Friday, September 6, 2013

Miley Cyrus

My oh my, Miley Cyrus created quite a controversy with her performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Strangely, I can't seem to stop thinking about it myself though it isn't as much the performance that has got a hold of me as it is the commentaries written about it.

The response which I find the most irritating is that it is somehow wrong to criticize Miley's performance for its raunchiness. For instance, Clinton Yates writes in the Washington Post "But what exactly is so disturbing about Miley Cyrus? It seems that we still can’t handle what it’s like for a young woman to be able to perform, as she chooses, without layering in a heavy helping of insults as well...When the white, 20-year-old, former child star and daughter of a country singer goes on stage and does something that the so-called ruling classes deem unseemly, it starts a firestorm."

Soraya Chemalys of Salon writes "The shame-filled objections to women like these are simply a double standard about power and worthiness. The outrage and “disappointment,” cloaked primarily in concerns about, “sluttiness,” “selfishness,” “craziness” and “inappropriateness,” add up to one thing: female unworthiness...Women, we’d like everyone to keep thinking, are unworthy of too much agency, authority, power and self-expression. Otherwise, everyday people would be decrying every top-billed male performer for engaging in the exact same behavior that Cyrus did last night. It would help if we taught kids, in school, to be critical of stereotypes, to understand constructions of gender, race and ethnicity, and to appreciate the important difference between sexiness and sexualization. Miley Cyrus deserves critique for the racially objectifying elements of her performance, and even for the production of an artistically questionable, odd and distasteful set involving bears and bad dancing. But Cyrus is most likely be criticized instead for being “slutty”or ”crazy” — and those words matter and speak volumes."

And finally Anne Theriault from HuffPost writes "Now, let's be clear: there was definitely a lot of slut-shaming going on, and it was really fucking disgusting. But what was equally disgusting was white feminists' silence over Miley's minstrel show.

What Miley is doing is cultural appropriation. She, a wealthy white woman, is taking elements from black culture in order to achieve a specific image. Her status as a member of a traditionally oppressive race and class means that she is able to pick and choose what parts of black culture she wants to embrace without having to deal with the racism and racialization that black women live with every day. In short, she can imagine that she is being "ghetto" without having any concept of what living in a ghetto would really mean."

So you see, if you are among the many people who are critical of Miley because of the somewhat pornographic content of her performance, you are actually a sexist pig more concerned about keeping females from acquiring too much power and can't seem to recognize Miley's true crime which is that she is actually a racist.

To be fair, I do recognize that there are a number of people who have run to their favorite social media outlets and simply labeled Miley with some derogatory terms without expressing any sort of actual coherent criticism. But the type of commentaries I quoted above don't seem to be pinpointing their attack to this narrow group of people. Instead they paint a picture of Miley's critics which fits their world view all the while ignoring or distorting the actual complaints. I'm not sure if this is a purposeful straw man argument or if it is truly something they are blind to. I mean, the complaints against Miley are pretty simple to understand. They can probably all be lumped into the categories of either bad taste or parental concern. Why is it so difficult for far leftist to simply accept that people are legitimately criticizing her for the reasons they give and that they are completely sensible criticisms to make?

This is especially true in the area of parental concern. The Parents Television Council (PTC) issues a complaint against MTV for airing the show with a rating of TV14 (suitable for 14 and up) and who can blame them? Would you really want your 14 year old son or daughter exposed to this sort of raunchy performance? Of course there are those who believe that exposing kids to sexual material is really not that big a deal. And while there hasn't been as much research in this area as there should be, the studies that have been conducted would disagree. For instance, this 2012 study published in Psychological Science concluded that Children who watch films with a high sexual content tend to lose their virginity earlier and have more partners. Not only are they more promiscuous, they are also more likely to engage in risky sex such as not using condoms.


  1. Gerry, you hit some interesting points here. I agree with the Cultural appropriation, but there is also an aspect of cynical industry exploitation at work, I feel.

    One thing I've noticed about both many criticisms of the Miley Cyrus performance, as well as the criticisms of those criticisms, is how much they are really about other fears and anxieties lying beneath the surface. A reason my own criticism was somewhat muted..

    The slut shaming discourse I listened to for a moment then tuned out. For one, the issues of appropriation linger for me, secondly I would think that most women would be more upset about the cynical exploitation of female sexuality than "slut shaming." There's the vapid, in my opinion, theme in many discussions about sexuality being emancipatory but what's going on here isn't any sort of "liberational" sexuality, it's a commercial display, appropriating themes from a marginal culture for great commercial success.

    Parental concern is a perfectly reasonable and cogent place to criticize all of this from. So is taste, although taste is subjective, but then there's Sinead O'Conner's criticism which comes froma place of past injury and wounding, as a young female singer in the music marketplace, reflecting on it when older.

    The her thoughts and criticsm has been ignored by many of the people criticizing the critics of Miley's performance is profound.

    At the end of the day, I feel, this all is really about older cynical media industry executives laughing all the way to the bank riding on a very young and naive woman's desire to seem a lot older and less naive than she really is.

  2. Kamal, that final paragraph is powerfully succinct. I agree that the music/media industry has wholeheartedly committed itself to the goal of embedding sex into everything it can. It's no secret that sex sells and a population overexposed to it is sure to find itself dealing with many resulting problems down the road.