The Walt Disney Corporation was nothing short of outraged when its billion-dollar-a-year child star Miley Cyrus appeared in Vanity Fair wearing only a bedsheet, as shown in the rightmost image above. Said a spokeswoman at the time: "A situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines." But check out the Disney billboard pictured on the left, snapped by Slate's Daniel Brook in Beijing, China. The model, who looks barely pubescent, is being used to sell a matching bra-and-panties set. Brook said the billboard made "the controversial 1990s Calvin Klein underwear ads look artistic by comparison." And it's not the work of Chinese intellectual property pirates; it comes from a legitimate Disney licensee pledged to clear all ads with Disney corporate. What does Disney say? Controlling child exploitation is hard! Also, Chinese people have certain... tastes:
"It has caught us totally by surprise," [a Disney spokesman] told me by phone from Guangzhou... "We have literally hundreds of licensees making our products. They are supposed to submit any kind of imagery to us before it is used, but it's hard to enforce that sometimes," he said...
"I don't want to make excuses for them at all because it is not anything that we would ever approve, but in other parts of the world this is not unusual at all... In fact, in Europe, they have similar type of taste, if you will. Here in China that's not unusual at all, but it's not usual for the Disney brand."
Disney's hypocrisy has been on display since the start of the Cyrus scandal. The company isn't against the manipulation of a 15-year-old for profit when the profit in question is its own, derived from selling a wholesome image of Cyrus to young girls through the Hannah Montana franchise. That's why Disney was so eager to tamp down Cyrus' natural and fairly tame (if unusually public) experimentation with her own sexuality, a process well under way — and heavily photographed — on the internet before Vanity Fair's Annie Leibovitz turned her lens on the star.
But this billboard is the clearest, simplest symbol yet of how Disney's beef with Vanity Fair is about business, not morality. If this sort of thing were a moral question for the company, it would police so-called manipulation of all its child icons with equal vigor, whether the kid in question was selling 10-figure TV packages or cheap underwear sets. That clearly is not the case.