So, the internet absolutely lost its morally outraged shit this week. Miley Cyrus performed at some big music award show and apparently broke every single taboo left in the whole world, invented a few more we’d never heard of, and then broke those too. Accusations of moral laxness and mental illness abound. There’s a hilarious photo of the Pinkett-Smith clan dying of shock. The guardians of girlish innocence are circulating petitions of various sorts.
I finally watched the video today, but I already knew what the problem is. It’s really not that outrageous in the way people are claiming it is. She doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen a million times before. She sexy dances, and simulates sex, and is scantily clad. Or, let me put this another way: Have any of you assholes attacking her heard of Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguielera, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, or Lady Gaga? Because if you have, then you know very fucking well that Miley Cyrus performed a fairly tame version of any number of performances, live or otherwise, by these singers.
Actually, Cyrus did one thing different and this is what’s really making people mad: She didn’t, in this performance, appear to be taking her sexualization seriously. She strutted and gyrated and did all the sexy things her more successful pop-tarty peers do, but she did so sporting an alternately silly and parodic facial expression. That girl hammed shit up. She never once looked like she was actually feeling sexy. She presented, if you know what I mean, but didn’t look submissive; she looked like she was mugging for the camera, which she was. Madonna, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, etc perform sexual arousal, sexual submission, sexual desire; Miley Cyrus appeared always to be self-consciously making fun of such performativity. She made fun of her squeaky clean past as a child star at the very same time that she made fun of the kind of pop tart people think she’s trying to be.
People aren’t outraged because she was being too sexy–there’s nothing sexy about either pretending to have a onesome with a big number-one-fan foam finger or twerking on a scary clown. They were outraged because she challenged their notions about girls and women as either, only, innocents or whores. She made the arbiters of moral cleanliness and sexual shame feel powerless because it was obvious that she just didn’t give a shit. And that might give young ladies deciding what narrow box to try to squeeze themselves into ideas, and we can’t bloody well have that.
What tipped things off for me that Miley Cyrus was offending people’s sense of control and definition, not their sense of propriety, was the lumping together of immorality with mental illness, specifically an eating disorder. I don’t know if she has an eating disorder; yes, she’s thin, but she’s also 20ish and she’s never been big. She might just be 20, or she might have an eating disorder. That’s beside the point. This is the point: all this screeching about mental unwellness is just another way to try to undermine and distract from the profound nose-thumbing this performance represents. One sure way to get people to stop thinking about the message is to insist that the messenger isn’t right in the head.
If there were any real concern for Miley Cyrus’s mental health, and this wasn’t just an entirely transparent attempt to distract from the implications of her performance, the media wouldn’t be using it as proof of how disgusting she is. Or, to put it another way: If any of you fuckers going after her for being too thin gave an actual shit about such things, you would have noticed by now that Lady Gaga clearly does have an eating disorder–please to note the way she starves herself down to half of nothing for her videos and shortly afterwards appears in what is probably her real shape at things like the VMAs (where, of course, she’d again forgotten to wear pants. But forgetting to wear underoos is much less offensive than Miley Cyrus pulling funny faces while grinding in the general direction of the creepy offspring of Alan Thicke).
In case you really don’t know that Cyrus is kind of funny and weird and not taking this stuff (entirely) seriously, there’s this video of her, from at least 6 months ago, twerking while wearing a unicorn onesie.
How dare this young lady take aim at all your sacred hypocrisies! You’d better get a petition against parody going while you’re busy making the world a better place with other petitions about Miley Cyrus, drawn up while you enjoy the dulcet tones of Rihanna and Lady Gaga; who else is going to make sure that growing girls never think of either laughing or making fun of things?