Hannah from Heaven

The Rodeo saves local parents from a winter of sulking. But what's this whole Miley Cyrus thing about, anyway?

With last week's announcement of a new Hannah Montana show next March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo rode in like the U.S. Cavalry to the rescue of many an embittered suburban parent of a tween girl.

It's been a while since there has been such hysteria for any tour. Two state attorneys general have probed fraud allegations against ticket-scalping companies, and even the Federal Reserve Bank issued a report weighing in on the matter. Meanwhile, sad tales abound of both robotic and human scalpers rampant in the land, and clench-jawed parents direly fraught in their determination to score tickets.

Even members of the Hannah Montana fan club — who had been promised first crack at presale tickets over the phone and on the Net — failed to obtain them, even if they employed multiple buyers working the phones and keyboards from the opening gun, or were first in line at the box office.

A man in Indianapolis told that city's newspaper that most of the people in line with him for tickets looked suspiciously more like squeegee men than parents of suburban tweens. But that old-fashioned human-based scalping seems almost quaint today. The real action is with the ticket-buying 'bots and the secondary Internet ticket brokers.

The reason you fan club members never got a crack at a ticket in the presale was that just about every last one of them had been sucked over by spam/scalp robots — just call them SCAMPs — to any one of a bevy of secondary sales sites. Where, of course, they were priced exponentially higher. (One especially dirty trick these companies are alleged to have used was to have computers tie up the phone lines so few actual buyers could get through to buy tickets at face value.)

The L.A. Times reported that front-row seats for the show in that city were available at one site for $1,945 each, while other reports have surfaced of similar seats going for as much as $3,000. It's gotten so bad that StubHub (to its credit) sent out an e-mail blast advising potential buyers on the best way to avoid paying such extortionate prices at their own site.

Here in town, a friend, the parent of a ten-year-old girl, told me one of her daughter's softball games had been canceled due to Hannah-induced absenteeism on the night. My daughter just turned three last month, and while she can't be said to be a fan, she recognizes Hannah Montana at a glance.

So the demand level for Hannah is sky-high. Sadly for some, the supply is not.

Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel TV show, has an estimated four million viewers. The ongoing 54-city tour combined offers only (roughly) 675,000 seats. And you have to remember that an even smaller fraction of actual Hannah Montana fans will be getting tickets. By my own (very rough) estimate, somewhere between 30 and 45 percent of the attendees at all these shows will be adult ­chaperones.

But the question is, why?

My best guess is that this is merely a singularly skilled retelling of the Cinderella folktale. This has, of course, been one of Disney's stocks-in-trade since Old Walt's day, but none of them have caught on this successfully since the original. I think in this case, you have to give credit to both Miley Cyrus, the 14-year-old actress who plays Hannah, and her father Billy Ray, the once widely reviled country singer who crooned the earworm smash hit "Achy Breaky Heart" from beneath one of the crowning jewels in the universal mullet pantheon.

On the show, Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, persecuted nerd supreme in her junior high. Little do her detractors know that donning a magic platinum-blond wig transforms Stewart into Hannah Montana, sparkly pop star princess of the whole wide world. This formula — the "If only my true inner beauty could be revealed to a cruel world" meme — has worked since when, exactly?

Ever since the dawn of time, apparently, as a variant of Cinderella called Arinasa del Anne was first recorded by the Greek Historian Strabo 100 years before the birth of Christ. Even then it was an old folktale passed down by slaves in Egypt through the generations. The story also has variants not just in the West, but also in India, Japan, China and Malaysia.

It even has its own category in the exhaustive Aarne-Thompson folktale classification system. While other folktales are classified with rough plot descriptors such as "AT 49 — The bear and the honey" or "AT 157 — Learning to fear men," type 510AB is simply called "Cinderella ­stories."

Every generation needs its retelling of Cinderella, as Disney has always known, and today's version is Hannah Montana. All those millions — mostly girls between six and 12 — tune in every week, each one of them fantasizing later in their bedroom mirrors that they too are pop princesses in waiting.

Cyrus wrings the Cinderella myth for every last drop. In addition to using it as the TV show's central motif, Cyrus employs it on the road. This tour is called The Best of Both Worlds, and she is billed both as Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus, the "real Hannah Montana."

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