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The Miley Debacle

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The Miley Debacle

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Bella Levaggi

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The week of August 26 was quite eventful. News headlines everywhere boldly advertised the image of former Disney sweetheart Miley Cyrus as she engaged in a style of dance commonly referred to as “twerking” at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Also of note was the surge in calls for action regarding the situation in Syria following current dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against nearly 1,500 Syrian civilians, as reported by The New York Times.

The contrast between seemingly trivial “entertainment news” and a brewing diplomatic nightmare is a stark one. But, contrary to the beliefs of some, the former is, in many respects, just as important to analyze and understand.

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Pop culture is unique in that it acts as an extremely honest, unimpeded lens with which we can examine aspects of our society that we tend to shy from directly acknowledging. Case in point: the different ways in which society treats men and women.

When Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke ascended the VMA stage to mutually appropriate black culture for the entertainment of other white people, the outrage that followed was largely directed at Miley’s conduct. And even then, her use of black women as props was largely forgotten in favor of criminalizing her nude spandex and infamous foam finger.

My Facebook newsfeed and the Yahoo! comments section were ablaze with insults and outrage that night; keyboard smashes of “slut,” “whore” and “no self-respect” clogged the Internet.

While I’m not saying that Miley’s performance was completely appropriate for a live, televised program, I think much of the backlash against her was deeply misguided and rooted in internalized sexism.

Many young artists push boundaries and attempt to bring something fresh to the often unvaried stage. While the execution of her dancing was problematic in its appropriation of black culture and questionable in taste, the former is what merits focus while the latter most certainly does not. Miley might not be your personal cup of tea, but don’t bring hateful pejoratives into the picture when Thicke is the one who made me, and likely many others, miles more uncomfortable.

To put it simply, “Blurred Lines,” the song performed by the pair at the VMAs, has a catchy tune, but horrible implications, with lines like “I know you want it/ I hate these blurred lines.” I am at a complete loss as to how it’s risen to the top of the charts. Thicke actually went on the record with GQ Magazine to claim that his respect for women is what allowed him to make the misogynistic “summer anthem” that perpetuates rape culture and is likely triggering for many victims of sexual assault.

To quote Thicke directly: “Because [all three of us who wrote the song] are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’” Thicke might call himself a “respecter of women,” but I haven’t seen an iota of evidence to support that claim. And even if he were a fabulous feminist ally, that would by no means give him a free pass to produce this offensive piece of trash.

Was the performance at the VMAs a misguided, offensive ploy for attention? Probably. But Miley and Thicke were two consenting adults who should be able to dress and dance as provocatively as they want. So please, don’t call her a slut if you’re not going to call him a chauvinistic pig (And even then, “slut” is a word made up by men like Thicke to strip confident women of their attempts to reclaim power).

This event perfectly captures the power of pop culture; yes, women can vote, and a few hold seats in Congress, but the uncomfortable truth is that in too many respects women get stuck with hypocritical labels and are defined by their sexual expression. While most would never fully admit to it, America’s reaction to this controversial issue speaks volumes about the prevalence of slut-shaming and apologism for white males in our supposedly socially accepting and progressive society.

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The Miley Debacle