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Miley Cyrus and the VMAs: Reaping What Has Been Sown

Miley-VMAPOST UPDATED: This link from BuzzFeed demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about. According to Matt Stopera, Miley shouldn’t be shamed for what she did; she should be shamed for doing it badly. Selling her sexuality is not the issue; it’s just that she didn’t do it in as classy a way as Britney Spears.

That bar is set about as low as it can go, isn’t it?

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First, I did not see the performance.

Second, I’m not surprised at all. Or even outraged. And if you are either shocked or outraged, may I suggest that you haven’t been paying attention?

My friend Katie wrote a post about Cyrus’s performance.

“Frankly, it was a repulsive performance. I just can’t find any nicer way to say it. The awfulness of the whole thing was just cringeworthy, from beginning to end. And that’s really saying something when you consider the state of American pop culture today. There are lots of unappealing, hyper-sexualized, trashy and dull things on TV all night long, every single night of the year, so the fact that Miley’s act last night managed to so universally offend is pretty noteworthy.”

I don’t disagree with a thing she says here. But she continues:

“It’s not just that Miley Cyrus was overtly sexy as she sang and danced on national TV; we’re long past the point in our culture where that’s an issue. For example, when Beyonce performed at the Superbowl this year, there was some criticism of how erotic-ish her dance moves were, but lots of folks including me thought it was an incredible show, and loved it. I had no problem with my little girls dancing around in the living room as Queen Bey strutted her stuff on the TV screen. In fact, we all got up and danced…When I watched Beyonce own the stage in an admittedly very sexy pop performance at the Superbowl, I felt like I was watching a grown woman in complete control of her work, her body, her life and her performance. But watching not-even-old-enough-to-legally-drink Miley Cyrus do what she did last night in front of the whole world was different. She came across as a desperate and naive/insecure teen girl whose only understanding of her own sexuality thus far has come from adults who have exploited and preyed on her, and who have somehow got her believing that making fake orgasm faces in undersized plastic underpants on national TV is what will make people love her.”

Where on earth would she get that idea?

Maybe from watching Beyoncé give an ‘admittedly very sexy pop performance at the Super Bowl.’ Katie says that Beyonce ‘owned the stage.’ Last night, like it or not, Miley Cyrus owned the stage. This morning, nobody is talking about who won which award, but they are all talking about Miley.

Miley successfully emulated her role model and has taken the spotlight from the show itself and made it all about her. And in Hollywood, that’s a win.

Folks, TV doesn’t lead culture; it reflects it. There’s no cabal of producers in Hollywood calculating how they can continue to corrupt the youth of today. Entertainment is a business like any other; it provides a product that is in demand in order to make a profit. And we have said loud and clear that the product we demand is sex. And since Hollywood is in the business of giving us what we ask for, that’s what we get. If we truly didn’t like it, it wouldn’t make money, and they wouldn’t make it anymore.  But they keep churning it out and we keep lapping it up, despite an occasional burp of moral indigestion when an act ‘goes too far.’

And the boundary of ‘goes to far’ is a moving target. Does anybody else remember T.a.t.u.’s performance at the 2003 MTV Movie awards where they had dozens of young girls dressed as school girls stripping off their uniforms? I seem to recall some of the crowd collecting as many discarded pieces of clothing as possible while grinning broadly. Then, that performance made some people very uncomfortable; today, it would be boring.

Katie lays the blame on ‘adults who have exploited her,’ and I believe she is right, although not in the way she thinks. Adults are exploiting these girls, but it isn’t the Hollywood producers/agents/hangers-on who are behind the exploitation. Nope, like pimps, producers, agents and the like exist only to recruit the raw materials to meet their customers’ demand, and their customers demand sex. If there were no demand for their product, they would find another line of business, but that last time I checked, business is booming in Hollywood.

And if the producers and agents are the pimps and hustlers, then who are the johns?

Take a look in the mirror folks. Every time we celebrate the sexualized performance of an artist as ‘ground breaking’ or as ‘a blow for equality,’ we’re little different from a man tucking a dollar bill in a g-string in a sleazy dive. We are encouraging the artist to trade on their sexuality rather than their talent. The adults exploiting teenaged stars are us. We are the ones who give them our money. We are the ones who purchase their innocence. We are the consumers. We drive the market. And our appetite is growing.

Folks, I don’t like it; I hate it. But I’m not going to ignore my role in making it happen. Every time we praise a Beyonce for selling her sex instead of her voice, we tell a Miley that the behavior is okay and to be emulated. And we’re not just telling Miley and other Hollywood stars; we’re telling our daughters as well. In our desire to raise our children to be free of hang ups, and comfortable in our modern culture, we’ve left them vulnerable to exploitation. They’ve learned the lesson that outrageous, overly sexualized behavior is not only acceptable; it is desirable. (Check out the video here (Language NSFW) for one bride’s idea of an appropriate wedding processional.)

Then we’re outraged when some jerk like Joe Francis comes along and talks our daughters into going topless on camera, or repulsed when a starlet takes us at our word and gives us what we’ve said with our dollars that we want.

We’ve turned sex into a commodity; Miley Cyrus and the VMA awards is the inevitable result of that transaction. Cheap, tacky, tawdry, and yes, repulsive.

But not shocking. Or sexy.

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