The Miley Cyrus Controversy

I’m sure I don’t even need to explain what I’m about to comment on, such is the furore flying round this week: on Sunday night at the MTV VMAs, Miley Cyrus “twerked” and all-round danced inappropriately with a foam finger, giant teddy bears and Robin Thicke, all with her tongue weirdly hanging out.

Miley in a more innocent time.
Miley in a more innocent time.

Obviously, this was pretty shocking for those Americans happily enjoying a relaxed evening in watching TV, especially since MTV had given it a 14+ rating (which many parents are now angry about) but it was probably even weirder for those in close proximity to the stage at the event. Miley is still 20, after all, which made it feel even more wrong than when Madonna and Britney Spears shocked audiences at the same awards show.

On the other hand, her age means that it’s a relatively normal thing to be doing. Relative, obviously, to level of fame. If you compare her stage to the normal girl’s nightclub then it’s comparable; hers just comes with a lot more eyes looking back at her. We have to remember that she’s been in the public eye since she was 12, and I don’t need to tell you what happens to a lot of child stars; all in all, she’s actually doing pretty well for herself. If this is her crazy moment, it’s not that unusual: she’s doing something that has become normalised to her, especially when others like Rhianna practically build shows around these kinds of moves.

The thing that makes it worse for me is the fact that she’s grinding very, very inappropriately on Robin Thicke, who is a married 36 year-old with a young son; he didn’t exactly look totally comfortable during their performance, and he doesn’t participate much at all – just sings – but he could hardly run away from Miley. That’s pretty awkward. Also the places she put the foam finger (on both herself and him) don’t really help her case.

Robin Thicke in the controversial Blurred Lines video.
Robin Thicke in the controversial Blurred Lines video.

However, I was about to put a negative case forward for the nude-coloured PVC bikini, but then I remembered that that’s not even her fault: she’s playing along with Blurred Lines (whether it’s meant to be ironic or not, as Thicke insists), and so is parodying the submissive women who wear these clothes in the controversial video. Sure, perhaps it was unwise to get herself caught up in that controversy, but it made the joining of the songs into more of a performance piece and could even have represented the submissive women in the video being released and given their own voice. Until Miley and Robin explain their exact motivations we can only speculate, but why not consider these interesting possibilities?

To conclude, I don’t want to condone Miley’s behaviour, but there are definitely worse things going on in the world right now for people to be shocked about. It’s hardly the first time a young woman has danced provocatively on TV, and although it may be the worst recent example of doing so, the sheer amount of negative coverage she’s received is just insane.

Let’s leave Miley alone to get on with figuring herself out in a weird child star sort of way: we just need MTV to give a better warning about content next time.

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7 thoughts on “The Miley Cyrus Controversy

  1. Hermione August 29, 2013 / 8:47 PM

    I like that you’ve taken a different take on the situation than just “it’s gross”, “that was inappropriate behaviour” etc. However, shouldn’t it be more alarming that a married man with children was dancing provocatively with a young woman RATHER than the other way round? I find his behaviour much worse. But then again “it takes two to tango”. I feel like Miley is getting all the blame and the married man with the misogynistic music video gets nothing. I’m sure the dance had been prepared beforehand, if it made him uncomfortable, he would have spoken up?
    I like your ideas about the girls in nightclubs vs. Miley as I never thought about it in relation to the average person, I guess she is always viewed in this perfect, celebrity bubble. It was nice to see all the different ideas in this blog post. What are your views on the “Miley twerking = cultural appropriation” debate? It would be interesting to hear what you think about that too!

    • charlottetobitt August 29, 2013 / 9:16 PM

      I know what you mean about Robin: I was trying to put a more positive spin on it than others had done, but obviously that’s not going to work 100% with something like this. The main reason I left him out of it was that to me he wasn’t reeeeally dancing provocatively- mostly he was standing still or walking around a bit and she danced round him. Of course, your “it takes two to tango” works here too, so it’s a tough one. However, I wasn’t sure how relevant it was just to bring up the music video too much: we can’t compare every single thing he ever does now to the video, as useful as that would be to be negative about him.
      I actually hadn’t seen much about the cultural appropriation side of things- everything I saw was focused on Miley being disgusting/inappropriate :(- but that’s a very difficult subject. Once you realise what she actually did (not everyone even knows where twerking/the song’s sound came from, after all!) then I can’t believe that’s not being seen as worse than the performance as a whole. Probably the worst thing about it is the deliberate use of the black women to stay in the background etc.
      Do you have any more developed thoughts on the matter?

  2. K August 29, 2013 / 9:28 PM

    No comment on the cultural appropriation going on? Twerking is a black woman’s dance, and originates from the black community in New Orleans. It isn’t inherently sexual either – to say it is, is to view it through a heteronormative lens.

    • charlottetobitt August 29, 2013 / 9:34 PM

      I absolutely agree, and understand that it’s a black cultural thing. However, during these past few days after the VMAs I read dozens of comment pieces about how inappropriate the performance was and absolutely nothing about the cultural appropriation. I’m sure there are pieces about it out there, but I personally didn’t come across any and so they were probably being shared in different places.
      It’s more telling about our society that onlookers and commentators focused on what they thought was sexual and inappropriate- that’s just what people do with women at the moment.
      Regardless of what I know about the cultural appropriation, I think my blog still stands because I looked at why Miley shouldn’t be being judged in that way. Perhaps she should be called out on appropriating this black culture, but I don’t think she should be judged so much for being sexual!

  3. tara234 August 29, 2013 / 9:49 PM

    Well written, Charlotte, though I don’t know if I’m convinced – the comparison of Miley Cyrus in relation to girls her age in a nightclub is definitely a valid one, and it is a shame in that everything she does comes under such scrutiny when she’s so young. But then – whether she wants it or not – she has to accept that young girls do look up to her as a role model. And, I don’t know, there’s something a little disconcerting about her giving off this idea that to be grown-up and independent means to be scantily clad and sexually overt and wax lyrical about how into drugs you are (so edgy). You use the comparison of Rihanna, but Rihanna is frequently called out as being a bad role model whereas Miley is generally just “going through a phase” and “experimenting”.

    But yes, I’d like to know your thoughts on the idea of cultural misappropriation. Like, obviously there is nothing wrong with a white girl twerking just because it’s a dance generally associated with black people, that would be a ridiculous notion. But it is the manner in which Miley has adopted this whole black culture vibe. Flanked by black backing dancers, requesting a “black sound” on her new single (http://www.vibe.com/article/miley-cyrus-asked-black-sound-single-says-songwriters-rock-city). Like, the whole thing is very dubious and overall absurd. Also, yeah, don’t grind on an older man on stage and pretend that has anything to do with black culture. But then, is “black culture” even a real thing, or just something made-up by white A&R people to sell records?

    I will agree that there are much more troubling things going on in the world. Miley is a 20 year old rich, white girl – she can pretty much do what she likes. Things like Syria are perhaps more worthy of such in-depth discussion (but I’m unfortunately not nearly as informed about that haha).

    • charlottetobitt August 29, 2013 / 10:00 PM

      Ditto- I feel far more qualified to talk about Miley Cyrus than Syria even though I know it’s much less important!
      I may get absolutely hated for saying this, but I have been wondering about your last point about “black culture” myself: ultimately, we’re trying to live in a world of cross-culture and tolerance, so shouldn’t white people be allowed to share the things that black people do, like dance? Sharing the dance is hardly harmful. That’s why, when replying to Hermy, I just said that the worst thing about the cultural appropriation was that the black women were in the background at Miley’s beck and call. Also perhaps she could have described the sound she was looking for better than a “black sound”, but it’s not like everyone’s very eloquent. Ironically, there are very blurred lines around this (see what I did there!)
      Your point about Rhianna is fair, but she is five years older than Miley: if even in two years (because Rhianna’s been doing this stuff for a while) Miley’s still completely acting out, then we can definitely call her a bad role model. I just think she should be allowed to do a couple of wild things first: if it becomes a pattern and she continues this behaviour as she grows older then of course she’ll be a bad role model. For now, she can still just about get away with it.
      Equally, I hate that being scantily clad and sexy is the way to be seen as grown up, but unfortunately that’s the way it is at the moment and if Miley wants to be seen as someone more than Hannah Montana then it is understandable that it’s what she ended up doing. Obviously it’s not right, but that one’s down to society really.

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