The VMAization of America

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

[Warning: Some links in this post may lead to non-family-friendly material.]

It’s hard to get too upset or outraged by anything that happens on MTV. Pushing buttons — “testing boundaries” — has long been the name of the game there. So Miley Cyrus wins last night’s award, by her depressing performance — literally sticking out her tongue as a mainstay of the performance. Miley Cyrus continues to be a heartbreaking story — her innocence was stolen from her long before she was a prop for Thicke’s “song of the summer,” as NBC’s Savannah Guthrie recently described the song that’s been leading Billboard’s “Top 100” for eleven weeks.

While much of the focus today is on Cyrus, since she was the exhibitionist, there should be a bit more on Thicke and his contribution to American culture this summer. I wouldn’t recommend too much Googling about “Blurred Lines,” particularly if you have kids around, but consider his warm Today Show welcome this summer. “Blurred Lines,” which he performed last night at the VMAs as well as on Today a few weeks ago, has been described as “rapey” for its “I know you want it” repetition. Asked about criticism of the song in the most softball of between-song interviews, he explained that the song is actually “a feminist movement in itself.” Thicke after all, sings, “that man is not your Maker,” as he’s trying to keep “the hottest **tch in this place” from being “domesticate[d]” by another dude.

In the extended version of the song, He sings:

One thing I ask of you

Let me be the one you back that a** to

Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo

Yeah, I had a **tch, but she ain’t bad as you

So hit me up when you passing through

I’ll give you something big enough to tear your a** in two.

On TodayThicke called “Blurred Lines” “great art.” In another interview he was a bit more transparent: He figured people would be forced to know who he is (beyond the son of the dad on Growing Pains) and what he’s done if he went online with a “silly video with topless girls,” which is exactly what he did with “Blurred Lines.” And if Hannah Montana simulates sex acts on you on a Sunday night in Brooklyn, you’re the most Tweeted about and the main subject of Monday watercooler talk.

On Today, he claimed the song was born of “utmost respect” for women. Considering it’s the soundtrack of summer 2013, perhaps we should take that seriously. So is it out of respect for Miley Cyrus that he was delighted to team up with her animal (another respect-for-women word in “Blurred Lines”) performance, alongside psycholdelic teddy bears and a bleeped-out drug reference? People were repulsed by the performance because it was crass and base, an ugly display in the name of entertainment on an awards night. But as college students settle in on campuses, isn’t this just the scene next Friday night after a first or second week of classes? Isn’t this just what the sexual revolution has wrought? Women are for men’s use, and women provide, aided by “preventative services” and a culturally-infused belief that this is what is expected, that they can expect nothing better, and that, in fact, this is liberation.

On Morning Joe this morning, there was outrage and a real sadness expressed about the performance. Not because anyone there disapproves of sex — which is so often the presumption when anyone comments disapprovingly about such a cultural nadir, especially if they do so from a moral perspective — but because kids and men and women deserve a better culture than this. We should demand one. One laced with a little mystery, one with higher standards, inspiring higher expectations. One that reflects these most beautiful creations that are men and women, created to participate in creation together. A culture that demonstrates and encourages and applauds great talent, rather than one drowning in the shocking to such a degree that shocking becomes boring. (Something Madonna and Lady Gaga have encountered.)

Thicke, on the other hand, says “what’s really important about music and entertainment is to entertain and make people feel good.” Judging by “Blurred Lines,” by “feel good,” all he means is instant, constant sexual gratitification. How about an art that actually is good? That, perhaps, helps people be good? That inspires? But I guess that would be “domesticate[d]” art in his mind. “Nasty” gets people talking and so there is “Blurred Lines.”  

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus doesn’t seem liberated so much as issuing a “twerking” (the dance that had Twitter atwitter last night) cry for help.

Will Smith’s kids may not have been expressing disdain for “great art,” as a photo that went viral suggested, but the picture was a portrait in the appropriate reaction.

And least USA Today reports that “In the press room, there was a gasp” when Cyrus “did a Jersey Turnpike grind with Robin Thicke”?

I saw someone comment this morning that everyone who sang along to “Achy Breaky Heart” in the 90s was complicit in last night’s Cyrus/Thicke performance, as Miley’s father, who once posed provocatively with her, tweeted about world peace:

Looking around the audience last night, you do wonder how we can find ourselves singing along to “Blurred Lines,” instead of expecting something better as the background music of 2013.

Billy Ray Cyrus, for his part, knows his complicity in what went down last night and the train wreck that his daughter’s life has become, having noted that wanting to be friends with your children does not have long-term benefits. A daughter needs a father, a girl needs men who see value beyond her rubbing against him for show; women need to know they can and should expect more from men. And culture can lead the way. Or we can keep twerking along to “Blurred Lines” that it will take a miracle to make straight a path from.


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