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Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic

Tom got me Hannah Montana: Crush-Tastic for Christmas. With friends like these, as they say …. He requested a thorough analysis with special attention to the socioeconomic implications of the thing. He is a bad man. Did I mention it also comes with ``an exclusive crush guide mini-book, plus 8 pages of photos from the show'', and a reductive description of boys according to how they text?

I'll get back to that. But before I attempt to anything like an impartial observation there are other things to say: the book is atrociously bad. Worse than I would have expected, even from a Disney film-to-book purple, sparkly thing. I have never seen Hannah Montana, and my very vague ideas of the concept were more or less confirmed: it seems to be mainly slapstick comedy relying on the stupidity of stock characters and simplistic plots. I am not sure whether "plot" is actually the word: it is more a succession of random events, none of which appear to be selected for anything other than the spur of the moment or a passing idea. I must also point out (apparently) that physical comedy works rather less well on paper than it does on television (and even there it is a bit hit and miss).

Plot

The story, as I said, is very episodic. It is divided into two main parts, barely connected. The only continuing element is the visit from Miley's Aunt Dolly (who, the pictures in the middle reveal, is Dolly Parton). The story of Miley's crush on her school-fellow Jake (who, incidentally, is also famous -- what a surprise) is quite forgotten in the second half. And it was never resolved in the first. But even within that first episode, the story line is broken: the main premise is that Miley is in love with Jake and accidentally reveals all on camera, only to have the tape end up in Jake's hands. Because of her interaction with Jake depends on her being the only girl not fawning over him, it becomes imperative to retrieve the tape. While not the deepest, it is not out of the common way as light plots go. It is what they then proceed to do with it that makes it stand out (not in a good way).

The simple solution of asking for the tape back is dismissed without any credible explanation, and instantly replaced by a plan involving ninja outfits, which is obviously what you would use in order to blend in in a school building. I was quite fascinated by the attention paid to these black clothes: they play no part in the plot at all -- the actual retrieval of the tape is done through entirely different means, yet much is made of them. I can only conclude that they are there purely to signify stealth and a mission. A long story short, the tape is retrieved through a slapstick sequence involving Miley in a garbage bag. You don't really want to know.

The tape retrieved, Miley has second thoughts, and, following a Disney empowerment moment with her friend, decides to tell the boy how she feels. When he chooses that moment to introduce her to his girlfriend (only one of a number of coincidences in timing throughout the story), we are treated to another Disney moment which leaves Miley deciding to fight for what she wants. And that is the last we hear of her crush.

Despite all this, I found some value in the occasional dedication to surrealism. This is in part due to the extreme number of coincidences, but which reaches its high point when Dolly unlocks a door with her fingernail. There is also an unabashed use of cutting (I can think of no other way to describe it -- I mean that characters break off in the middle of a sentence (sometimes the middle of a word) only to finish it half a page later) in the second half: the idea seems to be to convey how Miley's performance as Hannah infringes on her time with her friend. The effect, however, is a complete rejection of any pretence at realism. If it hadn't been such a television cliché, it would have been quite interesting.

Language

Now, language. Language, language, language. The language was actually quite interesting. Apart from being atrociously bad, it had very odd sprinklings of attempts at being good. Failed attempts, but very obvious ones. In between sentences of rarely more than 5 words, often echoing teen speak, like

Miley was so excited

or

Lilly was psyched,

or colloquial American country-speak (like

He sure didn't want his kids to find out about that one

or

She was mighty pleased with herself),

there are sudden phrases like

the girls promptly adjourned.

It gives the impression that someone has made a real effort to write intelligently while lacking the intelligence.

I was also rather amused by the amount of redundancy. While I understand that this is written for 12-yearolds, I find it rather unnecessary to write that

She picked up the phone and talked into it.

What is usually left unsaid, because it is obvious, is here made explicit. All dialogue is explained and controlled. No line is left unattributed, and because an attempt has been made to avoid monotony (at least occasionally), instead of simply "he said" or "she said", we are given convoluted attributions like

"Miley. It's just a camera. What's the big deal?" Lilly had no idea what they were dealing with here.

Sometimes it also struck me that the presentation simply deceived the reader, which is rather annoying. I have no problem with an unreliable narrator, but it was very clear that in this case it was just an unfortunate side-effect of the translation from television to print combined with inattention to language. We are told, for example that

They snuck a peek at what Jake was doing, then they sent Dolly in,

which is fine enough, but after Dolly has had a short interaction with Jake, Miley suddenly pops out of her rubbish bin, and only then are we told that

This was part two of the plan: Miley was hiding in the rubbish bin!

Not only is it terribly redundant, as we have already been shown that Miley has been hiding in the rubbish bin (because how else could she stick her head out of it?), but we were told earlier that the girls sent Dolly in. This works in television, because the sending of Dolly alone is suggested, not explicitly stated; but it does not translate to print without becoming a lie.

I also noticed that there are some very odd expressions scattered throughout the text. I am not sure what you make of

"You're sprouting' like a rose bush after a month of rain, only not as wet and twice as pretty"

or

They sat there for a while, seemingly enjoying their sweaty manhood,

not to mention

"I'm so ranky I can taste my own stanky",

but his made me suspect the writer actually had a sense of humour. A real one, outside of the trite Disney slapstick which passes for humour in the surface of the story. A meta-humour I suspect would be invisible to the target audience.

In general, however, the language reflects that it is a very close translation from screen to paper. Sometimes you can feel the bad acting. It would be interesting if it weren't so painful. We are even treated to the description of musical numbers and cheerleeding routines. Not to mention the many pages dedicated to painstaking description of physical comedy.

Characters

The characters are depressingly two-dimensional. This despite several of them having double personas (Miley is Hannah Montana because she does not want to be famous all the time, but it is never explained why her best friend has a secret identity as well -- whigs are involved somehow, because you would never recognise someone you went to school with if they wore a whig on stage (then again, it may be inadvisable to criticise this plot tool too much, as it opens a whole can of worms regarding Superman, and I don't want to provoke the über-geeks among us). Despite the whigs, Lilly's one characteristic is an obsession with shoes and clothes and shopping, a trinity of materialism which apparently motivates her every action.

There is also a simplistic opposition between masculinity and femininity -- Dolly is hyperfeminine and imposes that hyperfemininity on the space of the Stewart family; the menfolk are threatened by it and respond by resorting to workout and manual labour. It does not help that they are won over to her side in the end. It is just a reversal of the valuation of the dichotomy, thereby maintaining it, and does nothing to shake it.

I suppose this is where we arrive at the socioeconomic implications that Tom wanted me to explore. In addition to perpetuating simplistic stereotypes, there is a quite fascinating emphasis on the surface as the location of identity. When Miley heads off to the studio (where there is no one who does not know of her double identity, and so there is no need for the masquerade to protect her secret), she still puts on the Hannah Montana clothing, and the passage is quite revealing:

When Miley got to the studio, she changed into her Hannah gear to get herself out of the part of regular schoolgirl with a schoolgirl crush and into the part of teen pop star with a schoolgirl crush. (their emphasis)

Miley's identity is linked to her outward appearance, and it changes according to her persona. While her crush remains, her artistic ability appears to be tied to the whig and whatever else goes with the Hannah Montana gear. But equally, the shoolgirl persona is described as a "part". While this may be a reference to being a "regular schoolgirl", the definition by surface is corroborated by the men's preoccupation with their smell as a defining aspect of their masculinity and Lilly's obsession with clothes and shoes (not to mention the role the ninja outfits play). Aside from the blatant Disney morals that are smeared across the entire text, this emphasis on surface is the closest the books gets to a unifying theme. It is even quite salient in the "exclusive crush-guide mini-book" at the end, where I was quite surprised to find boys categorised (and valued) according to what they write in their texts. In case you were wondering, signing with an X means that a boy really likes you, ;-] that he flirts with both you and apparently everyone else, SC that he may not have time for you because he has too many friends, CULA that he likes you but might make fun (of you, presumably), BBFN that his contact list may be too long for there to be any time for you, LTNS that he will only hang out with you for a while before moving on, LOL that he will laugh at anything, and RUOK that he will treat you as one of his friends. Thankfully my man never writes any of those, so I assume he is an actual person who cannot be defined by his use of less than five letters, but I am sure all you other people should be aware of it when looking for a potential boyfriend.

I am left with one main question: there is a market for this tripe? I suspect that is where the major socioeconomic implications are to be found. What went wrong? It is bad enough people are watching it; now they are reading it, too?

If you would like to know more, please let me know so that I can relay the information to the nearest mental health clinic.

Thank you, Tom. I'll make sure to make it up to you at some point.

Comments

Tor,  20.01.10 22:48

I'm quite pleased that I don't have to read this book. But I'm not all that pleased about the strong decline in quality of childrens literature. I remember when I was young, etc.

Also, I'm rather impressed that you not only read this book, but actually had this much to say about it. Clearly you are good at this literature stuff.

Are,  21.01.10 08:15

Colour me impressed. Good article. I suppose this demonstrates that we don't need anyone to create good original stuff, as long as someone can make crap and someone else can write good, interesting analysis of it?

Camilla,  21.01.10 09:41

No. Nononononono. Give me good, interesting stuff. There is really almost nothing to say about this book, mainly because it is shit. Granted, I could have written some more about continually shifting points of view, for example, but there is not enough consistency in anything to give a really interesting reading.
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Hannah Montana
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