This week one of the stories I have been following are the responses to Miley Cyrus performance in the VMAs. It was also the first time I’ve actually watched her (though I did so long after the fact and mostly to figure out what the big deal was supposed to be)… and while I agree that the whole thing was racist and more than a little tacky, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘sad’… sad, and maybe a little pointless.
To me it looked like an attempt at being outrageous that wound up sounding more like a temper tantrum than anything else, but at the same time I realize that that’s just me.
Oh, in a way I get where she and her generation are coming from. For more than fifty years -almost since it became possible for individual performances to reach a mass audience thanks to the radio- music, and to a lesser extent dance, have provided safe outlets for the next generation as it tries to define itself and to find its own voice, a that voice is almost invaribly raised in defiance (and I realize that, trapped as she is by her lily white past as a Disney megastar, Miley Cyrus has more to rebel against than most if she wants to remain relevant to her own contemporaries). The problem is that there are few boundaries left for young rebels to tear down. We’ve been there, done that… and to add insult to injury this generation is also having to deal with the fact that their parents get it, at least to a certain extent.
Let’s face it, Rock Around the Clock was written more than sixty years ago, and was already topping the charts back in 1955. Paul McCartney, who wrote When I’m Sixty-Four some forty-five years ago, is now in his seventies himself. In fact When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the same year in which Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild gave us the term ‘heavy metal’… and let’s not forget that a quarter of a century ago the parents of Miley’s generation were already grumbling about the fact that a forty-year-old-plus Mick Jagger looked kind of pathetic singing Satisfaction. If James Dean were alive today, he would be in his eighties.
The point of this little digression is that Miley and her cohort are trying to express themselves using a language that was first developed by their grandparents, one that had already been tamed, at least to a certain extent, by the time their parents came along. That is going to make it hard to for them to be outrageous enough to shock their elders no matter what they do.
That, I suspect, is part of what lies behind that particular performance, but at the same time there are other issues that hardly anyone has mentioned, issues that, with all the scorn that is being poured over Miley’s head, deserve some attention. To me the most striking of these is the question of whether or not the idea behind that performance was hers at all. She was not alone on that stage. In fact what we saw was a very sophisticated production, and the truth is that Miley has always been a prepackaged product. Yes, she may be trying to rebel, she may be trying to break free, to show the world that she is a grown up, and she may be willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant to her own contemporaries -who are themselves itching to prove to the world that they have outgrown her- but Miley Cyrus is the puppet, and in the end the one responsible for the puppet’s actions is the puppeteer.
There were others that had the power to put the brakes on that one, they didn’t.
I’m not trying to argue that Miley had no control whatsoever over what happened on that stage or that she was an innocent victim. Even if she was not the driving force behind that performance she was certainly a willing participant, one whose voice must have made itself heard at some stage, but to all the parents out there that are outraged because their little girls are still clinging to her former image, and don’t want to have to explain to those daughters what they saw in that particular performance, the only thing I can say is: kids grow up, deal with it. Miley Cyrus is no longer a child, she’s no longer even a teenager, and asking her to remain frozen in time, to deliberately allow herself to become a has-been at the age of twenty to help you ‘protect’ your much younger daughters’ so-called-innocence is absurd.
No, I didn’t like her performance. There were plenty of things I found objectionable, if not downright disgusting, in it and I most definitely don’t get it, but at the same time I do realize that in a way that was precisely the point, that I wasn’t meant to get it. It wasn’t to people like me that Miley was addressing her message.