[This post falls squarely in the “[pop] culture” portion of TFL’s “law, culture, and academia” mandate. Regular programming will resume in due course.]
Hi Gloria. Can I call you Gloria? I understand that you were displeased by the duet performed by your son and Miley Cyrus (as you know, your boy shows up at the 3:00 mark) at the MTV VMA awards Sunday evening.
Specifically, you said:
I was not expecting her to be putting her butt that close to my son. The problem is now I can never unsee it. . . . Him? Loved it! I love that suit, the black and white suit. I don’t understand what Miley Cyrus is trying to do. I just don’t understand. I think she’s misbegotten in this attempt of hers. And I think it was not beneficial.
Gloria, I’m confused about your confusion. I mean, look, the whole obscenity concern trolling thing isn’t my bag. VMA has been doing this for years, and if you wanted to see something else, well, that’s what they have C-SPAN for. But hey, you’re certainly free to know it when you see it. Obscenity, that is.
What I don’t get is why you see it in Cyrus but not in your own son.
To be fair, it’s not just you. All the commenters I’ve seen, from Sean Hannity (“outrageous,” “downright raunchy,” and “inappropriate” for a role model) and Bill O’Reilly (“she’s a troubled young lady” and “out of control”) to Camille Paglia (whose focus is on the philistine rather than the obscene nature of the routine) have reserved their criticism for Cyrus.
A mommy blogger’s open letter to her daughter, warning her not to follow in Cyrus’s footsteps, has gone semi-viral. But not a single Mommy blogger has warned her son against following in your son’s footsteps.
To no one's surprise, Bill O’Reilly blames Cyrus’s twerking on “bad parenting,” and after Miley’s father, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, defended his daughter, O’Reilly asked whether he should be “shunned.” Even Brooke Shields, who played mom to Cyrus’s Hannah Montana, felt the need to weigh in and demand answers: “I was Hannah Montana’s mother. I do not approve. Where did I go wrong? I just want to know who’s advising her, and why it’s necessary?” (By contrast, Shields remains “shocked” by the controversy over her own performance in the infamous “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” ad campaign, which she shot when she was just fifteen years old (Cyrus is twenty), and which was banned by CBS.)
And yet no one blames you, Gloria, for raising a son whose music and videos are—in addition to being just as "obscene" as Cyrus’s (and just as arguably misappropriating of black culture and glorifying of drugs)—kinda rapey. Following the VMA hoopla, Cyrus's father canceled a scheduled interview with Piers Morgan at the last minute. But free from the burden of having to defend your parenting and your child, you can grant media interviews in which you accept the condolences of a shamed nation and join the #MileyGate pile on. It’s all a little reminiscent of Justin Timberlake, whose image was only barely and very temporarily tarnished by the “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson (remember her?), which he, too, apparently helped orchestrate. I don’t personally care about either Cyrus’s butt or Janet’s nipple, Gloria. But I am annoyed by the double standard involved in criticizing the female but not the male co-venturers in these manufactured controversies—the twerkers but not the twerkees, if you will—which is why I'm writing. (More after the jump.)
So you must know why Cyrus changed, mid-VMA performance, into a nude bikini that allowed viewers to more easily imagine her naked. It’s because she was performing a duet with your son on his hit summer single, “Blurred Lines,” which features several women who are actually naked, save for nude-colored g-strings.
And I know that everyone’s all worked up about Cyrus’s use of the stadium foam finger, including its inventor. But, again, you get why she caressed your son suggestively with that foam finger, right?
It’s because your son made that “degraded” use of the foam finger part of his music video iconography. That black and white suit you like so much? It’s meant to be a pimped out referee’s outfit, and both it and the foam finger go with your son’s football-themed “Give It To U” (on which more below). See, here he is (left) directing an actress to use the identical foam finger in “Blurred Lines.” And here’s a similar scene from “Give It To U” (below).
I can see your point, though, Gloria. I mean, there was your boy, in his nice suit, minding his own business, while Cyrus shoved her wriggling butt up against his crotch. But let’s look at the words he was singing while she did that.
I can see why Camille Paglia spared your son from her anti-philistine criticism, Gloria. For lo, the video and lyrics of “Blurred Lines” tell a rich narrative. We’re told that before your son, another suitor tried to “domesticate” the object of your son’s affection. Alas, he was thwarted because she’s “an animal,” and "it's in [her] nature" (depicting the women with dogs and lambs and having one meow at the camera is a nice touch, by the way). No matter, your son tells us, he’s “gon’ take a good girl” and “liberate” her. After all, he “know[s] [she] want[s] it.”
And in exchange for this sexual liberation, in addition to “smack[ing] that ass and pull[ing] [her] hair,” there’s just “One thing [he] ask[s] of [her]”: “Let me be the one you back that ass to. I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.”
Well, Gloria, I can certainly see why you were so taken aback by Cyrus insinuating herself in your son’s personal space at the VMAs. What’s a little violent anal sex with a woman whose consent is ambiguous compared to the horrors of Miley Cyrus twerking?
But every great narrative contains within it the seeds of conflict—man versus man, man versus nature, and so on—and “Blurred Lines” is no exception. Apparently your son’s love interest is sending mixed signals. His intended “liberation” of her is thwarted by a teensy tiny stop sign delicately balanced atop her naked buttocks.
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Now, I’ll grant you that your boy remains fully clothed throughout his performance of this song, both in the video and at the VMAs. Congrats; very chaste of him. On the other hand, he’s paying several women to get naked and dance around him (and then profiting from it). Do you really want to hang your hat of misbegotteness on that distinction?
And then there’s his new video for “Give It To U,” which was just coincidentally released at the peak of the post-VMA hoopla. “Give It To U” features not only numerous half-naked women your son directed to twerk around him, but also—in case it isn't clear that your son is apparently a butt man—a giant “Ass Float” (comprised of one black cheek and one white cheek; and yet somehow racial unity eludes us).
If Cyrus’s raunchiness was misbegotten and not beneficial, what do you say about your son, who says to the lucky women of the world in his new video that he has a “big d**k for yah”? (Bonus! He also has “a whip for yah”!) I mean, Gloria, Robin does realize that this was satire, right?
Admittedly, after commanding “on your back, girl” and "shake it like that, girl" (which I'm sure refers to something far less misbegotten than twerking), he does wax awfully poetic: “Life can leave a d**k loved; now you gettin’ this d**k, love.” And of course the inclusion of your three-year-old grandson in the video dressed to match his Daddy as a lothario in training really highlights the importance of family values in a way that Cyrus's performances don't. So maybe that’s the difference.
Rush Limbaugh has said that the VMA duet was “just this side of on-stage pornography.” Well,…ish. According to one well-known distinction, erotica involves sexually explicit behavior by consenting adults, while pornography depicts sexually explicit behavior in a way that objectifies some participants in the sexual encounter (almost always women) and strips them of their agency. One of the interesting things about Cyrus’s “Blurred Lines” duet with your son is that, by distributing the lyrics (if not the quasi-nakedness) equally, the VMA performance was at least a bit more egalitarian than your son’s video. Your son insisted that Cyrus “wanted it,” but she insisted that your son “wanted it” right back.
That distinction is also arguably reflected in a comparison of Cyrus’s work to that of your son’s. Cyrus’s hit summer single, “We Can’t Stop,” depicts her with friends at the tail end of a house party. The sexuality depicted in that video may count as obscene, but not, per the definition above, as pornography, because it’s all consensual free love. (Side note to Cyrus: you are not, in fact, “creating a movement.” I mean, the 1960s called: they want their sex, drugs, and rock and roll back.).
Cyrus’s video also features a skull made entirely out of French fries, and I think if you're honest with yourself, Gloria, you’ll agree that that is pretty creative and really gives the Ass Float a run for its money.
Your son has explained, of his recent work, that a “lot of [his] videos and songs have been so serious—about love and pride and relationships and hope and getting over insecurities and vulnerabilities. But lately, [he’s] just wanted to have fun and enjoy [his] life . . . .”
Director Diane Martel was even more honest in explaining her intent behind the videos: “I’ve been thinking about music videos, marketing, and the Internet for a while. I want to make videos that sell records. This is my main focus right now, not to make videos that express my own obsessions, but to make videos that move units.” Mission accomplished, Diane!
Gloria, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but until your boy started exploiting the public fascination with female nakedness and explicit and edgy sexuality—the same features of Cyrus’s performance that you seem to disdain—no one had heard of him. (I know. Ouch, right?) If you want to defend that Faustian bargain, go ahead. There’s certainly far worse out there than his lyrics and videos. (And “Blurred Lines” is, musically, great.) But like the mother of a pimp who slut shames a prostitute, it takes real chutzpah to defend the twerkee while pointing a judgmental finger at the twerker.