In the past few months, it has seemed as though the world has been shocked to learn that people grow up.
Miley Cyrus has been under heavy scrutiny for breaking away from her Hannah Montana image in favour of twerking and sticking out her tongue. Evidently, she’s no longer a role model to the young tweens who watched Hannah Montana with complete adoration of Miley’s sweet Southern demeanour. Yes, the young tweens who are now legal adults themselves or nearing adulthood.
Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor took it upon herself to write an open letter to Miley advising her after she called O’Connor a role model of hers. O’Connor warns Miley against letting the industry prostitute her and berates her actions basically implying that Miley is a puppet of the industry, controlled by thinking men care about her because she swings naked on wrecking balls and tells her exactly what “real empowerment” is.
Sinead O’Connor. The same shaven-head lady who ripped up a photo of the Pope on national television now writing that Miley’s actions are “absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of [her]self or any other young women.” A lot of people praised this letter but I think it’s just another example of the way we shame woman into conforming to an ideal. Personally, I think the entire letter straddles the line of victim blaming and slut shaming. As women, do we have an obligation to other women to act in a way that empowers us all?
What is this “real empowerment” that O’Connor speaks of? I think Miley’s actions are empowering, just as I think O’Connor’s actions on Saturday Night Love were also empowering. “Real empowerment” should be doing what you want to do, despite social pressure to do something else. Isn’t that all what we’re fighting for? The right to not have our actions scrutinized and judged against some measure of morality and empowerment.
I may not agree with Miley’s actions for myself, I would most likely never hump giant teddy bears, but I support her because she does not give a crap about what anyone says. Her actions in no sign show any characteristic of her being prostituted by the industry. Sure, I’m sure that her manager and label are thrilled with her album’s success and would prefer her to keep doing what she’s doing, but make no mistake that Miley’s actions are done because she wants to do them, not because anyone is telling her to.
We do have an obligation to each other as women, but this obligation isn’t to cover our bodies and think that every man is out to pimp us out. The obligation that we have to each other is to let ourselves be individuals outside of this gender identity. If I want to gyrate half naked, I think that I have the right to do so.
I would completely understand if you didn’t want to watch that, which is why I think a world stage isn’t the best platform for it, but I do think that our actions are governed too little by what we actually want to do and governed too much by what others want to do.
Whether you identify as woman or not, you do not owe anything to anybody. Be who you want to be and act in a way that you want to act whether or not you think it “empowers” whatever group you belong to. Your actions do not dictate how anyone else is seen. We are who we are and we should be respected for it.
Tragedy struck many on the evening of Aug. 25, as millions of people in North America caught sight, even mere glimpses, of twerking, grinding and other feigned sexual acts.
Within minutes, social media outlets began to blow up as appalled viewers criticized Miley Cyrus’ controversial performance with Robin Thicke. Both millionaires took the stage with what was judged to be obscene gestures and questionable attire. For weeks this performance outshone headlines such as “Obama weighs possible military response,” “Hurricane Irene heads toward land,” and “Random shooting spree in New York.” All of these issues seemed to slip past us as we stressed and wondered about the pop princess’s downward spiral.
Why are we so numb to the issues impacting not only ourselves, but millions of people fighting every day for survival? Pop culture has worked its way into newspapers, news stations, radio, magazines, film and television. It can be found in curriculums, where educators lead discussions on current events and issues. It can be found on billboards, buses and social networks. Our lives are being consumed with “who wore it best?” “fashion don’ts,” and many more pointless discussions. It seems that people are shying away from what is really important.
I ask that you pull yourself out of pop culture and dive into the social and economical crises across the globe. Issues like militia invasions, poor labour conditions and the stripping of human rights need your awareness and engagement. Take a look around you and see what many have fought for you to have. Take a minute to think about the innocent people of Syria who may surely perish at the U.S.’s “humanitarian” bombs. I ask that you take a minute to think about the people of Guatemala who have had land stolen from them so the Canadian and US mining companies may collect their gold. I ask that you take a minute and ask yourself, who is fighting for them?
It is great that we have privileges such as forms of entertainment and great that we may enjoy them, but it also important that we acknowledge the individuals who fought for such freedom. Many of us essentially have all our needs at our fingertips and maybe even more, but for every extra we have, someone out there lacks a basic need. They lack shelter, food, water and equality.
Around us are many opportunities to get involved and simply become educated about the situations occurring around the globe. Most importantly, being educated is a necessary start. We play an important part in most of these issues and can become an even larger part if we actively participate. So let us unplug from pop culture and get plugged into the world around us.
For the past several weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has included at least one status, link, or photo about Miley Cyrus and/or Robin Thicke. People have had a lot to say about these two. There were the people who found “Blurred Lines” offensive, and the people who didn’t know what the big deal was. There were hilarious parodies, disturbing photomontages, and impassioned talk about rape culture. There were the people who analyzed Miley’s performance and then the people who analyzed these analyses. The conversation permeated all forms of social media, classroom walls, and conversations with friends and coworkers – it was simply everywhere. I learned what it meant to “twerk.” I learned that people do not like Miley’s tongue. I learned that Robin Thicke is married with kids. I learned interesting, informative debates about cultural appropriation, along with meaningful insights about how art develops from the blending of different cultures.
I hadn’t watched the MTV awards and I hadn’t heard “Blurred Lines” until sometime in early September.
That’s not to say that I have anything against pop culture. In fact, I seem to defend it more often than criticize it. I like to listen to Katy Perry when I work out and I know all the words to most Eminem songs. There are many things to enjoy about popular culture. Most of our “highbrow” entertainment was popular culture at some point. Like Shakespeare. Or Mozart. Or Mark Twain. And no one can justly reject The Beatles, who once had their faces on enough merchandise to clothe and house a small family.
And the recent explosion of Miley and Rob proved two things. First, that popular culture is inescapable. No matter how indie your films, how alternative your rock, and how far you hide and hate the Britneys and Madonnas – you can’t avoid it. It will find its way into your conversations and into your subconscious. If you go to stores or on the computer, then it is pretty much inevitable that it will affect your life in some way. And for this reason alone, we can’t discount it. The fact is that pop culture is produced to be as immediately accessible as possible, so chances are that we will all consume it in one way or another. Second, popular culture reflects the culture – the ideas, the beliefs, the stereotypes, the fears – of the moment. Miley twerks, and this expresses something meaningful about women, about our bodies, about black people. Robin rhymes “hug” and “fuck,” and this too reflects something disturbing about how our society deals with the body, with power and with sex. So again, we cannot discount it.
But I also believe that while they may reveal valuable insights about our culture, there really are more important things to also pay close attention to. I know it’s a tired argument. But there is so much fantastic, poetic, wonderful, moving art available out there, even just around the corner. Pop culture is not usually designed to make us think or feel particularly deeply. They are often the television shows that we can watch while doing five other things, or the music and the movies that are entertaining but that don’t trouble us with messy thoughts. It is not designed to change our lives; it is designed to make us spend as much money as possible. I admit that it can enjoyable, but the magnitude of the obsession with Miley and Rob was unnecessary. There needs to be balance.
We should always try to think at least a little critically about the pop culture we consume. I don’t object to dancing to “Blurred Lines” and I don’t think that after said dance we should go home and write an academic paper on it. But I think with every top-40 song, with every Hollywood film, and every passing television show that we watch, it’s important, maybe life changing, to be active in our consumption rather than passive. Easier said than done. I am regularly guilty of being a passive consumer. But I really do want to make more of an effort to wonder about how people are represented, to compare it to other art forms by other kinds of artists, and to object, at least in my mind, to some of the things that are done and said and sung.