On September 7, 2000, something incredible happened. Live at the VMAs, while performing her smash hit “Oops!…I Did It Again,” Britney Spears stripped off her clothes. At the time, it hardly mattered that Britney was fully clothed, but the subsequent tidal wave of criticism and pubescent excitement (that’s where I come in) revolved around the fact Britney was donning only a skin-colored outfit under her glittery Michael Jackson inspired suit, which had the designed effect of making her appear naked on stage. In retrospect, Britney’s performance was completely vanilla, or rather butterscotch, like the color of her off-white attire. Just two years ago kids all over the nation were subjected to painful (yet necessary) “birds and the bees” conversations in the wake of the POTUS getting fellatio from a 22-year old intern. The benefit of hindsight affords us the opinion that the mere act of Britney tearing off her clothes was suggestive, in a sort of playful Mae West way, but not all that Earth-shattering. Nearly 13 years later, Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance has everyone talking, and in terms of popularity, has completely dwarfed all discussions about a potential war with Syria. (So much so that Congress, just days ago adamant that they be included in the decision to attack Syria, has elected not to hastily return back to business but to fulfill the duration of their vacation period; presumably because they are still trying to mentally process the Miley performance). I use the term “performance” lightly here, in the same way that an old man sitting on a toilet for three hours on stage in Greenwich Village is considered performance art. But getting back to the point, Miley’s performance was a lot of things: It was sexual to the nth degree. It was both contrived (Miley purposely went out of her way to offend everyone) and unchoreographed (Miley’s dance moves were spontaneous, I hope). It was raunchiness so in-your-face palpable that it broke the 5th wall; her ass literally felt within grasp. It was bona fide moral insubordination, a complete smattering of rebellious DGAF sensibilities.
In short, it was wonderful.
I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about her now, and that’s a shame. Americans have not been this unified in opinion ever since we all experienced the magnificence of “Buy U A Drank” for the first time. Miley is breaking down walls, and this has nothing to do with her being intimately involved with a slew of famous rappers. America has always had a strange relationship with whatever is generally viewed as improper. Culturally, we view ourselves as progressive-minded individuals that have rocketed out of the stone age, where the tyrannical marketing higher powers instilled moral codes of conduct with shows like Leave It To Beaver. As we all know from history class, artists like Elvis and Little Richard birthed the modern counterculture, where a more realistic depiction of the attitudes of society (especially among younger Americans) emerged. The primrose Utopian view of America was hollow at its core, because upon further inspection, those roses really smelled like boo-boo.
Miley’s bizarre transformation into ripe decadence wasn’t all that bizarre to begin with. It was inevitable, for the simple fact she got her first start with Disney. Whereas we innocent children thought the seemingly good folks in the production team of Disney movies had philanthropic and educational motives, we now know 30-something graphic designers inserted strong sexual imagery into most of our favorite films all for shits and giggles. The list of former Disney stars turning to the dark side is lengthy: Lindsey Lohan, Shia LaBeouf, and even Britney Spears. Clearly, there is a link here. Viewers impose their expectations on a TV character and are shocked when these expectations don’t align with reality. Worse, people are even more shocked when child stars eventually become adults, and start doing things that adults do. For others who don’t grow up in the spotlight, the process of maturing is gradual. Parents come to expect it with the onset of puberty. When Mr. Hubbert comes home and finds Lucy covers her flower imprinted wallpaper with posters of Usher and Justin Timberlake, he is not at all surprised. One day Mr. Hubbert will be summoned in the dead of night to bail Lucy out of prison in nearest proximity to the University of Arizona, and he will still not be all that surprised (well, maybe that’s understatement, but you see my point). But growing up when the world has already procreated you into a fabricated mold of what they expect you to be is an entirely different case. Many of the child stars that get involved with the “dark side” are simply living out the natural progression of their lives. Not Miley Cyrus. Somewhere along the line, she realized what she had to do; deliberately seek to obliterate that fabricated person. She knows damn well that America will never think of her as the Disney princess once again.
But maybe, Miley will be the one that saves us…
And by us I mean the U.S., which I know sounds crazy. Let me explain. America needs to come to terms with its straightlaced ideals, especially since they never seem to withstand the test of time. We all know about Bill Clinton, but the list of well-publicized sexual scandals in this country is enormous (and shockingly, most of them don’t involve Charlie Sheen in some way). Thomas Jefferson is believed to have had six children with his slave mistress Sally Hemmings. J. Edgar Hoover, the founder of the FBI, spent his entire life promoting traditional values, but now everyone knows that he was a cross-dressing homosexual. Martin Luther King Jr. could not control his sexual urges so much so that he repeatedly cheated on his wife Correta Scott King. President John F. Kennedy had multiple affairs with different women, most notably Marilyn Monroe. More recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner was exposed for sexting naked pictures of himself not once but twice. Bob Filner, the former mayor of San Diego, “resigned” this summer after a slew of sexual harassment charges. Even Pee-Wee Herman was arrested in a movie theater for masturbating.
And the list goes on. Most of the men in this list are glorified, and in most cases, this is deserved. You can arrive at various conclusions based off these particular examples, but one thing is sure: Americans (and, I would imagine, all people) enjoy sex, so much so that they are often times willing to destroy their careers and forever deface their reputations. #We can’t stop. But the act of talking about sex or being too sexual in public is seen as a bad thing, especially from former Disney princesses. Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?
In his recent book, I Wear The Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman examines society’s collective fascination with villains, and the process by which we vilify people. In Klosterman’s view, pathological serial killers and the like are not villains, but merely subhuman creatures that don’t generally prompt much wonderment other than musings about how mentally fucked up they are. No, villains are the ones we think the most about, and according to Klosterman, “villains are the ones who know the most but care the least.” (If the Miley performance and subsequent media fiasco were to happen while he was penning the book, there would almost certainly be a chapter about her, written with the insight of a seasoned 41 year old journalist rather than a recently graduated 24 year old.)
Klosterman is one of my favorite writers, I’ve read almost everything he’s ever published, but I don’t agree with everything he says. I don’t believe that Radiohead’s Kid A inadvertently predicted the events of 9/11 for instance. Villains are the ones who know the most but care the least. It’s difficult to argue with his assessment even if you aren’t a big Klosterman fan, or have no idea who he is. Miley is only 20-years old, but she isn’t stupid. Like I mentioned earlier, Miley’s whole scheme was designed to provoke. She knew exactly what would happen after she started humping human stuff-animals and grinding on Robin Thicke. It’s not like she thought people would simply sit back with folded arms and stoically say, “Hmm. Adequate performance.” But she didn’t care. In fact, she invited the vitriol, and this is what’s pissing people off the most.
For this, Miley should be praised. Her Styrofoam middle-finger should rest atop the heights of Mount Rushmore, ideally, right on top of Thomas Jefferson’s head. Miley recognized the hypocrisy of a society that promotes traditional virtues on the surface yet engages in scandalous behavior behind the scenes. Now, Miley’s life is out in the open, and behind the security blanket of 140 characters and the knowledge that their embarrassing drunken escapes at Buffalo Wild Wings will not significantly impact their lives, people can express their abhorrence with Miley’s behavior.
In an interview with Britain’s Sunday People, Miley stated: I’m messed up…I have so many f—ing issues.” I wish she hadn’t said this, not because it changes my opinion about the performance, but because of the damage it will cause. Labeling Miley as a person with issues is just the right amount of ammunition needed to place her in the celebrity looney-bin category. She’s 20, so she’s probably extremely impressionable, so the media will hammer the “Miley has serious issues” thing into her head until she becomes convinced of it, and actually develops real issues, at which point she will probably descend into full-blown Lindsey Lohan inferno territory. If you are a logical person, you will concede that everyone has issues to some certain extinct. Miley may very well have issues, but her recent actions are not (in the present moment) the symptoms of a person heading toward personal collapse, but rather personal freedom from unrealistic expectations.
I hope she keeps on truckin’, or twerkin’, because after all, she’s America’s wonderwall.
(Editor’s Note) Even though I like the band Oasis, I’ve always despised Noel Gallagher ever since I knew of Noel Gallagher’s existence. The song “Wonderwall” is great, but Noel Gallagher would probably describe it as “a heartbreaking masterpiece which, when listened to, awakens the hidden human spirit drifting within all of us” or something extremely douche-baggy like that. The fact that he would, in true Noel Gallagher form, take offense to the fact that I wrote a 1,000 word article defending Miley Cyrus based around the lyrics to the song would undoubtedly gives me a feeling of satisfaction so massive it’s almost sadistic. Even better, he’d probably sue me for something like $8 billion, and make me poor yet famous in the process. As the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity.