Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jesus Goes to the Movies - Hannah Montana

Cailee and I heart Hannah.
It seems that boys like Ms. Montana just as much as girls

It doesn't get much better than 20+ junior high students all showing up to see Hannah Montana: The Movie. That was my last Saturday. This past Wednesday, we talked about the multiple messages and themes found in HM and how they relate to Scripture and living out our faith.

Hannah Montana is a bit of a mixed bag. Some messages are consistent with a Jesus-like lifestyle; other's seem almost opposed to what Jesus was going for. A healthy message in the film is that relationships trump fame. Hannah's connections with her friends and family begin to fall apart due to her fame going to her head. She'd rather spend time with her fans in New York than her family in Tennessee until her dad forces her to take a vacation. Scripture affirms this throughout its narrative; from Ecclesiastes to Proverbs to Matthew to 1 Timothy, there are numerous warnings about the dangers pursuing wealth and fame.

However, Hannah Montana also has a subtle unhealthy message: leading a double life is okay. Not only is it okay, it's almost encouraged. We can have metaphysical arguments all day, but in the world of Miley Stewart, Hannah Montana is not real. She is a wig and makeup and outfits, a persona Miley has created in order to hide who she really is. Miley's identity is actually split between the famous and the ordinary. She claims that this is "the best of both worlds," but in the real world we would call it "fantasy" at best and "hypocritical" at worst.

Yeah, maybe I'm reading too much into a Disney-produced silly tween romp. But the subtle message is that living a double life and having secrets from the people in our lives is exhilarating and acceptable. Many teens already struggle with a patchwork self, a mosaic of identities depending on social circumstances. It's not that having social boundaries and building trust before revealing our inner feelings is wrong; that's absolutely appropriate. I'm also not saying that teens have to feel pressured and rushed to stabilize their identities. They need time and patience to become the person God created them to be. We just can't stay in this world where double- or triple-lives are normative. It becomes unhealthy when we can switch our identities based on our context, where we lead a "church life," a "school life," and a "home life" that aren't consistent with each other. Maybe that's the whole point: having integrity of character means living out one's faith and principles in a consistent manner, not swayed by social situations.

In the film, there's a powerful scene involving a revolving door. Miley has double-booked a lunch with the town mayor as Hannah Montana and a date with a cute cowboy as Miley. She rushes back and forth between the two situations with wigs and outfits flying. As she spins round and round in the revolving door, she has a revelation that living this kind of life isn't the best of both worlds. She can't be Hannah and Miley at the same time; she can't have her cake and eat it too. She must find a way to mold both of her identities into one, to become the person revealed in both Hannah and Miley. This act is one of the central developments in identity formation, and one of the key reasons I'm in the junior high ministry. I'm devoted to helping students form their identities based on the reality that Jesus loves them and offers them the best possible way to live.

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