The MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) are no stranger to, well, we’ll call them memorable moments.
When Madonna performed “Like A Virgin” at the first-ever VMAs in 1984 it was a sight to behold and it only got crazier from there…
The Madge versus Courtney Love showdown of 95; Izzy Stradlin versus Vince Niel versus Axl Rose Versus the world in 89; the Poison fisticuffs between Bret Michaels and C.C. DeVille 91 (anyone even care in 91 about Poison?); the Network versus Nirvana versus Guns n’ Roses versus Courtney Love in 92 (are you noticing a trend here?); the Oasis onstage fracas in 96… the many layers of profanity laced episodes including a hilarious nursery rhyme filled jaunt by Andrew Dice Clay in 89; and a vehemently pissed Fiona Apple in 97. And, of course the clothing (or lack thereof): bearing Princes ass in 91, Howard Stern’s Fartman in 92, Lil Kim’s exposed breast in 99, and pretty much every performance by Madge over the years, and Britney Spears performances of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” next to nude and in 2000 followed up immediately by “I’m A Slave 4 U” with a live snake at the 2001 to name just a few.
The list could go on, but what’s unique about all of those was they existed for the most part as a moment in time. As memorable as they were it was over before it began. It wasn’t sustained in quite the same way as the 24 hour news cycle, social media soaked, viral video entrenched society as we’ve become. That’s what makes this year’s the talk of the town performance by former Disney star Miley Cyrus so notable.
While we still can go back and relive all of those zany times of old the modern incarnation of MTV’s gracing of the Moonman is driven more intensely by shock value than ever before because the internet can sustain the momentum of over-the-top in ways that just weren’t available in years past. It is not really the internet’s fault as an inanimate ‘object.’ Artists and consumers alike use it and abuse it as a tool very effectively wielding the power it possesses in ways they probably don’t even comprehend. The springboard of the already raucous VMAs is all the internet’s engine of insanity needed to get started. The last 10 years of the VMAs (along with dozens of other awards ceremonies and other large, televised events) draw heavily on the virality, the sustain, the need to extended as far beyond the performance the overall conversation. After all, as the old adage goes, “there’s no such thing as bad press,” and the internet lengthens the reach of even the worst crafted press…
This is why the complete meltdown of the innocence of the Hannah Montana character into Miley’s new, more ‘rebelous’ persona stands out so much to people. It happened on a national stage with almost 30 years of success super-hyping performers antics to which the re-exposer is almost endless. And with that, everyone with a keyboard of any kind has gone of just as asinine a tirade assailing Miley as her performance was asininely assaulting itself.
This is where I could go on my high horse and criticize her for abdicating a culture she in no way understands and accessorizing minority people and their lives (real, perceived or otherwise) for her own gain. This is where I could get on my soap box and criticize her for trivializing sex, degrading women. This is where I could extol the loss of innocence and mixed messages of values and virtues she sends to her audience, thus otherwise giving young girls who looked up to her in the past a terrible reference point on what they should look to in her future.
She’ not the first artist to appropriate a minority culture’s identity in a post-Colonistic dominance. That doesn’t make it any more right this time. She’s not the first artist to exploit women and degrade their sexual identity. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable that it happened this time. She’s not the first artist to trade her image in and thus let down the millions of fans that may have (unintentionally). idolized her. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it happened and still isn’t ‘right.’
She’s not even the first child star to melt down. There’s a long list of them who have, very publicly, over the years. Just because she’s not the first but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
Most of what happens after events like this is the critical analysis, particularly in the internet age where everyone has a “voice” and abuses it, is that we focus almost solely on the cultural net effects of what occurred. We talk about the power of role models. We debate the social effects of artistic license. We discuss sex.
We don’t question why on the individual level. Who is asking, “What happened to Miley?”
We assume this was for the marketing shock value and the end-game of it is the bank role. Her handlers must of created this stunt.
We assume it’s the net effect of a ‘rebellious youth.’ One that led a particular kind of charmed Disney coming of age in a very public why because, well, she can.
We assume it is ‘the media’s’ fault that this happened and blame ‘MTV’ for making such actions ‘normal’ and she had no power but to just ‘conform.’
We might even assume this is somehow the culmination of Madge, and Britney, and Lady Gaga…
That’s why the open letters to media companies, to Mr. Cyrus, to Miley herself, and to young girls who may (or may not) have been exposed to the aftershock of the performance that have been circulating like wild fire being posted on Facebook walls ad nausea, being forwarded in email chains until the spam filter explodes, being talked about on pub stools, coffee houses and vending machine until the literal echo chamber that makes modern ‘opinion’ is choked by it’s own swill.
But is there more?
Sure there is and after all the condemnation and example making is over, Ms. Cyrus is still a teenage woman who needs the guidance and support of people who truly love her and have her best interests in mind, with the reality that a teenage heart-throb artist living life in the very public eye who probably needs some serious help in navigating such an existence. Not because she lacks substance or morals or business savvy or is in it only for the money but because there are few, if any of us, who can relate to her plight no matter how much we want to empathize with her and whatever adolescent trials she is sustaining.
It isn’t singly any one of the notions that allowed this to happen to Miley. It is the culmination of all of them and probably a whole lot more influential elements that happen behind the scene which none of us know. One doesn’t just become what that performance entailed because they saw a similar Ke$ha video or their publicist recommended it or because they are so engrossed by getting more rich … it’s not even only all of those things combined. But, it is just that simpleton approach by the vast majority of critics to such a complex event as a teen-age star’s rebellious attempt at adulthood that routinely gets society in trouble.
This is what is affectionately known as a teaching moment and once stripped of all the hypocritical condemnation, rhetoric and falsified shock-and-awe most of it really should be common sense. Here’s five quick notes Ms. Cyrus and her critics might keep in mind:
Women deserve to be respected. They need to respect themselves, and men and society as a whole to show them respect.
Everyone deserves to have their heritages and cultures honored. Minorities especially need to convey that in their own actions and dominate cultures need not to tamp it down, turn it into a novelty or otherwise trivialize it.
Adolescents require of adults infinite patience, productive mentoring, unconditional love and the limited freedom to rebel in the process of becoming adults themselves. Failure in any element by any adult usually has negative consequences for everyone involved.
Human beings will make mistakes, it’s a fact of the human condition. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough. It’s not enough to just admit you made one, it’s important to learn from it as to no repeat it.
MTV (or any “media” outlet) is not the problem. Until society as a whole stops blaming inanimate things it’s created and starts taking ownership as individuals that all individuals themselves are each a problem then society will continue producing “memorable” episodes like what just occurred as a part of the Human Condition.
And, one final thought that probably sums it all up:
Morals, values and perceptions vary greatly from person-to-person and culture-to-culture and have always done so throughout the entire course of human history. Don’t judge. There’s always been and will always be more than one interpretation of right. Just because you don’t understand it, appreciate it, approve of it or otherwise condone it doesn’t make it inherently wrong. You, friend, are not inassailably perfect.
Oh, and by the way, this isn’t a defense of Miley and her entourage’s actions, or that of MTV’s staff for choosing to air it, or even any of the actions of any of the writers who have thus far chosen to play holier-than-thou hypocrisy opining on it… so save yourself the embarrassment of getting a smack-down in the comments by demonstrating your lack of reading comprehension skills by having achieved that misunderstanding.