Put it away, Miley
I am a sucker for awards shows. This will come as no surprise to my regular readers. (May God bless and keep you.) The glut of awards shows that lead up to the Oscars fills me with unbridled glee. I don’t know precisely why I’m such a sucker for them, but a sucker for them I unmistakably am.
But I would rather set my eyebrows on fire than watch the VMAs. As with everything else on MTV, its annual extravaganza of self-congratulation serves only to: 1) remind me that I’m getting older by the minute, and 2) make me want to fling my television into the Atlantic and move my family to Bhutan.
Last night’s… let’s call it a “ceremony,” shall we? Last night’s ceremony was no exception. I knew my friend Dan would be watching, and frankly I pitied him. The studying I had to do for my pending re-certification exam felt like positive pleasure by comparison.
And thus I did not see live the train wreck that was Miley Cyrus’s performance. It’s probably for the best, for if I had viewed it without bracing myself I fear I may have, Oedipus-like, plunged sharp objects into my eyeballs. Even knowing beforehand that its rampant vulgarity had been widely panned, I could only bear to watch a minute or two before the gong sounded in my brain and I had to stop.
So crass. So desperate. So obvious.
For those of you familiar with the part of my soul I call “Millicent,” rest assured she is in a full-blown swivet. Wherever you are, Miley, I am tempted to hunt you down and fling an afghan over you. However, as singularly appalling as I find it (and it looks like I’m in good company [Ed: according to Jezebel, it turns out that reaction shot was actually to Lady Gaga’s performance, which I didn’t see and am sure I would have found annoying for entirely different reasons], I’m not going to clutch my pearls and natter that MTV shouldn’t air such things. You get what you get when you watch it.
No, what’s pumping new life into my vestigial social conservatism is a question, one that troubles me. Why is it that, at least as far as I can tell, for celebrities who attain fame as girls the process of “growing up” in the public eye entails promoting their sexual availability?
The most obvious other example is Britney Spears. Admittedly, she walked the edge of naughtiness right from the start of her post-Mouseketeers career with her first hit, with its video of her prancing about in a schoolgirl uniform. From there the focus on sex just got sharper and sharper.
The overlap between sexual appeal and a female celebrity’s fame has always been lamentably large. Once able to deploy her sexuality as a witty weapon, even Madonna had to resort to the “lot at me, please!” measure of French kissing Ms. Spears and Christina Aguilera during another questionably-received VMA performance a few years back. I may as well criticize the tides as expect much to change in what female celebrities are expected to deliver to stay relevant in our popular culture.
But seeing a young woman who reached the apogee of fame when she was a girl going to such extremes to promote her brand as an adult makes this demand appear all the more stark. As Dan writes:
The talk of the Video Music Awards last night was Miley Cyrus, who — before leaving early after she lost an award — twerked wildly all over the body of Robin Thicke, stroking his crotch with a foam finger as the two sang his hit “Blurred Lines.”
The performance — a duet between a 20-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man, a woman young enough to have not been allowed to buy Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time” and a man older than MTV itself — was intended as the biggest platform yet for the new Miley Cyrus, in precisely the same way Christina Aguilera did ten years earlier when she performed “Dirrty” and “Fighter.”
It’s noteworthy that Miley’s much-older duet partner remained fully clothed during his performance.
One need not want to pack girls into ivory towers or put them in blinders to wonder why Justin Timberlake is generally allowed to keep his clothes on during performances, even when he’s crooning about his own sexual prowess. Indeed, with the exception of one-hit wonder Marky Mark, I can scarcely think of a single male singer who stripped down to his skivvies during live performances. But the list of ladies is lengthy.
In the end, Ms. Cyrus no doubt achieved her goal. Everyone’s talking about her display, more than anyone else’s. Tongues are wagging even more than hers did last night. Mission accomplished, Miley. I leave it to your fans to decide where your career goes from here. I just wish the path from Hannah Montana to Robin Thicke’s groin didn’t seem so preordained, and the “all grown up!” march didn’t seem so forced.