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Miley Cyrus’s Kind of Cool
Her VMA performance was tasteless and vulgar, and her SNL performance was more of the same.

Miley Cyrus on Saturday Night Live

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Mona Charen

Denouncing the dysfunction in Washington has become a cliché. For a change of pace, let’s decry the putrefaction in American popular culture. (There are bright spots, but those will have to await another column.)

Miley Cyrus is America’s id. She is all desire — for fame, for attention, for money — without any mediating influences like conscience, character, prudence, or taste. America celebrates her. She gets some criticism, but she can laugh it off, because she knows she’s cool. Do you doubt her importance? She hosted Saturday Night Live this week — the apotheosis of hip.

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Reviewing her performance on SNL, USA Today declared that Cyrus had “mostly steered clear of controversy.” It seems low standards are contagious. Riffing about her VMA act, Cyrus boasted that she heard from “angry mothers” and “turned-on fathers.” Nice. During the show, she and the SNL cast performed an incredibly raunchy version of one of her songs (but I repeat myself) keyed to the government shutdown. Cyrus gyrated and faux-masturbated as Michele Bachmann, while Taran Killam was featured as a very gay, pierced, underwear-clad John Boehner who humped whatever was nearby.

Ah, nothing like good fun for Saturday Night Live and America’s tongue-lolling sweetheart. We all need to loosen up, don’t we? It’s just a joke. SNL portrays Barack Obama in similar ways all the time, right?

The hippest show on TV illustrates the cultural chasm that separates liberals and conservatives. Liberals laugh as conservative politicians are depicted in porn-style videos. But if a rodeo clown dons an Obama mask, it’s a month-long scandal. (The rodeo organizers apologized to Obama.)

Even if SNL were to turn the tables and lampoon Democrats in similar fashion, conservatives would be repelled by the vulgarity, not amused by it.

There’s another scandal in this story. Saturday Night Live apparently got good ratings for Cyrus’s appearance. Doubtless that’s the only standard they honor. But let’s consider what they are approving by having her host the show.

As I wrote after the VMA display, Cyrus is not just aping her sisters Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé in attempting to use raunch as an attention magnet. Cyrus’s unique contribution to our cultural sludge is to mainstream kiddie porn. Cyrus’s status as a former Disney star and her use of teddy-bear imagery in a lewd dance amount to sanctioning child porn. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus explained:

I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you. When I’m dressed in that teddy bear thing, I think that’s funny. I was saying yesterday, I had this obsession about this character that’s like an adult baby. Like if you see a baby do something like that it’s so warped and weird, but there’s something creepily hot about it. So when I’m in that teddy bear suit, I’m like a creepy, sexy baby.

Cyrus had said that her inspiration for her new music video “Wrecking Ball,” in which she does her trademark naked licking and straddling while also excreting auto-tuned wails of some sort, was the Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

O’Connor, a leftist of particular vehemence who once tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and refused to perform if the U.S. national anthem were played at one of her concerts, is nonetheless critical of Cyrus’s gambit. She published an open letter to Cyrus warning that “I am extremely concerned . . . that those around you have led you to believe . . . that it is any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers.”

O’Connor continues: “None of the men ogling you give a s— about you either. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. . . . You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you . . . We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked . . . because it makes them prey for animals . . . No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.”

O’Connor’s words were tough, but the message was one of support for Cyrus’s dignity as a woman and an artist.

Cyrus responded on Twitter by reposting a series of pained messages O’Connor had tweeted while suffering a nervous breakdown several years ago and searching for a psychiatrist. With casual cruelty, Cyrus tweeted: “Before Amanda Bynes. . . . There was. . . . ” She then offered that she had no time to respond to the open letter because she was preparing for her star turn on SNL.

That’s the sort of person Saturday Night Live, the arbiter of American pop-culture coolness, celebrates and honors.

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, Vulture.com
“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

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