Human Papilloma-Cyrus

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


Lessons from a Politically Incorrect Mom

One cold December night our family had the privilege of spending time with two children from a foreign land.  My brother had befriended a classmate, David, who had moved with his family from Israel to America.  David and his little sister ate dinner with us one night and afterwards attended our church’s annual Christmas party for kids.  They seemed to enjoy it.

Later that evening we dropped the two beautiful children off at their house, their big brown eyes wide with excitement from the night’s festivities.  Their sweet mother stood in her driveway thanking us profusely in broken English for letting her children hang out with us.  As my mom turned to leave she paused as if a light bulb of awareness suddenly came on, a tiny voice letting her know that some sort of disclaimer needed to be made.

She turned back to the Hebrew mom still standing and waving in the driveway.  “By the way, I really didn’t think about this before…but I hope it’s okay.  We had hot dogs for supper tonight.  Your kids loved them. I buy the inexpensive kind so they probably don’t have much pork in them at all, your family being Jewish and everything.”  So after dropping Hiroshima, she continued by immediately delivering Nagasaki .  “Oh, and we took your kids to church, and they sat on Santa’s lap.  They also sang Christmas carols.”  She basically couldn’t have potentially offended them more if she would have replaced David’s yarmulke with a Santa hat and handed him a basket of Easter eggs to replace his dreidel.

I like to imagine in my mind that the next day as David’s family hightailed it on the first available flight back to Israel that security guards arrested my mom as she chased the plane down on the runway holding a box full of Jimmy Dean sausage and American flags, something to remember us by.

My mom meant no offense, and I truly don’t think any was taken, but when she got back in the car that night she thought for a minute and then let out the tiniest of laughs.  Then, slowly, as the scope of what just happened fully hit her, her laughter picked up until she was in full-blown crying mode.  And I was right behind her.  My mom has always found it easy to laugh at herself, and from times like this I learned two important lessons.  First, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.  Second, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, laugh often, and laugh so hard that you cry.

Perfectly Good

My parents created the Iron Curtain of established parameters when it came to how money was spent in our family.  Years of research and careful observation resulted in finally being able to decode the decision process they went through whenever my brothers and I asked for something.   In their financial methodology every potential purchase was contemplated in light of one or more of the following questions, depending on how soon they could arrive at a reason to say no:  Is there something at home that’s a perfectly good substitute?  Is it worth the gas money?  Would you be better off doing something else?

Since the “perfectly good” substitute was the most oft-used excuse, I will expand upon that one.  A perfectly good substitute, according to my parents, was anything in our home that sort of resembled what we wanted them to buy for us somewhere outside of our home.  Easy examples include:

  • Hamburgers: “We have perfectly good sandwich bread and Spam at home.”
  • Malibu Barbie Townhouse: “We have perfectly good, stackable shoe boxes at home.”
  • Rain poncho:  “Don’t you remember?  We still have that perfectly good Hefty bag with a hole cut out in the middle for your head.”
  • Ice cold lemonade to stave off a possible heat stroke after four hours at the zoo:  “We have a veritable storehouse of perfectly good liquids at home, including two week-old milk, vegetable oil, and prune juice.”

At grocery stores, shopping malls, public parks, and anywhere else other kids’ parents were buying them stuff, our parents tried to sell the back-at-home alternatives with looks of incredulity, as if to suggest that any responsible member of society would have remembered every item we owned and its potential for functional malleability.  Their quantum approach to the concept of substitutes took its toll after years of living according to this spooky word-action at a distance.   Upon arrival at school one morning in sixth grade I was told my teacher had fallen ill and our class would have a substitute teacher for that day.  However, until I saw her with my own eyes I had no way of knowing if the substitute was a nice lady with a measure of experience in educating youngsters or an aardvark.  The “perfectly good substitute” didn’t have to be a member of the same species as the original–indeed, it rarely was–but my parents, to their credit, did aim to stay within the same kingdom.  We got as close as phylum on those days they felt especially generous.

Perfectly good substitutes could sometimes be found at stores, but only on those occasions when we wanted brand-name clothes.   My mom had a knack for finding shirts, pants, and shoes that resembled a popular brand at the time, and she was a firm believer in clothing us in nothing but the very second-best.  If our hearts longed for a glaringly obvious knock-off of a famous brand everyone else was wearing, it was never further away than our closets.   Our friends’ parents threw away money on Ralph Lauren Polo Club shirts for their kids.   Why spend $60 when $10 would buy a shirt from the well-respected Raphael Lowman Stable Association collection?   Unfortunately, Raphael’s horse was caught in mid-trot, and since it’s difficult for an embroidery machine to capture the three dimensions involved in an action shot, the horse looked like it was missing a leg.  In real life this horse would have been put down, much in the same way I was whenever I wore one of Raphael’s shirts.

In the early 80s for several birthdays and Christmases I asked for a Members Only jacket.   I was drunk on the allurement of the semi-shiny material and the shoulder straps.  I recently learned those are more properly called passants.  Only the French could come up with something so exotic.  But most importantly this jacket signified that its wearer had finally reached that elite echelon where only Members were allowed to roam, conversing with other Members about the secret things in life that only Members knew about.  I wanted one.  I had to have one.   Then, on an autumn Saturday around 1983 my mother walked through the door, home from a shopping trip, emitting the kind of smile that could only be elicited by an incredible bargain.  “Guess what I found for $15?”  As I watched her produce the jacket from a discount store bag, I genuinely believed all my dreams had finally come true.  I did a combination run/skip kind of thing to my new jacket, admiring the cinched waistband, my first passants, and the unmistakable black tag on the front announcing my induction into Membership.  I should have known by the strained look on my mom’s face that something was amiss.  On closer inspection I realized my mom’s super bargain wasn’t a Members Only jacket after all, but a Lepers Lonely jacket, an apt description of both the way the wearer was treated and felt.