It's Not About Miley Cyrus. It's About Our Culture.
To begin, it is important to recognize that in its history, MTV has long been out for ratings, publicity, and pushing the boundaries of what is considered tasteful far more than it has been for promoting good values or showcasing talent. The network has taken the proverbial PR cake with the latest Miley Cyrus “performance.”
Miley’s singing (and twerking) of her hit “We Can’t Stop,” during Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards was followed by an appearance with Robin Thicke, as he cooed the racy song-of-summer “Blurred Lines,” whose lyrics are controversial in their own right. The shockingly sexual 5-minute moment during the VMA telecast set a twitter record of over 300,000 tweets per minute – blasting through the record set by February’s Super Bowl blackout.
I am sure that MTV, the producers of the VMA’s, and potentially Ms. Cyrus and her management team, publicist and record label are thrilled with the attention that last night’s performance has garnered today on social media and across media platforms. Even though the publicity has been largely negative, the music industry, and the entertainment community as a whole, seems to agree that any press is good press, as of late.
That is the show business perspective.
Now, what about the humanity? What about the outrage regarding the content of Miley’s (and Thicke’s), performance? Is it warranted? Is Miley just a confused young woman, going through a stage of rebellion (common amongst those in her generation),or is there something more serious going on here? There are a few points to be made, I think, that warrant a longer discussion than what is allowed by 140 characters, or a simple, one-liner in a Facebook status update. There are many different facets of this issue, I can’t tackle them all, but will address those that are particularly important to me.
First, I think that women, especially those that are young and attractive (for whatever reason) are treated viciously by the media in general. They are glorified as goddesses one moment - models of perfection to be imitated - then torn down, labeled “sluts” and all sorts of horrible names the next. The rise of “mean girls” and female-on-female bullying doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it is a reflection of the way the media treats women. They are largely objectified in a way men are not. Those are the facts. While I absolutely find Miley’s performance inappropriate, especially for audiences of young women, I am not going to trash her as a person. Those who raised up and glorified her as Hannah Montana are now gloating at her perceived demise and implosion (as the media did similarly with Amanda Bynes). That kind of pressure and intense media scrutiny is enough to damage any young person mentally and emotionally. The Miley-bashing has taken off too much today already, and I will not add myself to the list of those taking this opportunity to belittle and degrade a woman going through a very difficult time in her life.
Therefore, I would like to make this conversation about the hyper-sexualization of women in Western culture, and those that accept and promote it. There is a redundancy of images portraying women in sexual, emotional and professional submission in music, literature, and fashion. This message which saturates so much of the media fuels bias, stereotyping, and even violence against the female gender. I believe that the lewd sexual content of the VMA’s as an entire show (as there were some other distasteful performances) is something to be concerned about.
Let us also not forget that Mr. Thicke, while incredibly talented, could have refused to perform such raunchy dance moves with a girl 16-years his junior on stage, in front of thousands, but he did not.
Additionally, there is the problem of widespread voyeurism and participation. If shows with such vulgar content did not get the ratings that they do, then they would not be replicated. So, why do Americans tune-in, and thereby feed this machine? (Disclosure: I personally did not watch (nor have watched) the VMAs, simply because I enjoy other activities far more, and am commenting on this situation because it so closely ties in to the issues surrounding young women that I so often speak and write about. I watched the clip out of necessity to write this post.) As with most things in our culture – if we disapprove of something, we can speak most powerfully to the creators of trash by turning off the television, or not forking over the cash to buy the product. The empowered consumer can have a tremendously powerful role in changing culture.
Therefore, instead of turning more vitriol toward Ms. Cyrus and Mr. Thicke for their performance, I say let us take a moment to consider how and why we worship celebrities, and our so highly desensitized culture that needs something so shocking to entertain. Let us feel for Miley in the way that we MUST feel for all young women who are desperately crying out for love and validation, and feel so helpless that they must act out in ways that are damaging to themselves and set a poor example to others. I truly hope that Miley can find a good support team to encourage her during her difficult and complex journey into womanhood, which, unfortunately for her, must take place in the glaring and unforgiving spotlight. We have seen the tragedy that can befall child stars during their transition to adulthood, as they try to find their identity, so let us not rip her apart.
Let us celebrate art that inspires, good music, good voices, and talent, for the sake of admiring others' gifts and speaking a message of hope. Let us renew compassion in our hearts for young performers who grow up under such tremendous pressure, and continue to feel the need (as so many of us do), for attention, praise, and love from those that surround us. I am encouraged by the fact that I have heard so many stories of young women that did not approve of Miley’s performace, and expressed concern for her, rather than condemnation. I hope she is doing okay, too.
I hope that we can all move on, and not seek only to criticize, but to understand. By objectifying people (even if they are, in a moment or phase of weakness and vulnerability, objectifying themselves), we de-humanize them and thereby do a disservice to all. I think we can all learn a great lesson here – watch less television. Spend more time with family. Encourage our little girls, verbally and by example, that they can grow up to be more than just the “play-things” of men and sexual objects. They are adored for more than their bodies. Celebrities only have so much influence. That influence stops when we change the conversation and focus on three-dimensional women doing good in the here and now, rather than yesterday’s news. Let us learn, and grow, and move on.