#MileyCyrus.There, I’ve done it. I have added to the astronomically large tally of tags, hits, keywords and glommed on to the vocabulary of the moment.
Yes, I have seen the infamous VMA performance and the loaded Robin Thicke video. I have also watched the Auckland students’ (warning: explicit) parody video. And I have read some blog posts on what’s what when it comes to walking with your kids through the swamp of exploitation and scandal-hungry media hawkers. And it all has me thinking…
When my son was born I experienced a moment of alarm. Just what the world needs, I thought, another white man. The moment passed in a breath and what came next was the realization that my son was positioned, culturally, by his genetics and the strange circus of patriarchal Western culture, to be an advocate for the disenfranchised. If, by his gender and skin color and whatever other stamps and labels society wants to slap on him, he will give voice to the ones ignored. He will grow to be an oak of respect for women- a shelter from the hail of objectification of his sisters. He will honor sex not as a commodity but as a gift. This, I pray, is his birthright.
As parents we are in an arena where we are unwilling players. Chuck Klosterman (of The New York Times, The Ethicist column September 1, 2013) writes, in response to an inquiry about the morality of performance enhancing drugs, “There are no sound moral arguments against P.E.D.’s. There is, however, an ethical argument. Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create a framework for how a culture operates… Any game […] is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. […] The motive is to create a world- or at least the illusion of a world- where everyone is playing the same game in the same way. P.E.D.’s are forbidden because that’s what our fabricated rules currently dictate.” So what does this have to do with the explicit performances of Blurred Lines? Well, it seems to me that the force of American culture is fielding two teams. Is this a game about morality? And ethics? I believe yes and yes. And it is about sex and inequality and exploitation and fame. Above all, it is about greed: power and money, the Win.
When I watched Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, I have to say the feminist rage in me sat quietly- edgy and poised, but quiet. I think there is a part of me that understands the business of sex, the currency of desire. The women in that video are beautiful (Yes, in a westernized, light-skinned, emaciated sort of way. But still- gorgeous.). The song is dumb. It’s all about the hook (Pharrell Williams would be first to admit). There are moments that pissed me off, sure, where I was offended and disgusted. Times when it was clear that we are allowing corruption in the economy of relationship. But those (professional model)girls were amazing. And I have this love of nudity…
I don’t have this knee-jerk reaction to the naked body. There is the pervasive sentiment that the only logical course is to sexualize a person just because they are no longer clothed. In art school, we would get bored with nudity, there was such an abundance of it. One of my favorite models was this woman who must have weighed about 250 pounds. While my classmates groaned, I loaded up my palette ready to sculpt this beautiful woman with paint. I loved the folds of skins and abundant forms. I appreciate the bodies that I encounter. But I recognize that I am an outlier. And also not…
I judge myself in terms of the value of sexual currency that I hold. I examine my body and label the flaws. I catch myself playing the game.
In the parody of the New Zealand Blurred Lines video, I nodded along. I laughed out loud. I felt vindicated. These were my teammates.
But not really. I agreed with their message and the quality of production was great, but there was something off. Maybe it became too real; the whole Us vs Them encounter. Maybe part of it was an awareness of the complex (albeit twisted)industry behind the “other” video. I’m not sure…
The thing that I keep coming back to in all of this Miley Cyrus frenzy is that the performance was choreographed. That 19-year-old wasn’t alone out there. Yes, that was her tongue licking her own ears, smacking the booty of on of her “back-up bears”, but it would be naive to think that every appropriated step, every pelvic thrust, every foam finger rub wasn’t discussed and planned and rehearsed, repeatedly, by paid adults. It’s like football: you have a coaching staff whose numbers far outweigh that of the actual players. The only difference is that in this game we are reffing it ourselves. We are calling for the reviews and throwing the arbitrary flags and still trying to run the ball. I’m not trained to judge this game. I don’t know the rules. Do you?
Now, I am not saying that I enjoyed Cyrus’ performance. I thought it was awful and stupid. She looked like she was trying to bring Disney to the strip club. There was no sex in it, in my mind. But there was greed. She is playing the game. And she needs a better coach.
Lastly, I feel compelled to touch on the broader implications of this power hungry culture that we are navigating. Our kids might start believing that the game is real. That the MC rapping about ho’s and whatnot is some sort of icon or idol, or worse: a leader. He is expressing himself in all of his basic, unfiltered, insulated hurt, anger and longing. And beyond our measly borders, the images and lyrics – describing women as property, as sex toys, as pets- spread, gaining cultural momentum and picking up specks of truth that seem to give the global illusion that this is right and real and the way things are meant to be.
My hope, my prayer, for my sons and your daughters, is that we will know when to let the game-clock run out and we can make new rules and truly play. With joy and passion and acknowledgment of each others’ strengths and weaknesses: play. Because there is no Win.
(Have a laugh: Twerking explained…)