Two Disney spawn are making news this week yet again for playing against type. In one corner is the now-former Hannah Montana, 18-year-old Miley Cyrus, apologizing publicly -- via exclusive Marie Claire interview -- says she's sorry about the bong-hit seen 'round the web because some of her younger fans (i.e., their parents) felt betrayed by her turn against her squeaky clean image: "But I've never, ever claimed to be perfect. I mean, since I've started the show, I've always said, 'I'm gonna make mistakes.' I know this. And I think that that is one of the reasons why people related to me. Why kids related to me."
In the other corner is Selena Gomez, the rising teen-queen star of the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place, who's just signed on to star in the big-screen adaptation of YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why, about a girl who commits suicide, leaving behind audio messages for 13 people explaining how they contributed to her dark decision.
Two totally different situations: one's a real-life situation, one's a movie role; one's a public apology from a huge star, one's a simple career decision from an up-and-comer. But given the constraints of child stardom -- particularly under the Disney brand -- I have to applaud both of them as very grown-up moves. The Disney kids rarely catch a break from the public -- their every move is scrutinized for its G-rated appropriateness, and human beings, particularly of the teenage variety, can rarely live up to those standards. It's been impossible since the days of The Mickey Mouse Club back in the '50s, and it only gets harder in Internet, everything's-taped, everyone-has-an-opinion culture.
But Miley's owning her "mistake" -- if one must call it that, even -- without going overboard with contrition. She acknowledges she's a role model and also that she won't always live up to that. She's self-aware but imperfect, like a lot of us mortals. Gomez's decision to go super-dark with her first starring movie role is even more interesting: Instead of a gradual, smooth transition through, say, a big-screen version of Wizards, or even a more typical teen comedy or mushy drama, she's going straight for the acting challenge. Parents may not love this decision, but teenagers adored the book -- and they'll probably love the film, too.
Plus, isn't this better than proving she's a grown-up with an "edgy" half-naked photo shoot or paparazzi shots of her clubbing?
For more on Disney culture, please check out my book, WHY? BECAUSE WE STILL LIKE YOU, a history of the Mouseketeers.