Monday, April 06, 2015

When One Stops Scolding

Over the weekend, this blog reached an odd sort of milestone, a marker I set myself back in August of 2013. As you may recall, and as you may want to forget, that was when singer Miley Cyrus set the whole world on fire with her controversial performance on MTV's Video Music Awards and I, your intrepid blogger, joined the rest of the world in commenting upon it under the headline Miley Cyrus! Miley Cyrus! Miley Cyrus! The point I attempted to make was that there is a long, rich history of young people, and young artists in particular, outraging their elders. And while I wasn't necessarily comparing the former Hannah Montana actress to them as artists, she was simply following in the tradition of Sinatra, Elvis, and The Beatles. 

That post, based, I'm sure, in no small measure on its title, quickly rose to become one of this blog's all-time most read posts. It wasn't a chart-topper, but it has remained on the top ten list for the past twenty months. Looking back at the post today, I see that most of the comments under it are supportive, but I didn't receive universally positive feedback on Facebook and elsewhere. Most readers seemed to agree with me that it's part of the job of youth to poke a finger in the eye of us old farts, but a surprising number of folks, even while conceding that point, felt that in this case, Miley Cyrus had gone way to far.

People said she set feminism back 100 years.

People said she was irresponsibly teaching young women to debase and devalue themselves.

People said she was a talentless, disease-ridden whore on the highway to hell.

I thought I was making a sort of obvious point about the modern cult of teenager-dom, and I had figured some readers would disagree, but the level of vitriol voiced both about my post and Miley Cyrus in general was really something to behold. As that subsequent week rolled on, I was shocked by the slut shaming, name calling, and barely contained anger being expressed over this predictable pop culture phenomenon. The milestone this blog surpassed was that at some point over the weekend, that post was finally pushed from the all-time top ten list by a pair of recent posts (What Too Many Children Have Today Instead of Play and You Want Mommy to Come Back, in case you're interested). I had told myself that when this day came, when emotions had settled a little, I would re-visit that post.

I know, through my daughter, a large number of young women, most of whom were, at best, casual fans of Miley Cyrus. They had watched the Hannah Montana TV program as little girls, but her's wasn't a name that regularly came up on conversations about favorite music. I don't think any of them actually watch the VMA show live, although as the controversy blew up, they, like many of us, checked the video out, and found it "okay." What they mostly wanted to talk about, however, what pissed them off, was the vitriolic response. Many of them were responsive to some of the more thoughtful articles that examined the performance through the lens of feminism, sexuality, and race, but as the days passed, they became increasingly furious at her critics. As one of them said, referring specifically to singer Sinead O'Connor, who boosted her own career by ripping up a photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live, "I'm sick of these old women dumping on Miley. I feel like they're dumping on me."

As I wrote in that original post, I can't imagine that anyone expected that Miley Cyrus' performance, sandwiched as it was between Kanye West and Lady Gaga, would emerge as controversial, but it's quite clear from the perspective of nearly two years later that it did nothing but help her career. The anger directed toward her, the name-calling and slut shaming in particular, made her a sympathetic figure to the core of her fans: young women struggling to find their identity in the world, moving from the glitter and tiaras of childhood, into a more adult world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It's not surprising that so many of them took the criticism personally as old people once more lectured young people about morals, manners, and fashion, especially since there are so many more important things about which to be outraged.

As one of my daughter's friends said to me across the dinner table, "It's not like she caused global warming. It's not like she started a stupid war. All she did was shake her booty and stick out her tongue."

I don't always like the clothes my child wears, the music she listens to, or things she chooses to do. I reckon she's done her fair share of shaking her booty and sticking out her tongue (or whatever the latest thing is), but that isn't who she is any more than Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana. Looking back from this somewhat arbitrary milestone, what I'm most grateful for is the opportunity it gave me to listen to my daughter and her friends. They're smart, thoughtful young women, who know it's all a show. It's the sort of thing one can only learn when one stops scolding.

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Anonymous said...

Please tell me about the painting in this post I love it!

Teacher Tom said...

That is "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" by Marcel Duchamps. There were street riots in Paris over this outrageous painting when it was first shown in 1912.

Rafer Nelsen said...

I din't see the her performance, I am hopelessly out of touch now with pop culture, etc (and was never that "into" it when I was younger, come to think of it, during the "Madonna years," as it were), but I did see at least a partial replay of it at some point in the aftermath, and the part that I didn't like, sorta grossed me out, truth to tell, was that terrible older male "singer" on the stage with her. He was truly disturbing. I have no idea why he was up there.