I am late on this, but this whole “OMG, MILEY!” thing is not going away. I acknowledge that by acknowledging it, I am part of the problem, but, well, so be it.
What inspired me to speak up was this piece that’s addressed to Moms—not Dads, I note, but I’ll resist chasing that down the rabbit hole—about how Miley Cyrus’s onstage display is the end result of lax parenting. And as long as I was going to respond to that, I might as well tackle the whole ball of wax.
First, as always, I recommend developing a sense of proportionalism (a word that I’m not actually sure is a word). In not even the grand scheme of things, this is not a very big or meaningful deal. In fact, as pointed out at Slate, this happens, in one way or another with one pop star in another, damn near every year at the VMAs. It is, in many ways, the purpose of the VMAs. It is their business model. Madonna, Spears, Aguilera. Rhianna. Gaga. Fergie. Perry. These are but a few of the ladies who have “scandalized” us over the years.
But people have not been in proportional in their responses so asking them to be is a bit of a waste of time. I get paid by the word though so you can just sit there and take it.
I kid. Please don’t leave.
(More words! Cha-CHING!)
So, considering that this is a VMA tradition and this year boasted not one but two displays of copious flesh, why have people lost their ever-loving mind about it?
Well, for one, there’s the whole Hannah Montana thing. From the age of 13 (!) to 18, Cyrus played the secret identity having popstar on Disney. Of course, that was a role she played not actually her and thus Cyrus not being Montana in her life now does not “kill” Hannah. Hannah is fiction.
Also, it was two years ago since Cyrus played said character. It is not as thought she rolled of the set of Hannah, pulled off her wig, and hopped on stage with Alan Thicke’s son. So perhaps we can spare ourselves the handwringing and wailing “think of the children!”
For one thing, don’t put your kids in front of the VMAs if you are of the mindset that young woman showing skin is inherently damaging to them. It will always be part of the VMAs. For another, the kids that grew up watching Montana have, as the statement suggests, grown up. They might not be twerking on stage with a smooth blue eyed soul artist, but I guarantee they know what twerking is and there is a good chance they have twerked or been twerked on sometime in their lives. Let’s not be overly precious about youths 16-22.
Additionally, people my age witnessed Britney Spears rip off her clothes live on-stage and dance in a near-nude spangly body suit. As far as I know, nearly all of those who watched that display did not become strippers, immediately engage in high risk sexual activities, or shoot heroin into their eyeballs. Spears own life has been rough but witnessing her being sexy and simulating stripping onstage did not prove an irresistible force driving the youth of the day to terrifying heights of risk-taking behaviors and unfettered hedonism.
Finally, this is not new. Cyrus has been pushing boundaries, shedding her Montana-ness, showing skin, sexualizing herself, for months, if not years. No one who has seen her since she turned 18 can act surprised at this. This is an evolution, not an overnight change. Just take a look at the first image in this article. That's Cyrus last year. Does not look much like Hannah there, does she?
We also need to actually look at the context of the set. Is it sexy? I mean, actually sexy, not sexy adjacent? I would say no. It is grotesque, in the classic sense of the word. It is ridiculously overblown, a living cartoon, in essence. I would hazard a guess that Cyrus herself does not believe it sexy. I mean, it is possible she is a teddy bear, foam finger, and/or Beetlejuice suit fetishist (and if so, all power to her) but it is fairly unlikely. To act as if we collectively witnessed a live sex show suggests one is either a.) largely unfamiliar with sex or b.) has a wildly different approach to sex that I’ve experienced.
If you fall under b.) drop me a line. I would to pick your brain.
Some have picked up on this and criticized it therefore on being inauthentic, as being silly and an example of how bad music is today. The thing is, pop music has always been largely inauthentic. Are there pop artists who are authentic? Maybe. But at a base level, even Springsteen is inauthentic. The last time Springsteen authentically understood the blue collar experience, Cyrus was still 20 years from being born. Rappers with gobs and gobs of cash still discuss life on the mean streets while living in mansions in Connecticut or owning stakes in professional sports teams. Bono once wore devil horns and cued a love song to a piece of fruit. Yes, Cyrus is inauthentic. Welcome to art as commerce.
Oh, and just because this does not really fit anywhere else. Brooke Shields called it “desperate.” Brooke Shields was completely naked in a movie at 15 and sexualized jeans when she was around Cyrus’s age. Adults have a tendency to forget how they were at the same age.
Which brings us back to the mother that finally broke me and made me want/need to write this. Her thesis is, more or less, Cyrus has never been told no and is evidence that that approach to parenting does not work.
Right off let me acknowledge that that part is right. Being a parent is saying no at times. Most of kids who have permissive parents do not have the life Cyrus has had or will end up doing what Cyrus was doing, but point made. Be a parent, not a buddy.
And that’s where I stop agreeing.
First of all, there is the writer’s casual relationship with enacting violence on her child. She mentions spanking almost immediately. I admit that spanking is a fairly mild form of physical punishment and thus still an area of much debate in child care circles but I still feel the need to at least point it out. Way more troubling, however, is the “duct tape your mouth” thing. I would like to call it a metaphor, but it certainly is not phrased as anything but literal. “Knock you on your butt?” Ok, I’ll buy it as metaphor. The duct tape just rings different though.
Second, there is the seeming implication that because Cyrus will one day regret this (which is debatable but could happen) it is inherently wrong. We need to squash this idea as quickly as possible. It is impossible not to have regrets. Trying new things, testing the boundaries of ourselves, our skills, our interests can and will lead to regret. The future possibility of regret in and of itself is not reason not to do something. Believe me, I am an overly cautious guy who is very prone to feelings of regret and nostalgia. And I still do not think one should live a life with the goal of avoiding any regret.
Lastly, there is how the piece continues the grand tradition that girls must be protected from their own sexuality and boys are only interested in using said girls for sexual gratification. This is beyond galling. Is this sometimes true? Yes, there are boys and men out there who objectify and use women. I will even grant that there are more boys and men who do it then girls and women who do that to males. By a large margin. But it is by no means universal.
More to the point, the way to empower girls in reference to their sexuality is not to label girls and young women who dance in ways that are not chaste as “cheap.” In my life, I have danced in less than chaste ways with girls who have grown up to be smart, well functioning women. Did I enjoy dancing with them in such a manner on physical level? Absolutely. Did I view them as meat? Absolutely not.
Look, the fact of the matter is this: you should tell your children not to emulate Cyrus because grotesque displays of sexuality are not something that are appropriate in anything but settings like concerts, films, plays, and so on. You should teach them that sex and sexuality can be destructive if they are not paired with other forms of intimacy. But you should also teach them that paired with other forms of intimacy, they can be beautiful and wonderful and life-changing, not life destroying. Stop telling boys, either implicitly or explicitly, that they are nothing but hungry for flesh victimizers and stop telling girls, either implicitly or explicitly, that there are nothing but walking sets of secondary sexual characteristics that will end up victimized if they dare to enjoy those characteristics.
But most of all, I beg all of you, don’t watch MTV if this sort of thing bothers you. There are literally hundreds of other TV stations, Netflix, Hulu, books, outside, malls, sporting events, talking to family or friends, the internet…the list is endless. Do not like Miley Cyrus and her like? Walk away. Life is too short for this kind of disposable outrage.