From a Cyrus fan’s older sibling in Carson City, Nev.: “I tuned in with my minor sister who considerers [sic] Miley her role model. I have one question for you: What kind of pornographic display of indecency whas [sic] that? Miley wore barely any clothing and even flashed her breasts without any sensory [sic] at all. I find this absolutely disgusting that this was allowed on national TV.“
From someone in North Andover, Mass., who didn’t even tune in to the show: “I did not watch the show but I saw plenty of pictures and video recaps of it. What rubbish. It was offensive; it was pornographic and it was disgraceful. Miley Cyrus should be barred on grounds of public indecency. Please do not televise this garbage. It is not fit for any human being to see.” – “FCC Complaints About Miley Cyrus’ Nipple on the VMAs: She’s ‘Very Troubled’ & ‘Should Be Punished'”, Billboard & Yahoo News, September 21, 2015
When anyone uses persons in the entertainment industry as examples of moral turpitude, we are playing the game the industry wants us to play. Whether or not Madonna, or Stefanie, or Britney are or are not sluts is a question they want us to ask so that we will pay attention to them and, hopefully, buy their music. Of course, the persona they create is what we are really purchasing, with the music the soundtrack to our thoughts about them; pushing the boundaries of bourgeois sexual propriety is not only the method by which we are enticed to buy. It is what they are selling.
More than anything, calling these women sluts, bad examples young women should not emulate, is to accept the lie of the image. Even if you believe the constant barrage of carefully placed “rumors” and “stories” in the celebrity press, alleging bad behavior, you are still participating in the game. Here in the entertainment industry, its insistence on visibility and image, we have one of the best examples of capitalism eating itself. On the one hand we have bourgeois morality, with its tsking and tutting about what is and is not “proper” dress and behavior. On the other hand we have millions invested in ensuring these boundaries and mores are clear precisely because they are traduced so thoroughly and consistently. – Me, “Sluts And Celebrity”, What’s Left In The Church, August 3, 2011
Every few years, a new, usually female, celebrity comes along whose behavior attracts attention because it pushes our arbitrary boundaries of propriety. Once upon a time, it was Mae West inviting hecklers to her hotel room after a show. Marilyn Monroe appeared in Playboy Magazine, offering millions of American men a glimpse of what they had been wanting to see. Raquel Welch pushed the sexual image of women even further, particularly in the film Hannie Caulder. Over the course of my adult life we’ve traveled from Madonna rolling around on stage in a wedding dress lip-synching “Like A Virgin”; Britney Spears tempting the repressed pedophile in too many men, dressed as a school girl while breathlessly singing “Oops! I Did It Again!”; Lady Gaga offering empowerment and great dance beats while always allowing as much skin as possible to show.
Now we have Miley Cyrus. She first made millions of jaws drop a couple years ago at the MTV Video Music Awards, twerking among and upon her backup dancers in a number that wasn’t as sexually offensive as it was racially demeaning. She appeared nude – but carefully hidden – for her song “Wrecking Ball”. She has allowed nude photos of herself to be displayed on the Internet. Now, she has done the unspeakable: A woman well-known for pushing both boundaries and buttons allowed her bare breast to flash for just a moment on national television. Like Capt. Renault in Casablanca, I’m shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover attention-seeking is going on here!
Thankfully, of the millions who tuned in to the VMA’s this year, only 20 were outraged enough to put finger to keyboard and send complaints to the FCC. Considering they let Bono off for saying “Fuck” during a live-broadcast event, I just don’t see them rushing to investigate the baring of a nipple on cable television.
Yet it must be said – again and again and again – that the folks who are just “outraged”; who see a nipple and scream “pornography”; and insist “this filth” has no place on television are doing exactly what Cyrus, her management, and her publicity agents (not publicists; those are persons who are expert on international law) want them to do.
The whole point of the entertainment industry is to entertain. There are those purists, of course, who insist that actors should act, musicians and singers play and sing, and otherwise should remain both silent and hidden. The reality, however, is very different. Particularly for someone of Cyrus’s limited acting and musical ability – she isn’t bad; she’s just “meh” like thousands of others who weren’t born to a country-and-western singer – exploiting our need for constant stimulation and information, for content to fill 24-hour news cycles and an Internet in which even a day without a “mention” or a “Tweet” can have serious consequences. Add to that Cyrus’s need to escape the shadow of her adolescent character in Hannah Montana, and we have the ingredients for fake controversy. An exposed nipple and Cyrus saying “tit” on national cable television? We can’t have that! Showing up in the outfit below to walk the “red carpet”? Disgraceful!
Of all the things in this world about which to arouse oneself enough to write to a federal agency, a celebrity attracting attention shouldn’t even be on anyone’s radar. Sad to say, there are still way too many people in the world who think it’s their business not only to determine how others live their lives; they believe it is incumbent upon them to make decisions about what images, sounds. and words reach everyone else. Not understanding that shock and outrage is about all Miley Cyrus has to sell to the public, they are protesting a product that generates millions of dollars in income. What are a few church ladies needing a fainting couch compared to that kind of economic power?
A few years ago, a long-time commenter on my previous blog bemoaned the fact that Lady Gaga was held up as a model for young women to emulate. Personally, I think that’s a fine idea. A talented musician as well as a canny manager of her public persona, were I to have a child who looked up to celebrities – as opposed to my wife and me, the people to whom our children turn when looking for someone after whom to model their lives – I could do worse than recommending Lady Gaga. That she’s edgy and provocative are part of her charm because there’s so much more there. Miley Cyrus, on the other hand, has little more than flashing skin at a hungry public to keep her name in front of us. I’m not bothered by her willingness to appear nude or nearly so in public. I’m far more bothered by those who take their time to carry on about such trivialities.
Who is the real Miley Cyrus? I couldn’t care less, not really. I hope she’s a nice person, but if she isn’t I hope she learns enough in years to come to become one. The images we’re carefully fed, the stories written beforehand with fake sources and phony inside details, her appearances at the VMAs sans clothing; these things have nothing to do with who Miley Cyrus really is. As long as she remains aware of the distinction – that “Miley Cyrus” is a character no more real than Hannah Montana; Miley Cyrus, on the other hand, needs food, water, shelter, and family and friends in order to be a happy person – then all should be well. It’s when celebrities begin to believe their own press that trouble arises.