Assuming you haven’t adopted a media blackout to protect yourself from the frustrating sigh after sigh that comes with keeping ‘up to date’, then you will know that right now everyone is bitching about Miley Cyrus. I’m going to join in because everything she represents right now pisses me off although I don’t exactly blame her; she’s a tool being used after all. Miley, just another child star desperate to prove to the world that she is now an adult and has completed the transition from awkward teenage girl to womanhood. After having all eyes on her as she went through puberty, a time difficult enough as it is, it seems Miley is going through some sort of radical rebirthing to shake off Hannah Montana for good. She entertained those at the VMA’s with a provocative performance of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. I’m sure the hearts of feminists all over the world sank at the thought of a woman, whose main long-term followers consist of young girls, grinding her bare bum cheeks up and down Robin Thicke’s (big if you believe the balloons in his video) dick as he drawled out his misogynist lyrics following an unacceptable display of white objectification of the black female body. She exhibits her fellow performer in a way reminiscent of colonial racist ideologies. Miley spanks the twerking black dancer’s bum whose only purpose in the whole performance seems to be as an exhibit.
This bad choice in choreography reminds me of Sarah Baartman, AKA the Hottentot Venus who was a South African woman displayed as an “exhibit” in the UK. She was put on display as though she were quite literally an object, existing to belong to the judgment of white viewers as she was stripped of her own subjectivity. The Hottentot Venus is an example of how racial difference was made out of sexual difference; her differences in body were created as an identity of the inferior ‘Other’ to white Victorians. All of this was a way to police sexuality, creating difference and dividing up racial groups in order to maintain and duplicate power. Cyrus’ performance, whether intentional or not, is reminiscent of the way racism was based upon perceived sexual difference in order to strip black people of identity and keep white people in power. Miley also adopts twerking herself, linking this to the black female body as though suggesting black = sexual spectacle. The problematic cultural appropriation of the performance has also been explored at length here in an article highly worth reading.
Her new video for single Wrecking Ball is also deeply disturbing for other reasons. In between shots of her crying, she acts out giving a blow job to a sledge hammer and swings about on a wrecking ball, butt naked, as you do. There’s nothing new about a female singer selling her music with sex and we’ve all seen Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the list goes on, strip off for their music videos. But there seems to be something very disconcerting about the lyrics “I should have let you in”, “you wrecked me”, being sang whilst all of the above is happening. I mean, usually these stars get naked for the sake of sexual provocation and they prance about to the lyrics of “gonna get dirty” or something which although isn’t that much better, it’s a little more contextual to say the least. You know, does what it says on the tin. But using a sexualised objectified female body alongside a close up shot of this female sobbing – what message is that sending out? It is linking sex to pain, to vulnerability, using a woman’s sexuality as a signifier for emotional trauma. I am so tired of this, can someone please do something subversive and use their position in the limelight for good not evil!? I feel like we’re in some sort of sexed up, weird pantomime where the baddys always get the girl and that girl is always a damsel in distress with her clothes off.
If Miley was using sexual agency and her own autonomy to make some sort of critical point or even just to celebrate her body then fantastic but unfortunately she was just following the orders of a male director, who by the way has a reputation for being a complete and utter creep for acting ‘inappropriately’ with young female models. Is it better to keep informed of all this bullshit in the media that continues to prop up patriarchal Gods at the expense of women? That continues to present us with racial stereotypes, or should we all just switch off our screens and enjoy the calm that comes with a break from such constant invasive imagery? It seems you can’t escape it either way and the whole thing is exasperating, exhausting and a waste of bloody energy. I still can’t believe its ‘normal’ for an entire audience at the VMA’s to scream encouragement at a 20 year old girl grinding on a man who tells her “I know you want it”. In Wrecking Ball and her VMA performance, she fits into the box of a sexual entity whose identity does not really matter; she could be anyone so long as she has some boobs and an arse to shake, and, arguably, is white. In both cases this is presented up against the strong, masculine archetype of Robin Thicke and Terry Richardson who call the shots and tell her what she wants because they are older, more powerful and male. And she’s a girl, so probably needs the guidance of someone who knows what they’re doing, someone with a penis.
Will somebody please change the record?