Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Media Moment, Miley Cyrus Twerks, Appropriates, Dehumanizes

Okay, I know this is a little old, but when tasked with coming up with a "media moment," I thought little else would do.

Here, for your viewing (dis)pleasure, is the twerk heard 'round the world:

Get More: 2013 VMA, Artists.MTV, Music, Miley Cyrus

Now, the story of how I came to eventually see this video is a media-soaked tale in itself. I was on Facebook, minding my own business, not watching the Video Music Awards because awards shows in general freak me out a bit. It was then that I saw a deluge of status updates about Miley Cyrus--some defending her, others chastising her, and others still just trying to get their bearings in this brave new world. I hadn't seen this sort of rabid posting since the last presidential election.

Like a cynic, I ignored it.

Fast forward to the next day, and I check CNN.com, hoping for an update on the Syria situation, but I'm instead greeted by a giant picture of Miley Cyrus with a link to an equally large article about her butt. Fine, I said to myself, I might as well take a look. That was my first peak down the deepest and most catastrophically messed-up rabbit hole from which I'm still trying to recover.

Things haven't been the same.

Well, maybe that's not quite true, but I do think that Miley's performance has a lot wrong with it, especially in terms of cultural appropriation and the theme of systematically dehumanizing black women that runs throughout the performance. This might strike some as odd, because most media outlets in the aftermath of Twerkgate seemed more focused on the radically sexual nature of Miley's performance, her tongue, and her outfits, ignoring how much of the performance was racially charged. Most of the discourse I encountered was something along the lines of, watch this girl who was in the public eye as a thirteen-year-old get practically naked and shake her ass around--crazy, right? I'm looking at you, CNN. But when I first watched that video, that was the furthest thing from my mind (at this juncture in my post, it's necessary for me to inform you that far more eloquentintelligent, and erudite responses have been written about this issue). Cyrus's use of black backup singers, an easily recognizable trope in pop music performances, troubled me greatly, because they're dressed up as teddy bears, or, you know, objects. That's dehumanization. Miley then goes onto give a mock rimjob to one of her big-bottomed backup singers. It comes of as synecdoche--taking the part for the whole--as Miley reduces this singer to little more than her rear end, and in case you didn't click the links above, I'm going to go ahead and quote a line from a blogged response to Jezebel's ignoring of the racial implications of Cyrus's performance, one that has stayed with me since:
Here's the thing: historically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies...By bringing these "homegirls with the big butts" out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric. She made that woman's body a literal spectacle to be enjoyed by her legions of loyal fans.

I can't really say it any better than that. I think there are other things wrong with this performance (Don't even get me started on "Blurred Lines"), but this particular issue is what I really wanted to talk about.

I guess my question is, what are your thoughts on how race is portrayed in this video?

1 comment:

  1. Eric, I think you have addressed a really important issue with Miley's performance that went unnoticed by many. It is absolutely no coincidence that's she was also performing with Robin Thicke, who is active in the R&B and Hip-Hop community as well as 2 Chainz who is often associated with this "twerking" movement. By sharing the stage with these performers Miley is desperately trying to penetrate the hip-hop scene and in the process is appropriating the hip-hop culture in a very negative way.