By now, everyone has seen – or heard so much about they might as well have seen – Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. While it would be easy to dismiss the flurry of subsequent outrage as an overreaction to a largely inconsequential matter, there are deeper implications at play. Miley’s performance has pushed all the wrong buttons and, more importantly, has led to all the wrong reactions.
It is immediately apparent that Miley Cyrus’ performance was, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, sexually exploitative. For those who missed it, a barely-legal Miley Cyrus, who rose to fame as the squeaky-clean Disney heroine Hannah Montana, spent six minutes pretending to lick Robin Thicke and imitating sex with a foam finger in a nude bikini, surrounded by giant teddy bears. All of this underscored by the fact that the performance was set to Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, which has been given the dubious honor of ‘rapiest song of the summer’.
Immediately, there was an outcry over what it meant for feminism, what message it was sending to young girls and the clear lapse of judgement in staging such a performance on live television. Taking it a step further, some have argued that Miley’s twerking was racially insensitive while others have classed it as a blatant cry for help.
In short, there was a lot to dislike about that particular VMA performance. But amidst the furor and blog posts and internet memes, many are missing the most important point. Of all the messages we’re sending to impressionable young girls and to a profit-hungry entertainment industry, the loudest one is this: sell women’s bodies for all they are worth, because they pay well.
It is admittedly very difficult to remain quiet, partly because of genuine shock and partly because of our inexhaustible love of schadenfreude: we enjoy ripping Miley Cyrus apart because she is young, pretty and wildly successful. Some of the outcry has been fueled by the realization that women still have a very long way to go in entertainment (as many writers have pointed out, Thicke remained fully clothed and barely bobbed to the music, which was completely acceptable). Yet none of these reasons justify causing such an uproar when we examine what the result of that uproar is.
Speaking to industry professionals, one hears the same sentiment repeated over and over – not that they the industry has been cowed by the public’s general horrified reaction, but rather that Miley Cyrus is a genius. As one Florida-based guitarist said, “I think its funny. What people don’t realize is, she’s sitting back banking from this.”
And banking she is. In the flurry of tweeting, commenting, picture publishing and head-shaking, few have stopped to consider how much Miss Cyrus is benefiting from her performance. By gyrating half-naked for a handful of minutes, Miley Cyrus provoked more than 300,000 tweets per minute, her next song (conveniently released the day after the VMAs) debuted at no. 2 on the billboard charts, she became the most followed user on Instagram and skyrocketed in Google and Wikipedia searches. Her success in the last few days has led Forbes to label her the biggest winner of the VMAs, despite walking away without any of MTV’s moonmen statues.
While we can harp on about the technicalities of who is allowed to twerk and whether Miley’s performance was a leap forward or two steps backwards for feminism, neither of these are battles which can be fought or won on an MTV stage. Conversely, the more we argue, the more buzz we generate, the more money goes into Miley Cyrus and her managers’ pockets and the more we encourage girls to push how much sex they can put on show for how much money.
Ultimately, if we can all agree that we were highly uncomfortable seeing a young girl so tastelessly exploited, the best thing we can do for that girl is stop watching.