It’s no surprise that the producers of the 2013 Video Music Awards asked the artists responsible for two of the year’s most controversial (and catchy) songs, Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”) and Miley Cyrus (“We Can’t Stop”), to perform together. Let’s get one thing straight, the VMAs aren’t an awards show so much as they are a petri dish for water-cooler moments. Any pretence of celebrating artistic achievement in music videos is done away with in favour of inciting an uproar. Remember Britney Spears’ cobra-enabled rendition of “I’m a Slave 4 U”? Happened at the 2001 VMAs. Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift and launched her into good-girl fame at the 2009 VMAs. However, the media industry annually loses their collective minds over each new raunchy moment, as if the VMAs had been a shining example of polite industry conduct up until that point.
I was going to ignore the melee. I was going to that hope it went away. However, the shit didn’t hit the fan, so much as it hit the morning shows. Brzezinski, a journalist-cum-talkshow host of the Morning Joe, expressed scorn in the form of concern:
“I think that was really, really disturbing. That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably eating disorder and I don’t think anybody should have put her on stage. That was disgusting and embarrassing … That was not attractive. That was not fun. That was not funny. That was really, really bad for anybody who’s younger and impressionable and she’s really messed up … The whole thing was cringe worthy but I feel bad for her. She is a mess. Someone needs to take care of her. Someone needs not to put her on stage and make a complete fool of herself” – Mika Brzezinski
I am pro-slut. If Cyrus wants to make her sexuality a topic, she should throw caution to the wind. Madonna did it, Gaga did it, Rihanna did it, Chelsea Handler did it. The problem is, Cyrus is doing it in such a way that her performances are derided as disturbing. There’s a thin line between being provocative as an entertainer (a profession that child-star Cyrus has had since the age of 13) and doing so in such a way that control of the narrative is lost. Cyrus is 20 years old and like every Lohan or Garland before her, she’s had to navigate the wholesome image that was placed upon her by studio executives and marketing teams in order to sell backpacks.
Having displays of female sexuality labeled as “disturbing” and “disgusting” and “embarrassing” is not a step in the right direction. When Brzezinski cites the impressionable nature of Cyrus’ younger fans, she does so in regard to what she feels is inappropriate behaviour on Cyrus’ behalf. However, the real harm comes from having actions like Cyrus’ being dismissed as abnormal and damaging to young children. Her target audience, the very one that hands are being wrung over, may internalize the message that overtly sexual females are “gross” and out of control. The resulting message comes across in a way that shines a harsh light on female sexuality. To Cyrus’s credit, past interviews have quoted her views on sex and fame with an emphasis on educating, rather than shaming. For Brzezinski to call Cyrus’ performance an embarrassment is to rob Cyrus of her preferred narrative by saying that she just can’t help herself.
Cyrus is twenty years old and toying with a new image. Her burgeoning sexuality just happens to be part of that image. Two years ago, she would have been the type of good girl that Robin Thicke claims to have always wanted. “I know you want it,” is a thing that you say to a girl who’s been told that wanting to desire sex is bad.
OPENWIDE Staff Writer Kennedy Ryan is in her third year of a plain old degree in MIT. She loves white button down shirts, cinnamon gum and Johnny Cash. She hates people who hum in public. Writing this in the third person was really awkward for her.