Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh, Miley

I try not to comment too much on meaningless celebrity scandals.  It's a shame that there isn't more interest in the tough choices we face in Syria and less in the daily lives of people who happen to be famous.

But I can't not comment on Miley Cyrus.

I also must speak about Robin Thicke.

I have no infantilized version of Miley Cyrus running through my memory.  Hannah Montana is a cipher to me.  This is probably because I don't have kids.  I've never seen even the tiniest snippet of her show, and if you put up an uncaptioned picture of Miley Cyrus I might have to think a long while before telling you it was her and not, say, Taylor Swift.  I cannot name a single song she's recorded.

For that reason, I cannot say with any honesty that I was shocked by her performance at the Video Music Awards.

She's a 20-year-old woman.  She is not a 14-year-old girl. She is, biologically, at the peak of her raw sexual attractiveness to men.  If you have a problem with her performance because she was expressing sexuality, then I think your standards are misplaced.  There is not one thing wrong with a 20-year-old woman being aware of and exercising her sexuality.

But what she was doing was grotesque for a different reason.  Artistically, it was a disaster.  It was demeaning to her because there was simply no artistic value to her performance.  Being an adult means making meaningful choices.  It was a gratuitous, pornographic display.

I use "pornographic" in the original sense, which referred to the depiction of prostitutes.  What Miley Cyrus was showing to the VMA cameras was the prostitution of herself to controversy.  I don't believe for a second that she didn't know precisely what she was doing, and why.  This is the new Miley, all grown up and ready to spit out her bubblegum.

As for Thicke, his participation in that spectacle was just as gratuitous and therefore just as disappointing.  I'm a Thicke fan in some sense.  His "When I Get You Alone" is one of my favorite songs and has a permanent place on my Spotify playlist.  "Blurred Lines" has been at the top of the Hot 100 for 11 weeks as of this writing, and it's no surprise--it, like "Alone," has a catchy tune and is strongly cross-genre. (In some respects, they have similar messages; in both, Thicke wonders about the motivations of the target of his affections, perhaps less bitterly in "Alone.")

"Blurred Lines" is not without controversy.  The lyrics describe Thicke's efforts to convince a married woman to have an affair with him.  (I don't endorse that, but I don't find it so bothersome as to be offensive.)  To some, those lyrics are "rapey," a charge I find as gratuitous as Miley's grinding and twerking on the VMA stage.  The lines in question are "I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it/But you're a good girl."

To me, those lines describe a man who's tired of receiving mixed signals from a woman who's clearly interested in him.  There is no indication that this man will take by force what he cannot get consent for.  To the contrary, this is a man who recognizes and respects the woman's power to control her own sexuality--he just wishes that she would not be so coy about things. 

This is, I think, a larger lesson for how women function in society.  There is a significant component of our society--men and women fall into this group--who believe that women are constitutionally incapable of managing their own sexuality.  As a result, they are trying very hard to legislate abortion out of existence with paternalistic requirements, ostensibly related to women's "safety"; they also want curbs on birth control; even more incredibly, they want to deny young women a vaccine against a cancer-causing sexually transmitted virus that is endemic in our population.  Essentially, this movement is about punishing women for having sex.  Calling Thicke's lyrics "rapey" plays into this movement, too, because that implicitly endorses the idea that women have to defend themselves against the suggestion that they might enjoy sex.

Come to think of it, the criticism of Miley Cyrus on the basis of her overtly portrayed on-stage sexuality, as though doing the things she was implying--the grinding, the masturbation, the foreplay--are shameful in and of themselves.  They aren't, and it's wrong to suggest to girls particularly that they are.  What made those acts inappropriate was that they were displayed at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and--artistically--in the wrong manner.

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