Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Enterprise

I took the children to see Hannah Montana: The Movie. (Yes, I know it has been out in the US for months but it has only just been released in Australia; part of Disney's strategy to give Australians a moral incentive to pirate). I must admit that I was quite emotional about it. I sat there through the whole thing in disbelief at the beauty of the entire story, the poignant images, the subtle and not so subtle tensions. I just can't convey the incredible feeling to gives me to see something like this put together. Hannah Montana is as close to perfection as a business and marketing idea that I have ever seen. I cannot imagine any economist or business school professor sitting through this with a dry eye.

For those who don't know, Hannah Montana is a pop-star who is actually the alter-ego of Miley Stewart who is played by Miley Cyrus the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus who himself plays Miley's father (Stewart that is) calling himself Robby Ray until frankly it is hard to know what is going on. Suffice it to say, in this I join the majority of the world (in the TV show/movie that is) who also don't know that Miley (Stewart) is actually Hannah Montana although I'm pretty sure that I know that Miley Cyrus is both of them depending upon whether she is wearing a wig or not.

Anyhow, why create this confusion? Well, Miley (Stewart but presumably not Cyrus) wants to have "the best of both worlds." Which worlds? Well, the first is being a superstar with all of the perks. And then, apparently, that isn't enough to get to a global optimum so she also wants to attend school with her celebrity life concealed so she can lead a 'normal' life. The point of the TV show is she leads that normal life to the extent that she doesn't and is continually being faced with challenges of how to conceal it all and maintain what increasingly looks like the best of neither worlds as any superhero who has tried to do the same thing could have told you.

Now as you watch this you can see just how perfectly it appeals to the tween set. Miley, apparently ordinary, is actually not but is happy to protect and defend her right to be seen as ordinary by her, otherwise quite annoying, school peers because that is somehow better than not being ordinary leaving tweens with the no-so-subtle message that maybe they should appreciate what they have got except that really what they have got is something ordinary, they are seen to be ordinary and don't have that extra fun and hijinks that Miley (Stewart and Cyrus) seem to have. She sings "who would have thought that a girl like me, would double as a superstar?" to which the answer is being conveyed as no-one to which I as an outside observer answer, well everyone and the children appear to get that whole irony too.

Disney have put together a perfect marketing storm. It sits so well with the struggle that age group has regarding peer recognition, excitement, and wealth inequality, that it is hard to imagine anything better targeted. Add to that they actually created Hannah Montana (the actual pop sensation rather than the TV show concept) and the whole thing is staggering. And yes, you even get to sell blonde wigs in spades! Indeed, they are totally upfront in this. In the movie, Robby (or is it Billy?) Ray says to Miley (I give up) that "we created Hannah Montana so you could do this" and I nearly fell out of my chair. You mean, "do this" as in "rake it in," right? But the point is Hannah Montana is a creation and they can even throw that straight at us.

Which brings me back to the movie which only my 4 year old claimed she was excited to be seeing. My 10 year old daughter watches Hannah Montana repeatedly and mimics her expressions but apparently is not allowed to be excited about her anymore as that honor is reserved only for Harry Potter. My 8 year old son, always seems to be watching Hannah Montana although he claims it is by some sort of accident that occurs when it is on the TV that he can't avoid seeing it even though apparently he would very much want to. It was he who laughed hardest throughout the movie.

The movie deals with Robby (and probably not Billy) Ray getting frustrated that Miley is getting too into Hannah and forgetting "her roots." Her punishment for this is to be rooted back in Tennessee and embroiled in life there including -- and this mandatory for these movies -- being reminded of her mother's passing and having that old life threatened by an evil developer which ironically requires her Hannah Montana life to get them all out of that jam. A few songs and a painted chicken coop later, and Miley (Stewart) faces a moment in which she decides to throw it all away and give up the Hannah Montana franchise. And I have to tell you that I held my breath in stunned disbelief at that moment as I thought, "OMG, if she does this, Disney are giving up the whole game too." If she reveals who she really is, the whole franchise will collapse. And for a few minutes I wondered if the whole movie was Miley (Cyrus) giving up the game.

[SPOILER ALERT FOR NEXT PARAGRAPH] But it turned out that her adoring fans did not want that and all 5,000 of them at the small town benefit concert promised to keep her secret if she would just put that damn wig back on and get singing. More implausibly, a (British of course) tabloid reporter decided to forgo millions and do the same thing. The town and franchise were saved. Phew!

So we live to fight another day. For parents, this is a movie you can sit through without dying. (Although you will be likely stuck with that Hoedown song in your head for days). But don't expect to be free of the whole Hannah Montana thing anytime soon.