Why Miley Cyrus Matters
Her provocative performance wasn’t just another salacious bid for attention.

Miley Cyrus on the red carpet at the Video Music Awards.


Mona Charen

Some defenders of Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance don’t understand what all the outrage is about. Justin Timberlake tweeted “She’s young. Take it easy on her.” Lena Dunham worried about “slut shaming.” Russell Simmons wrote, “Just saw @MileyCyrus. What did I miss. She was having fun. #twerkmileytwerk.” And Adam Lambert tweeted “Listen if it wasn’t ur cup of tea — all good but why is everyone spazzing? Hey – she’s doin something right. We all talkin.”

Cyrus seemed to endorse Lambert’s any-attention-is-good-attention rationale. She boasted on Twitter, “Smilers! My VMA performance had 306.000 tweets per minute. That’s more than the blackout or Superbowl! #fact.”

Doubtless if Cyrus had undressed completely and performed a literal (rather than pantomime) sex act on stage, her Twitter numbers would have been even higher. Ditto if she had twisted the head off a small animal or defecated live and in color. A product of the celebrity culture, she seems incapable of making judgments based on anything higher than buzz. If she did either of those things, would Lambert wonder why everyone was “spazzing” and would Dunham condemn “slut shaming”? It’s hard to say.

How many of Cyrus’s young fans will interpret her behavior as a normal part of growing up? How many will confuse lasciviousness with sexual maturity?

Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Wall Street Journal’s wise children’s book reviewer, noted in a recent Hillsdale College speech that there is a vein in “young adult” fiction of ugly, horrific, and sexually revolting material aimed at kids between twelve and 18. Girls cut themselves with razors until their bellies are a “mess of meat and blood,” and boys don magic glasses that reveal “impaled heads and other black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises.” The authors and publishers justify these themes as “heartbreakingly honest.”

The subversives who undermine good taste always seem to invoke “honesty” or “reality.” But as Gurdon rightly objects: “Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave — what the spectrum is. They form norms. . . . And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.”

No one who has ever observed a group of 15-year-old girls — nearly identical in their hair styles, clothes, and speech — can doubt this.

Miley Cyrus’s performance was not just another case of a salacious and degrading bid for attention. Because of who she was — a Disney star with a loyal following of young girls — and because of what she did, she has introduced something even darker to the mainstream culture. She is indirectly legitimizing child porn.

Miley Cyrus became a sensation as “Hannah Montana,” a wholesome Disney pop star. Millions of pre-teen girls adored the show and followed Cyrus’s career. She is hardly the first celebrity to attempt to shock her audience by shedding her ingénue image. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and others have plowed this ground. But Cyrus did more than cast off her innocence. She used innocence itself as a lecherous come-on.

Cyrus, 20, began her vulgar dance by appearing in a teddy-bear costume, with dancing teddy bears as backup. She later exchanged this for a flesh-colored bra and panties and a large foam finger that she put to lewd uses.

I haven’t ever seen child porn, but I would bet that a great deal of it uses images of innocence and childhood — like teddy bears — for the delectation of its audience. Cyrus has now taken this perversion mainstream.

Child porn, like every other kind of pornography, once relegated to a seedy underworld, is now as close as a cell phone. It’s bobbing along in the twilight, close to the surface of American lives, but kept from full view by the last remaining shreds of propriety that our culture enforces.

The existence of the Internet has probably already eroded some of the shame that pedophiles once felt. Learning that hundreds of thousands of others share one’s perversion must be cathartic. But how much more liberating to see the themes of child sexual abuse portrayed approvingly at the VMA awards?

American popular culture continues to prove that there is no rock bottom, and everyone who shrugs that it’s no big deal is a little bit complicit.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Miley Cyrus Reactions
By all accounts, Miley Cyrus’s uninhibited, at times unhinged performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 25 was either the end of Western civilization or merely a new low for American popular culture. Here’s a look at some of the reactions.
Cyrus took the stage to perform the song “Blurred Lines” with singer Robin Thicke (left), stripping off most of her clothes and writhing suggestively across the stage, sometimes performing a dance move called “twerking.”
TWEETING AND TWERKING: At its peak, Cyrus’s performance generated more than 300,000 tweets per minute. For comparison, last year’s show had a peak of 88,300 tweets per minute, and the Super Bowl blackout just 230,000.
An image of Will Smith and family in their front-row seats reacting with horror to the show quickly spread on social media. But while it was later revealed that they were watching Lady Gaga at that moment, the image captured the feeling of many about Cyrus's performance.
Fellow celebrities offered some humorous instant analysis of Cyrus’s performance on Twitter.
Kevin Smith @ThatKevinSmith: “Thank Christ! The internet has stopped bitching about #BatFleck to bitch about Miley Cyrus' #MtvVMAs performance instead... #SentientTongue”
Bill Maher @billmaher: “Watching VMAs. Haven't been in a strip club in a while, but good to see nothing has changed”
Albert Brooks @AlbertBrooks: “Alan Thicke and Billy Ray Cyrus now under genetic arrest.”
James Van Der Beek @vanderjames: “Things I learned watching the #VMAs2013: There's nothing you can do with a foam finger that you can't air on MTV.”
Colin Quinn @iamcolinquinn: “Why's Miley Cyrus the villain? Because she's got the guts to go out and say "Hey, guys I'm trying too hard! Sorry it shows!" #screweverybody”
Lisa Rinna @“lisarinna: “Is it just me or are the #vma up to this point like what watching japanese porn must be like?"
Sue Sylvester @SylvesterWMHS: “Miley Cyrus, that is the most offensive thing I've seen since the Glee Club's horrifying performance of Push It. Please, somebody stop her.” (SylvesterWMHS is the feed of Glee character Sue Sylvester)
Nia Vardalos @NiaVardalos: “Gotta go, Miley's at my door waving that giant finger and twerking my dog.”
Bethenny Frankel @Bethenny: “Maybe @MileyCyrus tongue was wagging bc it’s National Dog Day today!!!!”
Josh Malina @JoshMalina: “Say what you want about Miley Cyrus, but she is very disgusting”
Josh Gracin @joshgracin: “Thanks Miley Cyrus. Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she no longer can follow your career.”
Judd Apatow @JuddApatow: “It's nice that Miley is comfortable with herself.”
Chrissy Teigen @chrissyteigen: “What if miley is just like us and woke up and is like guys what happened last night”
Adam Lambert @adamlambert: “Listen if it wasn't ur cup of tea — all good but why is everyone spazzing? Hey — she's doin something right. We all talkin”
Robin Thicke @robinthicke: “That was dope Shout out to @MileyCyrus…"
Candace Parker @Candace_Parker: “Omg… I’m watchn VMA’s and ummm Miley Cyrus… Ummmmmmmmmmm ummmmmmmm #PoppedAMollyAndTwerked.”
Kelly Clarkson @kelly-clarkson: “Just saw a couple performances from the VMA’s last night. 2 words…. #pitchystrippers”
Mika Brzezinski @morningmika: “Anyone who thinks Miley Cyrus needs intervention, retweet. That was not art. That was a cry for help-Shame on MTV and any who facilitate.”
John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: “Judging from Miley Cyrus I gather "twerking" is slang for "losing your immortal soul and consigning yourself to the Ninth Circle of Hell."
Jonah Goldberg @JonahNRO: “Perhaps all of the finger wagging over Miley Cyrus getting more attention than Syria could be solved by dropping her on Damascus?"
MODERN FAMILY: Miley's dad, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, was more supportive than most, tweeting: “Billy Ray Cyrus: Thanking God for so many blessings tonight. Continue to pray for world peace. More love ...less hate” (Pictured, Miley and Billy Ray in earlier days.)
Brooke Shields, who played Cyrus’s mother on the television show Hannah Montana, was less positive: “I do not approve. … Where did I go wrong? I just want to know who's advising her, and why it's necessary? … [Our children] can't watch that. … I feel like it's a bit desperate."
SPIN ROOM: The day after the show, cultural commentators, fellow performers, and plain-old concerned parents continued to weigh in.
Cyndi Lauper: “That was girl gone wild. So sad, so sad. … there she is a young twentysomething trying to prove, you know, she can hang with the big boys and girls, you know, basically simulating a 'Girl Gone Wild' video onstage and I just felt like it was so beneath her and really. It was really raunchy. It wasn't even art. It was raunch."
Lance Bass: “I didn't know I had to warn [my nieces and nephews] that their little Hannah Montana was going to be naked and humping a finger. I think it's her thing. I think she shocked a lot of her younger fans, especially the parents, who might not be so happy with her thing, and she's just being Miley."
"It's just a clumsy white appropriation of black culture. That is just part of the larger trend we were seeing in music and pop culture that night." — Professor Salamishah Tillett, University of Pennsylvania
“Cyrus’s twerk act gives minstrelsy a postmodern careerist spin. Cyrus is annexing working-class black “ratchet” culture, the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies, to the cause of her reinvention: her transformation from squeaky-clean Disney-pop poster girl to grown-up hipster-provocateur. — Jody Rosen,
“My list of reasons why I'm glad my girls, ages 5 and 7, were too young to ever get into Hannah Montana grew exponentially longer after Miley Cyrus' unforgettable 'twerking' in a bra and undies at MTV's Video Music Awards.” -- CNN digital and family editor Kelly Wallace
"This is unacceptable MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate 'twerking' in a nude colored bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds..." — Parents Television Council
“Miley Cyrus did an in-your-face, look at me now, pornographic performance at the record industry's most public coming out party, the MTV video music awards. This was no accident. … What was Miley thinking? You don't have to guess. She was probably thinking: ‘I’m not that Miley Cyrus anymore and this ought to prove it.’” -- Pepper Schwarz, author, The Normal Bar
Updated: Sep. 06, 2013