Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus! Miley Cyrus! Miley Cyrus!

In 1912 and 1913, 25-year-old painter Marcel Duchamp scandalized first the Parisian, then the New York art worlds with his painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Now considered one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, Duchamp was mercilessly vilified and ridiculed.

When Frank Sinatra was a young artist, he outraged the establishment by the way he caused his audiences of "bobby soxers" to scream and swoon, finding himself banned from several venues. In 1965, Sinatra said of the up-and-comer Elvis Presley, "His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people." In 1970, Elvis said, "The Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music."

If you thought that Teacher Tom's blog was the place to get away from reading about Miley Cyrus, you were wrong. For those of you who don't know, the 20-year-old pop star has apparently outraged the entire internet by her performance on MTV's Video Music Awards on Sunday night. I don't really follow popular music any longer so it takes something really big to catch my attention and apparently this was huge! My Twitter feed, which is usually, embarrassingly, overrun with tweets about baseball and breastfeeding suddenly started filling up with comments vilifying and ridiculing "Hannah Montana," a character of whom I am aware since I'm the parent of a daughter who, when she was little, watched the girl's TV show.

So I watched the offensive video. After the first few seconds I started laughing and couldn't stop until it was over. I am, frankly, overjoyed that young people can still outrage old people. Good on her. I mean think about this for a second. I did a little research and discovered that she took the stage after Lady Gaga and before Kanye West: never in anyone's wildest dreams could we have imagined that she would be the most scandalous one on that stage, but being the youngest it was certainly her turn. I keep waiting to read some quote from Kanye accusing her of corrupting someone's morals or something. That would make it about perfect.

I'm not saying that Miley Cyrus is destined to be the next Sinatra, but I am saying that it is perfectly meet, right and salutary that young people outrage their elders, especially when it comes to art. You don't think it's art? Well, most people didn't think what Duchamp was doing was art either. Most people thought the Beatles were just making a bunch of noise. What I saw on that video was a dance, and not even the most sexual dance I've ever seen: that was Madonna's 1984 VMA performance of Like A Virgin. What made me laugh was how joyfully she pulled it off, sticking that tongue out of her mouth like a kind of crazy jester. She reminded me of Keith Moon kicking over his drum set or Ozzie Osborn evoking Satan, just having a grand time sticking a finger in the old folks' eyes.

What outrages me far more than a 20-year-old gyrating her young body, was that she was performing on stage with an older, married guy named Robin Thicke (of whom I've never heard) yet she received at least ninety percent of the criticism. Talk about slut shaming.

Oh, and what about the "example" she's setting for those young girl fans of hers? My own daughter is now 16-years-old, a former fan of her Disney Channel TV show, no longer a little girl. I asked her what she thought about Miley Cyrus. She answered, "I think she's talented and cool. I like her new hair, although I don't really like those top knot things she's doing." And about the VMA video: "It was funny. She's a comedic actress, remember? Of course it's not serious. That's what the VMAs are for. She's a performer trying to entertain people."

So good, she didn't mistake the performance for an instructional video on how to live life. I also don't expect her to start wearing those top knots. As an aspiring artist herself, I hope that she is someday in a position to really outrage her elders, including me.

And for all any of us know, Miley Cyrus could be the next Sinatra.

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Lauren said...

My own 17-year-old-daughter, who is a feminist and social justice advocate responded this morning to the whole scandal with a shrug: "She doesn't twerk right. She does it from her ankles." Pouring her morning tea into her travel mug, she shook her head and continued, "I think we have bigger things to be outraged about in this country, don't you?"

Yes, I do.

Males in Early Childhood said...

As usual, you offer a completely different slant on things. I agree we have other things to be outraged about, especially for us heading into a federal election. I also noticed how little was said about the guy on stage.

She's an adult (not a very astute one in my opinion, but I may be wrong on that front) & can do what she pleases if it's within the laws. if you don't like it then don't watch. I think us oldies are outside her demographic anyway so I doubt it will impact her sales much from out end.

All the attention might actually work in her favour though (so maybe she is far more astute than I give her credit for). Anyway, I have other things on my mind.

Thanks Tom for an enlightening slant on whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

I agree... I definitely appreciate this alternate view of the whole "scandal"... It certainly made me re-think what I thought about it - especially being a mother to three (at this point very young) girls.

Courtney said...

Thanks for the fresh perspective! I think people just enjoy being negative, especially when everyone else is doing it.

Unknown said...

Hey Teacher Tom! You totally nailed the reasons why M. Cyrus's sexiness isn't the problem the moral guardians would have it be.

But there is a problem with her performance - a real one.

Huffington Post Entertainment editor Kia Makarechi points out the disturbing nature of the performance, and cites Jody Rosen's comments in Vulture and many more in-depth criticisms of the 20-year-old:

Cyrus is annexing working-class black "ratchet" culture, the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies, to the cause of her reinvention: her transformation from squeaky-clean Disney-pop poster girl to grown-up hipster-provocateur. (Want to wipe away the sickly-sweet scent of the Magic Kingdom? Go slumming in a black strip club.) Cyrus may indeed feel a cosmic connection to Lil' Kim and the music of "the hood." But the reason that these affinities are coming out now, at the VMAs and elsewhere, is because it's good for business.

janne said...

I might agree if she were exploiting just her own sexuality. This article explains how her sexualization of black women is opportunistic and exploitative:

Anonymous said...

Lauren, I think you've done something right. Keep up the good work.

Christine Carr Carrillo said...

I was actually bothered by the racist overtones more than anything else. http://groupthink.jezebel.com/solidarity-is-for-miley-cyrus-1203666732

Teacher Tom said...

The critique that the performance was exploitative and even racist is a valid one. Without commenting specifically about Miley Cyrus here, this is a thread of criticism that has run throughout the entire rock and roll era and probably before. Artists from Elvis and the Rolling Stones, through Paul Simon and The Osmonds, right up to today's artists like Macklemore have, justifiably, been accused to co-opting black culture and art, sometimes even to the point of racism. I think the Jezebel piece is excellent and thought-provoking; a worthy read.

Anonymous said...

Teacher Tom, I hear what you are saying about young people outraging their elders. Sadly though I think there is so much on display from this performance that is representative of true societal issues. I have seen you describe yourself as feminist on this blog before, and from what I read I believe that to be true. With that in mind, I thought you might find this post interesting as well...

Cap said...

I guess I'm officially an 'adult' now because I hadn't heard anything about this until you posted it. (And I laughed out loud about the breastfeeding content of your feeds...because apparently our circles aren't that different.) So I went and watched it, and my impression was akin to your "slut-shaming" comment. Several months ago I saw a video of Miley wearing a koala onesie doing the 'twerking' dance. It was obviously the sort of play that (adults, too) people revert to in good company, and I didn't think much of it other than she had grown up and wasn't half bad. The reaction to the video was often negative, though, with people seemingly appalled that little Miley could behave provocatively (in a onesie, no less...?). If you contrast that video to blatantly sexual -- primarily MALE -- songs that top the charts lately, like that damned "Whistle" one, it seems ridiculous that people would be shocked by Miley's dancing instead. To me, the whole show performance was a statement to that effect -- her in a leotard with a bunch of teddy bears contrasted with the overt sexual lyrics and dance of the male artists. So the fact that the media would focus, again, on HER, is one of those face-palm moments IMO.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your thought but it's not logic that lasts. If every generation outrages their elders then where does it stop? If every generation keeps pushing the envelope then eventually we break. In you examples every artist didn't just outrage their elders but took it to the next level. I'm afraid of where the next levels take us. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! From a mom, a sex-positive feminist and a musical artist. you hit it.

Anonymous said...

Color me outraged! I'm never going to buy another Miley Cyrus record. What's that? Oh, they don't make records anymore. Ok, I'm never going to buy another Miley Cyrus CD. You say what? Downloads? Mp3s? Oh never mind. I'm officially boycotting Miley whoever she is.

Kris Taylor said...

I think that's the point - outraging the old folks is a necessary step on the path to self definition and awareness. The ante is never really raised permanently, just differently and what happens after you've shocked everyone's socks off by twerking or (allegedly) biting the head off a bat is you keep your crazy hair and tattoos while you raise a few kids, pick up after the dogs and worry about your cholesterol.