The public reaction to Miley Cyrus‘ performance at the VMAs is surprising. Though I haven’t spent much time, if any, searching for opinions on her antics, a mere glance at the nightly news, Twitter feeds, Facebook, and internet news sites alerted me to the buzz her performance generated, most of it negative. The public, it seems, is shocked by her sexually-provocative dancing with the juxtaposition of her being prominent on the Disney Channel a few years ago. The thought goes, I assume, that little girls will be influenced by Miley’s grown-up behavior and act in a similar manner, much to the chagrin of their helpless parents. My view is a little different.
What happened on stage is merely a symptom of an underlying virus in our society, what I’ll call the Human Papilloma-Cyrus. Treating the symptoms (the twerk-heavy dance number with foam finger bonus footage) with gasps and declarations of how shameful the performance was seems shrill and counterproductive. It’s akin to treating cancer with an aspirin. There is a larger, underlying virus at work in our culture at large, and until it is eradicated we will continue to see this type of behavior and worse.
As these types of discussions often have political undertones I feel I need to make several disclaimers. I am very conservative on some issues and equally liberal on others. I am not a persnickety old person who is constantly whining about the youth in America. I like sex and an occasional glass of wine, maybe two. I am a Christian. I consider myself a true feminist, and I believe a free-market, capitalist system, though imperfect, is the best. I have a daughter who is a month younger than Miley Cyrus. Obviously none of these things grant me expert status on whether a specific dance move is racist or what types of anti-bacterial product is the best for cleaning foam fingers, but I stay informed with what is happening in popular culture. I am especially familiar with Miley since my three children watched the Disney Channel throughout all the years she starred on Hannah Montana. One last disclaimer….I am not a conspiracy theorist. Of course, that is usually the final remark made before someone in an aluminum hat spouts off his manifesto from an underground bunker.
The “virus” that I think is at the heart of Miley’s performance is the attempt to switch the roles of children and parents, a kind of Freaky Friday scenario for American culture as a whole. Generally speaking, the dad is the butt of every joke, always the dumb, clueless buffoon who can’t tell his shoe from an antelope. This is especially true in commercials and on popular television shows and a little less so in movies. It makes for good comedy, sure, but–make no mistake–kids pick up on this and act and treat their own parents accordingly.
The same thing is done with daughters and their mothers but in a slightly different way. The mothers (the ones who should be acting like grown, sexually active women) are flitting about in Winnie-the-Pooh or Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, cooing over things tweens and teens should be interested in. Their daughters, on the other hand, have been given free reign since the age of nine to text, Google, wear, watch, tweet, or listen to anything they want. What they want is to have the privileges of adulthood without the responsibility, and that inevitably expresses itself in a sexual way.
The not-so-much-a-conspiracy part of my argument is this: Who gains from this role-reversal? I can’t begin to point out all the possible answers to that question, but I believe it wouldn’t hurt to look in the profit margins. Little girls, even more than boys, who are given a blank check to satisfy every whim are a target for companies who see a money-making potential. More accurately, the wallets of the clueless parents are the targets. If no profits were to be made from these things they would not happen. To put it another way, if Americans changed their spending habits and chose not to shower their daughters with material things and opportunities best reserved for responsible adults, this behavior would at least decrease or be less visible. And, yes, their attitudes and resulting material desires result from what they see in the people who they look to as role models and idolize.
As an aside I believe the official video of “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus is far more alarming than the VMA performance, and this video represents exactly what I’ve been discussing in a dark, rather disturbing way. The obligatory youth rebellion theme is prominent, albeit in a grammatically-deficient way (“We run things, things don’t run we”), but the mixing of the child-like and the adult is insidious. View the video at your own discretion.
For those not inclined to subject yourself to the video, a verbal description is provided for your convenience:
Grill (the mouth type), weird facial contortions, smoke from a man’s nether-regions, writhing, eating a money sandwich, lip gloss, French fry skull face, tongue, more tongue, twerk, swimming pool, gum-chewing, more pool, combination writhe/gum-chewing, chopping off fingers and bleeding Peptol Bismol, dancing teddy bears, writhing, scary mask, writhe, tongue, teddy bears, mask writhe, exercise bike (physical fitness is always good for you), alphabet soup, twerk, exercise bike, pronouncement of how only “God can judge ya”, taxidermy, an awesome coat that would make PETA angry, a reference to getting cocaine in the bathroom, making out with a doll, pool, dancing, “U-C-K”, dancing that could be hard on the neck, more smoke from the nether-regions, pool, thumb-sucking, pool, tongue, lying on a bread bed, teddy bears, scary mask, teddy bears, unitard that is uncomfortable apparently, pinata filled with hot dogs (I think), twerk, teddy bears, really strange tongue, sunset or sunrise, “Dope” onesie, wrestling in pinata droppings, contemplating life’s deeper meaning in “Dope” onesie, tongue, writhing in world’s biggest shoes and gum-chewing, tongues, gold fingernails, Guinness World Record for ugliest image at end of a music video.
Picture from popdust.com