I wrote this a couple days after “What Miley Did” on the VMAs. I have not seen the video and have no interest in viewing it. I am, however, very interested by the discussion that followed. I thought what Miley did would blow over. But here she is, about to host SNL. And today I overheard several freshman girls talking about how they can’t wait for Miley’s new album. I would guess those girls have not thought of Miley since they stopped watching “Hannah Montana” years ago.
What Miley Did
To my eye, the entire matter—both sides—shows only how desperately and helplessly people seek to conform.
Women have been told to be good girls, to be chaste, and even, that sex is bad. And they believe it unquestioningly. Even to the point of agreeing to illogical practices like oppression; or to inhumane ones like female circumcision. All in the name of helping women be good. Sure there are women who oppose female oppression and circumcision, but there are many women who go along with such things. And even support them. The women who are outraged by what Miley did are in that second category.
However, what Miley did is usually conformity as well. Playing the tart might be natural for some women, but it is conformity for others. Female singers who start out innocent, or normal, have to turn into depraved sex monsters at some point, or their career fades or dies. Go ahead and research this. Rare is the female singer who can survive without becoming overly sexual. Maybe some women do become sex-obsessed when they turn 20, but why, then, do the singers who don’t become sex-obsessed fade so dramatically? If you start young, you will have to become depraved to continue. Jewel, Lauren Hill, Tiffany, Mandy, Brandi, Norah Jones, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keyes, Avril Lavigne are all female pop singers who started young, didn’t become tarts, and whose careers faded.
Granted, some that “turned depraved” faded anyway, but it is apparent that there is tremendous pressure (I would guess from the studios) to become bad.
Playing the depraved sex monster is usually conformity, too.
So, women who are outraged by what Miley did are likely conforming, and women who do what Miley did are likely conforming? Which women are not conforming? Easy. Those who neither admire nor despise what Miley did. Not every woman is outraged by what Miley did, and women do not need be automatically, thoughtlessly offended by it.
“What will you do when external forces pressure you to conform?” is a question worth asking.
The other problem with what Miley did is that it was not fit for broadcast.
One reason is because it did not represent any talent. Being depraved takes no skill. Having strength of character takes tremendous effort and will. Some might argue that demonstrating character is not as entertaining as demonstrating depravity. But I would argue that demonstrating depravity is not entertaining, it is something else. Something degrading to the viewer. Celebrating mediocrity reinforces mediocrity in our lives. We don’t celebrate the worst athletes in the NFL, NBA, or Major League, we celebrate the ones who do what we cannot.
“Look at how desperate I am for attention” is not entertaining, much less professional or remarkable.
Maybe Miley is really into sex. That would be great. Too many women deny their passions. Two points, however, can be made. First, sexual depravity is not for broadcast television. I thought we had all agreed to that. Cable TV can show most anything, but broadcast TV has to be PG. Sure, acknowledging—and even encouraging—passion would be good. But acts of depravity do not accomplish that goal in an effective or acceptable way. Second, it is possible (likely?) that Miley was not demonstrating her own passion but was herself conforming to a perceived expectation or, worse, was acting a part in a marketing strategy.
We know that Miley had recently hired Britney Spears’ manager. We know that no one was paying any attention to Miley Cyrus. Now, she is all people talk about, she is hosting SNL, and her upcoming album has lots of buzz.
What Miley did reveals much. And it reveals much about us.