Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Public Letter to Miley Cyrus

So a while back I wrote a letter to Justin Bieber. Now with all the hullabaloo about Miley Cyrus, I feel driven to do the same.
Dear Miley,

You've been getting kind of a hard rap for your performance at the VMAs couple weeks ago. While I didn't care for the performance, I'd like you to know that I don't mean this to be a passing of judgement on your character or you as a person. I actually kind of like you. I'm not a fan of your music but as a human being, I don't really have any reason to dislike you. However, I am worried about what you are doing only because... well, you're my age. Being twenty-something is incredibly perplexing. Life itself is perplexing. And so, I thought I'd slow down to take a moment, grab a cup of tea, and talk to you about what's culturally going on with you and your image. I'm sure your well aware of all of it but, you know, it doesn't hurt to have another perspective, right?

So let's talk about the VMAs. I didn't watch them; I don't have cable. But I heard all the chatter about them the following morning and saw clips from your performance with Robin Thicke everywhere. I've already said I didn't care for the performance, but not because of you. I am rather disturbed by your incorporation of twerking and assimilating what you see as "black culture" in to your style because I think it's kind of racist. However, you're not the only person to do this in music and culture in general so I can't solely blame you for it. I'd just like you to be aware of it. No, my particular dislike with the VMAs performance rests with Robin Thicke.

I have a hard time talking about Robin Thicke without relying upon obscenity and threats. This is because I find "Blurred Lines" one of the most sexist and misogynistic songs I have ever heard. The lyrics are all about not understanding consent which, to hear sung by an adult male is terrifying and alarming. I don't care how catchy it is, I don't care how it's the "number one song of summer" (nope, disagree; that's totally Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" song, hands down), and I don't care how many people may tell me it's "just music" or "you're thinking too hard about it" or "just enjoy it, don't take it so seriously." Look, the lyrics literally talk about using drugs to get a girl to have sex with the singer - if you don't find this troubling, then we need to talk about basic human rights. Not only is Thicke's song and especially the music video incredibly objectifying of women, he makes himself and men in general look completely dehumanized. It's all about trying to sleep with this woman and telling her she's not "plastic" and making men look like big, dumb, sex-obsessed oafs who are use too many hashtags. The fact that Thicke creates such a poor image for himself makes it really hard for me express anything but derision for him, especially when the video further dehumanizes him. He's an adult, married, and to hear him sing about "I know you want it" like a stereotyped drunken college frat boy makes me really, really sad.
So when it came to your performance at the VMAs, yeah, I found what you did kind of shocking, not because I think female expression of sexuality is shocking, but because of how you chose to express it. It feels really male-focused and not about yourself and I think it's objectifying. However, I'm more outraged that Thicke allowed this to go on and didn't express any hesitations about having a young girl perform that way around him. I'm further outraged that when it came to criticizing the performance, all of the criticism was placed on you, my dear, not on Thicke, who I think should bear quite a bit of blame for it. But no, we blame women because it's their fault for acting like "sluts." Welcome to the suckage of the patriarchy.

And now your new video, "Wrecking Ball" has come out and people are once again flailing about the sexual edge to it. I came about the controversy about it in this article from The Guardian. I gotta say, Miley, while I'm no stranger to human sexuality, watching your video made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I felt prudish being so shocked by your performance and while I'm not the most sexual of beings, I don't think I'm that much of a prude (but to be totally honest, I am a little bit. I'm working on it).  Again, it's not because I'm against women sexualizing themselves - I'm all for women embracing their sexuality and finding wide and varied ways to express it. But I realize the discussion on this whole issue is going to be difficult, mainly because of how we think of women and sexuality.

My roommate's sister reblogged this as part of a post on her Tumblr page this morning, with the text "Demi Lovato defends Miley's new video:"

Lovato has a very excellent point. We are really judgement of musicians today because the hipsters have won and we believe pop music is trashy and cheesy. I think this is a pretty unfair judgement of pop - yeah, sure, it may not be the most complicated or deep music to listen to, but it carries with it a certain cultural zeitgeist. There's a reason why we have "songs of 2013" or "songs of the summer." Pop music - and other music as well, but especially pop in the U.S. - has this ability to capture a certain element of time within it. Everytime I hear Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," I'm going to think about hearing it every morning on the Current (a local radio station in Minneapolis), thinking it was super repetitive and not liking it, then realizing the more I heard it, the more I liked, and that damn, that song is fun to dance around my apartment to. It'll remind me of sweating to death in my old apartment and packing up and moving to my new one, and also job searching, celebrating graduation, driving up to a friend's cabin, and all the other things I've done this summer. Pop music is really powerful and it's a shame that people don't appreciate that more. This is one reason why I'm so concerned about what you are doing with your music - because it does matter, very much. What you do in your music videos in your performances and what you say in your songs creates a certain mindset. And it does bother me that "Wrecking Ball" sounds like it's about letting a guy do what he wants to keep him happy instead of having him leave. That aside, I can't tell you what to write your songs about or how to make your music videos. But I can tell you how I see them and why I think Lovato's tweet is both correct and incorrect.
You absolutely have the right to express yourself anyway you want. I firmly believe this. But I would like you to be aware of how your doing it and how this expression might actually be more of objectification. I worry that you aren't expressing yourself but objectifying yourself. The writer from the Guardian describes some instances in your video as "pornographic" and while I don't know if I would use that word, I do find them difficult to deal with. The issue, however, is that feminism has a bad track record for dealing with content like yours. Too often, it comes down to slut shaming and scandalizing certain heterosexual female expressions of sexuality rather than embracing how women can embrace them and turn them against things like the male gaze and gratification. Feminism sometimes narrowly focuses in on a certain kind of woman it would like to accept, instead of accepting all women, and men, and people who do not identify with our goddamned gender binaries. However, I worry that what you are doing is not because you want to do it but because you have been convinced to do it, whether knowingly or unknowingly, through your manager, through the music industry, through culture itself in its idea of how women are supposed to act, especially in regards to sex. It comes back to the Madonna-whore crux: either you're "pure and virginal" or you're "slutty and dangerous." Don't further express that crux. You are much better than that, Miley. You are an incredible young woman who has a lot of devoted fans - many of whom are young and look up to you. I worry at what they might be learning from you, just as you likely learned from other musical role models. All I ask is an awareness of what your music and videos present and perhaps a moment to think about how you can change it. You shouldn't do what sells - you should do what you want to do. Because your fans love you and they'll love you no matter what. Find a way to say, "I am Miley, I am an adult, I am sexy but not sexualized. I am being expressive, not objectified." Easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort. It, I think, will make a big difference both for you and for your connection to your fans. You are already strong and confident and seeing yourself in this way will only make you more so.

So best of luck, Miley - I really want the best for you. I would love to see a Disney star do well and not lose herself because she's trying so hard to put the Disney days behind her. They will never be completely gone for you, I'm afraid - we're far to nostalgic for that. But you can rewrite and recreate who you are while still recognizing where you got your start and make something new and wonderful.

Best wishes,
Gina Musto

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