Spring talks on Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana, and tween domesticity

I’m scheduled to present two papers this spring, at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Chicago and the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association meeting in Washington, DC, both in March.

At SCMS I will present a paper titled “‘The Best of Both Worlds’: Hannah Montana, ‘having it all’, and postfeminist tween domesticity” as part of a panel on “The Problematics of Postfeminism,” organized by Amanda Rossie:

This paper explores conflicting representations of domesticity and publicity in the 2007–2011 Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana, in which 14-year-old Miley Stewart lives a secret life as child pop star Hannah Montana. The narrative conflict of Hannah Montana centers on tensions between Miley’s personal and professional lives, and episodes dramatize the disruptions that her public life creates in Miley’s “normal” childhood. In the pilot episode, Miley’s concealed celebrity leads to a crisis with her best friend, in a portrayal of Miley’s friendship that uses conventional sitcom tropes of marital conflict and resolves accordingly, with the suggestion that Miley’s primary obligation is to the maintenance of her personal relationships and subordination her professional identity. By contrast, the show’s theme song celebrates Miley’s arrangement as the “best of both worlds,” in which “you get to be who ever you wanna be” and wear the “hottest styles, every shoe, every color.” Thus Hannah Montana juxtaposes postfeminist consumer “empowerment,” in which freedom and choice are celebrated but confined to consumption, with anxiety about accompanying disruptions of intimate relationships. The show adapts classically feminist concerns with “having it all” and the gendered obligations of work and family to a postfeminist context, in which “tween” girls are increasingly influential and commercially powerful as a consumer and audience demographic, and friendship relations take on an additional importance as a site of domestic intimacy and personal identification.

At PCA/ACA I will present a paper called “Justin Bieber, YouTube, and New Media Celebrity: The Tween Star at Home and Online,” as part of a panel on “Collision, Collusion, and Convergence: The Intersection of Television and Music in American Popular Culture”:

This paper examines tween pop star Justin Bieber’s rise to fame through home videos broadcast over the internet on the video-sharing site YouTube. It considers how online video representations of childhood domesticity in musical performance and consumption validate children’s participation in public culture. Beginning in 2007, when Bieber was 12 years old, his family began posting videos of him singing R&B covers to YouTube. The videos became very popular and ultimately attracted the attention of music industry professionals, launching Bieber’s career as tween music icon. Tween media and consumer culture—focused on children, especially girls, ages 8–14, be-“tween” childhood and adolescence—has expanded dramatically in the last decade, with pop music at the forefront. Visual depictions of child pop stars in domestic bedroom spaces are by now a canonical trope of tween authenticity, building on a long tradition of representations of girls’ consumption practices. Bieber’s celebrity builds on these tropes to locate both his talent and his fame in the quotitian spaces of childhood family life. Using theoretical tools from childhood studies, public sphere theory, and feminist/girlhood studies accounts of bedroom culture, this chapter will explore how the presentation of Justin Bieber as both a celebrity and a child depends on broader cultural understandings of children’s normative location in the home, which are lately mediated by technological and social shifts in music and video distribution that present domesticity and privacy as increasingly legitimate subjects for public display. These changes suggest complicated implications for core social theoretic questions about participatory parity and identity politics, where tween media presents children’s confident emergence into broader public life while reflecting a simultaneous retrenchment of childhood identities into the domestic sphere.

As part of my larger project about the tween music industry, both papers explore how tween media represents children in relation to traditional conceptions of home and the family. That children’s growing participation in the public sphere through popular entertainment is so invested in these tropes of domesticity seems (is) contradictory. I’m increasingly reading these signs of domesticity more as markers of authentic childhood identities than as real ideological commitments to domesticity as such. If that’s the case then it makes sense that children’s public emergence as a group would include markers of membership in that group.

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