There is almost nothing slower than the news cycle in August of an off year, and 2013 has provided plenty of evidence for that theory. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had outrageous outrage vented over a routine skit performed by a rodeo clown at a state fair, the casting of the 376th version of Batman, and now a nation in crisis over a 20-year-old twerking for a living.
In my column for The Week, I put the blame for all of these outrages — or at least the outrage itself — squarely where it belongs … on Congress:
I think we can all blame Congress for taking an extended recess in the middle of summer. Lawmakers should be in Washington, giving overheated scolds material for substantial debate and meaningful social and political criticism. Instead, we are about to end an off-year’s slowest month talking about rodeo clowns, Batfleck, and Miley Cyrus’ bizarre performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Yes, that’s meant to be tongue in cheek, which is precisely where young Ms. Cyrus should be keeping hers. After the explosion of indignation in the first 24 hours after this performance, I decided to watch it against my better judgment. In my opinion, the music and entertainment industries need a lot more help than Cyrus does:
Needless to say, I’m not in MTV’s target audience. And until Cyrus’ twerking became a national crisis, I wasn’t even aware of this year’s VMAs. It’s been 20 years since I purposefully watched a music video. But as a conservative commentator, I’d be a very likely candidate for outrageous outrage over this tongue-wagging twerk-a-thon.
After the eruption, I sought out and watched the full clip. It’s outrageous, alright … for its utter lack of originality as well as taste. For the last 30 years or so, we’ve been watching this bump-and-grind choreography in music videos and live performances. Even the music doesn’t sound as though it’s changed, except to add autotune to the vocals. Perhaps Cyrus scores a minor point for original thought by adding teddy bears into the mix, but Madonna basically offered the same act with crucifixes in the 1980s. Cyndi Lauper offered a musical paean to masturbation with She Bop in 1984, which makes She Bop nine years older than Cyrus.
Pop culture is in a state of arrested adolescence, and has been for decades. At least Cyrus has the excuse of being somewhere close to her own adolescence. The number offers nothing so much as a clueless self-parody about the music industry’s lack of innovation and original thought, demonstrated by an absurdist representation of sexualized childhood that might have been insightful had it been done purposefully. The only original outrage is that people tune in to watch this dreck, and spend money on the same dance track from when I occasionally visited the clubs in my misspent youth.
I never thought I’d say this, but …. It’s a good thing that Congress comes back into session soon.
I’m not arguing that the bizarre spectacle isn’t worthy of sharp criticism, which it clearly is. It’s just that MTV and the entertainment industries more generally have been selling reruns for the last three decades, and that this is just a barely-original recombination of elements that we see over and over again. (Heck, for that matter, we can say that about Congress, too.) It’s only new and edgy to those who just emerged from puberty. And this story is decades old.
The Boss Emeritus lays the blame for this particular train wreck at the feet of those most responsible in her column today:
First Britney. Then Lindsay. And now: Miley Cyrus. Do they ever learn?
By “they,” I don’t mean the girls. I mean their parents. Where are they? What the hell are they thinking?
I don’t know how many times I’ve asked those questions over the years as a parade of young Hollywood starlets has burst onto the scene with wholesome charm, achieved dizzying fame and fortune, and then crashed back to Earth half-naked with corrupted souls and drug-glazed eyes.
Are parents without scruples more likely to sacrifice their daughters to the wolves of the entertainment industry? Or does show business sap all the common sense out of mothers and fathers who should know better? Either way, they are guilty of child abandonment.
One might have thought that Billy Ray Cyrus would know better, as he had a lot more experience with the entertainment industry than most other parents would. Michelle points back to the sexually-charged Vanity Fair photo shoot done when Miley was 15 years old, and for which the Cyruses later expressed some regret and embarrassment. However, this is the trajectory on which the entertainment industry takes most young actors and singers, and for that matter their legions of adoring pre-adolescent fans. They make money off of the exploitation of immature sexuality, which puts pressure on performers like Cyrus to go farther and farther to get noticed amid all of the noise. Last Sunday’s twerk-a-thon is the inevitable result — or in this case, we hope that this is the end.
Perhaps young performers and their parents can watch the bizarre spectacle of this week and learn that lesson before the moneymakers suck the childhood out of their daughters and sons, and perhaps all parents can learn that lesson as well. Meanwhile, who’s ready for Congress to get back to work so we can have some real outrages to discuss? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?