scenario of revealing her Hannah identity helps keep me in check. I don’t like the culture I see looking in on Hollywood, and I don’t relish the prospect of giving up my privacy as happens to the stars. My best plan of action is either to stay anonymous, or, since that’s logistically unlikely (at least on local scales), to seek “background” fame, meaning, a recognizable name, but not necessarily face.
Most of all, I need to learn to accept God’s Call of being satisfied with who I am already, and know that that’s enough. If filmmaking brings me further in that path, great; and if not, if I stay just plain ol’ Jeremy, that’s great, too.
Episode 15: Miley (as Hannah) discovers Jake (the superstar from episode 14) actually does have a normal side hidden beneath his public star personality, and this discovery changes her feelings toward him.
My lesson is a humbling reminder that first impressions are often wrong, or at best, incomplete. How many relationships have I missed out on because my perception was skin-deep?
Lord, help me not to obsess over the things man looks at. Give me your eyes to see past outward appearance and into the heart. (based again off of 1 Samuel 16:7)
Episode 19: Miley's Dad lets Jackson (Miley's brother) win their basketball games, not really out of pity, rather because he likes seeing his happy face when he succeeds. Sometimes it’s not about us.
Not everything needs to be a competition; we’re all given our special talents and gifts.
My notes kind of trailed off here, guess I stopped learning. Er... Or stopped writing down what I'd learned.
Episode 3: I personally believe it is okay to aspire to be a better person, but what I learned from this episode is that you ought not aspire to be a different person.
“A Song Sung Badly”: It’s not about how pretty your voice is or isn’t, it’s about the emotion behind it. I apply that to worship and all other areas of life.
“The Other Side of Me”: I maintain an image, I let people see what I want them to see of my life. On the inside there’s so much else going on that very few, if anyone, ever gets to see. Don't we all long to be our complete, honest selves, though?
I enjoyed the whole series, apparently I stopped taking notes mid-way through, though. Oh well. Plenty of lessons here to keep me busy for a while.