Thursday, September 5, 2013

The defilement of Hannah Montana.

Unless you're living in Antarctica right now, you know that the media has been in an uproar over Miley Cyrus's lascivious performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. My first reaction was: "Meh." Much ado about nothing. But the more I've seen written about it, the more interested I've become, not in Miley's silly dance, but in the media's reaction to it.

A few days ago I watched the dance on YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. There's Miley shaking her tail feathers and simulating oral sex, surrounded by people dressed up as giant plush toys. The choreography didn't wow me, nor did the artistic vision behind the display, but the entire thing is very clearly the work of many professionals. To get something like that together, a juggernaut of producers, choreographers, audio-visual experts, software engineers, costume designers, dancers, and cameramen all had to come together to execute this folly. Miley Cyrus herself must have had an enormous staff of people, from the agents who fought to get her the gig, (which must have been sought after by many performers,) to her make-up artists and hair specialists, not to mention all the dancing lessons and coaching she must have gotten regarding how to properly twerk.

And then: OUTRAGE! How dare Miley Cyrus behave like a wanton slattern, stripping down to her underwear to gyrate so suggestively! Suddenly she is at the center of a disapproval vortex for performing in a dance that someone else designed, being asked to explain herself only to have her absolute dumbest sound-bites published. (Were there any intelligent sounding bites? Perhaps we'll never know.) This twenty year old girl is being grilled rather mercilessly.

Considering, though, all the people involved in the show, I have to ask why isn't anyone else being held accountable? Somehow I doubt the dancing puppets, the twerking, or even the song were all Miley's idea. After all, she was hired for this gig by somebody, and told what was expected of her. She was given a job to do, and she did it.

I did a quick web search looking for the names of the choreographers and producers who are ultimately responsible for the show, but I couldn't turn up any interviews done with them. All the attention and scorn is for Miley. I went to the MTV website and found triumphant reports of Miley's record sales skyrocketing, and proud mention of how her name dominates social media. She sure is cashing in on all that disapproval, and so are a lot of other people. So I can't help wondering: Wasn't she just trying to do what they asked of her? And I'm sorry to say this, but at the age of twenty, I would never expect her to have the kind of judgment an older woman would have. She's young, ambitious, she wanted to please her bosses.

In the final analysis, what I see when I look at that performance is a young woman's body being exploited --by a multinational corporation, by producers, by music executives, and by herself. Was she a victim? Not at all. She was more than complicit in that performance; she obviously embraced it. But I have to wonder at all the many people behind that dance number, the people pulling all the strings to make it happen, and question why twenty year old Miley is the only one sitting on hot coals.

To me the answer is obvious: Because the ones behind the scenes are mostly wealthy middle aged businessmen, and she is a young woman.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I'm pulling out the sexism card.

As soon as a woman exposes her body to suggest sexuality, she is labeled a slut. No matter that she was fulfilling a contract, no matter that a thousand other people are making money off what some see as her degradation. She's called the slut. She's named the whore. My personal reaction to her dance was to feel a little grossed out, but rather than heap all responsibility on her head, I think the responsibility can be spread around to plenty of other people who made the cynical choice to display her that way for the sake of money. They knew exactly what would happen in the media, and probably so did Ms. Cyrus. This tempest in a teapot is every bit as choreographed as Miley's twerking, only in this case, you and I are the performers, and we are fulfilling our role splendidly.

We are talking about it, we are blogging about it, tweeting and twerking about it. We are dancing where they want us to go, and with us come our dollars. Because they knew that nothing gets people more worked up than seeing a young woman unapologetically embracing her role as a sexual object. If it hadn't been Hannah Montana it would have been someone else, but they chose Miley because a few short years ago she had a wholesome, spotless image, and turning that image on its head would provoke the most heated response, and bring in the most money.

I don't have a problem with Miley Cyrus. I have a problem with the system that made such a display so damn profitable.


  1. Likewise, I don't have a problem with Miley Cyrus. I find her banal, boring, mildly talented who has keenly negotiated her rise to fame. The performance was dumb, (IMO)and yes suggestive. But no more so than any daytime soap opera or other network show.

    And here's the could "Hannah Montana" do this?" Well, let's start with the fact that it was Miley Cyrus doing this. Disengage American Public. Separate actress from roles. How many have we seen go down this road? Amy has nailed this. The reason it's so damn profitable say a great deal about our society and culture. I'd say it's a little bit said, wholly predictable and complete repeatable until "we" stop responding with our wallets.

    There will be others that follow in her footsteps. They are already banging on their agents doors.

  2. Great take on this whole situation, Amy. Her performance was not some sort of off-the-cuff decision on her part.

  3. A terrific response--certainly the best, most incisive critique of media text/context I've read about MC's kerfuffle, and I've read more than a few.

    I'd like to use this in one of my American studies courses. Students and I do quite a bit of media literacy exercises focusing on gender and performance; I'll recommend it to my teaching peers, too.--RPM