Thursday, May 1, 2008

Plus ça change...

Even in this far-off Sultanate-on-Sea, rumblings from the media jungle ring through loud and clear - rogue pastors, desperate comeback attempts, Austrian basement horrors, you name it - but this week's tweens-gone-wild madness regarding someone I've never, until now, even heard of, one Miley Cyrus, set me thinking.

First, of the unlikeliness of the daughter of the wearer of the Worst Haircut in History AND singer of possibly the worst pop song this side of "Oh My Papa" becoming a sensation in her own right.

But second, and mostly, of how incredibly little historical perspective or cultural savvy most people (well, people who are public commentators these days) seem to have even in this information-saturated time. I thought this, because I've been trying to think of what, exactly, Ms. Liebovitz's now infamous image of young Miss Cyrus reminded me, and it finally came to me:

Isn't she lovely?

Evelyn Nesbit.

She was 16 when she was New York's leading "art model" (with all that entails), and only a few years older when she became the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a central player in the century's first great murder press frenzy. She's not exactly forgotten - she was played by Joan Collins in one of her better (for her) pictures, and she turns up in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime and the film thereof.

As far back as 1901 - and far, far beyond - there have been sexualized teens. They've had vaguely naughty pictures taken of them, odalisques painted of them, nudes carved of them. They've turned into media sensations. And we've all survived, as have, frequently, the subjects of all the nonsense. Evelyn had some bad times - the usual showgirl/bad marriage/addiction sort of thing. But she ended up an old lady teaching ceramics in Santa Monica.

We'll survive.

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