Commentary

The Parent Trap: The Miley Virus

“Young lady, put down that foam finger. Right now! And what did I say about keeping your tongue in your mouth?”

Above, a mother/teen daughter interaction that I hope won’t be happening in any American households as a result of Miley Cyrus’ performance Sunday night on MTV’s Video Music Awards.

With her beyond-the-pale (and -pole) performance, 20-year-old Cyrus staged the twerk heard ‘round the world.

This is the last tweak on the twerk, I promise. But I wanted to figure out what the collective freak-out was about.

Because indeed, watching in real time, and seeing Cyrus work the runway -- and her genital area -- with the giant foam finger, and then having her kneel down, nearly naked, and back into that 36-year-old Robin Thicke guy, resplendent in his power pimp-striped suit and  sunglasses, made my stomach sink in a way I have never experienced before.

I just wasn’t prepared: I had girded my loins for Gaga, but from the moment Gaga’s face appeared, floating from behind that white cardboard sperm head /Flying Nun combo, she became the Salvador Dali of our times, steeped in actual visual ideas. Go ahead and sit in the clam shells: your egg and meat suit have earned you kudos.

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Whereas Cyrus emerged from the inside of a Sequoia-sized, robotic Teddy Bear wearing hair horns on her head and a furry gray leotard with little round ears on her breasts and the face of a demon Hello Kitty lower on the chest.  Madly overworking her tongue to from an apostrophe outside her mouth, she mimed the same sort of deranged face she wore on her costume. As she sang “We Can’t Stop,” she never stopped popping and pelvic thrusting, using the microphone between her legs and acting like some oversexed woodland creature/human anime blend.

As with her music video, she had all kinds of backup, some in bizarre plush teddy bear suits, others wearing giant bear backpacks. She also hired the World's Tallest Burlesque Dancer, Amazon Ashley, who stands at 6'7''. I mention Ms. Ashley because the former Hannah Montana practically buried her head in Ashley’s very oversized ass, and gave it a few slaps. 

Then, melding her song, with its controversial mention of “Molly” (Ecstasy) that was bleeped out, into Thicke’s  controversial summer single, “Blurred Lines,” Cyrus ran around like a faun in demon hooves, servicing Thicke  -- and, at one point, working her mouth around the foam pointer.

What’s her problem? Number one: It seems that former Disney kids develop a chip on their shoulders about the squeaky-clean studio rules that brought them young stardom. To rebel, and show they’re all grown up, they think they have to offer up some really freaky sex bonafides.  From sweet, dreamy Hannah, Cyrus went to Herpes, Fully Loaded.

Christina Aguilera and Britney did something similar. Only Justin Timberlake seems to have figured out how to become a modern-day Frank Sinatra type.

Number two: This year, MTV celebrates its 30th anniversary.The first VMAs, in 1984, were graced by Madonna’s  (now rather-tame seeming) performance of “Like a Virgin.” The “boy toy” (as her belt put it) didn’t strip down to her giant lace bra, stockings, and garter belt until at least three minutes into the performance, and then she had only 12 or so seconds to drag herself across the floor and end up limp.

And that’s the crux of the issue: outdoing Madonna, and then Britney with her stupid snake, and then Madonna trying to impregnate Cristina and Britney with her leering kisses.

There does seem to be a lot of hypocrisy surrounding the hysteria by other celeb mom figures: Brooke Shields, who played Cyrus’ mom on “Hannah Montana,” shrieked in mock horror, and questioned who was making her decisions. This from a woman who played a 12-year-old prostitute and, when she was 16, said “nothing” came between her and her Calvins.

Obviously, parents have felt sick and threatened by new music since before Ed Sullivan refused to show Elvis’ pelvis on his Sunday night  family show. The same thing happened with the Beatles,  Janis Joplin, and the Rolling Stones.

A legitimate critique of Cyrus, however, is coming from women of color, who hate that this rich white girl, worried that she’s losing out in the pop world, decided to appropriate working-class black “ratchet” culture. That’s where the tongue and the twerking and the slapping of back-up booty dancers come from.

Certainly, she has repurposed the famous foam fan finger as an accessory for porn.  Maybe it’s a really high-toned joke, referring to the mythic VMA gift bag giveaways. Nah. She did put polish on the fingernail -- that was a nice touch.

In the end, Cyrus’ VMA act was desperate and upsetting, but also as shrewd a business move as she could make. It’s up there with Madonna kissing Britney  -- to be expected, since apparently she and Britney share a manager.

Up against all those other big-time acts -- and even Kanye got lost in the noise! -- no one would've noticed her little song, had she not repulsed everyone with her dark servicing of the stage demons. Now it's all anyone can talk about, till the next star ramps up a shocker. 

We’ve got to learn to put our own tongues back in our mouths, and tell our young girls that the days of appropriating pole culture are over, even if Miley is still smiling.

26 comments about "The Parent Trap: The Miley Virus".
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  1. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 28, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.

    and next year?

  2. Jason Kanefsky from MPG, August 28, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.

    As a parent of two teenage daughters that grew up in the Miley/Hannah era, this became a "parental" moment. We were at the VMA's and had similar reactions as many of other viewers. Take this opportunity to remind your kids that celebrities are not always role models & there are lines not to cross. The conversation has been started, share your thoughts with your kids.

  3. Scotty Reiss from SheBuysCars.com, August 28, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

    What a sad little train wreck she's become. Yes, it was an effective 'coming out' as a grown up performer, but the bored, unimpressed faces in the audience make me think her performance won't lead to future work. If she really want to shock us, she'd have taken a role in a smart indie film or led an effort to improve the world. But that would take integrity, wouldn't it?

  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 28, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.

    She also has a growing up in front of our eyes problem, like Lindsay. I have to say that she does have a great voice. The New York Post said she went "right into the studio with Kanye" after the show. Kanye is desperate for attention, too!

  5. Pooky Amsterdam from PookyMedia, August 28, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.

    Have to admit I am not looking forward to Emma Watson being cast in "50 Shades of Grey" and dismay at the teen leaders who will serve in that dark drama. Robert Pattinson, also up for the lead has a huge audience of quite young people.....

    Are we simply refusing to acknowledge the consequences of our childrens heroes doing soft core porn?

  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 28, 2013 at 11:01 a.m.

    OK...next year...hard core porn....

  7. Kevin Gaydosh from O'Brien et al, August 28, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.

    What's all the fuss about? Is this so different that the Madonna-Britney kiss a few years ago? Why the shock and outrage, especially from a cable channel (that used to show music videos) but now produces "Teen Mom," "16 and Pregnant," "Jersey Shore" and "Buckwild." If she had an NEA grant and called it performance art this would not be a problem. We reap what we sow.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 28, 2013 at 12:17 p.m.

    One issue I didn't get to is that Robin Thicke gets away with suing Marvin Gaye (!) and a quasi-rapey song and getting serviced by a 20 year old on MTV, and then his mother, Gloria Loring, speaks out about how shocked and upset she is about what Miley did.
    This is sexism-- that Miley was raked over the coals and Thicke (manly man in big stripes) gets away with everything! Thicke owes Miley, big time.

  9. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 28, 2013 at 12:42 p.m.

    actually, same with Justin and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." he walked away, and she took the heat.
    Meanwhile, Chris Brown is on the Today show this week. very screwed up.

  10. Gail Mitchell from Digital Media, August 28, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.

    Dear Barbara,
    Though I understand your harsh critique of the other night's performance; and was shocked myself. I was also saddened by the vulgarity she felt the need to bring to the stage (the hip thrusts and the tongue primarily). We don't know what it's like to walk in that young woman's shoes.
    However, after a little research I see where the performance, the nude bathing suit, the foam finger derived from. And, though she "artistically" missed the mark and leaned too heavy on the side of as you might say "the pole"...the props were not this young woman's idea or "joke" about the gift bags. My question is...do you? I suggest if you don't that you do a little research of your own and though it likely won't change your position it might atleast give you insight and perspective on the topic that you write so passionately about here.

  11. Bryan Cox from Cox Marketing, August 28, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    When my teenage daughter comes down dressed like Miley Cyrus I say..."WHY, WHY, WHY won't your Mom dress like that?"

  12. A Brody from TECHmarketing, August 28, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    All true. But, sad to say, anyone who holds up Frank Sinatra up as a paragon of virtue just hasn't read his bio. You could check with Ava Gardner too, she had plenty to say.....

    But Frank was a progressive thinker when it came to race. Given Miley's country background you could argue the same thing about her.

    If you want to blame the culture, fine. But it wouldn't be this way if Madison Ave. didn't support it. This is TV, after all.

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 28, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.

    @Gail-- It's a very thorny topic, and she is so young, and I would indeed ike to find out where the foam finger and nude suit derived from. Can you give me a source? I did do some research and didn't see that anywhere.
    Thanks
    B.

  14. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 28, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

    And @A Brody-- that is true about Sinatra. And everything you say is true. No one wants to start boycotting or censoring, but it's turned into a shit show. Any answers?

  15. Jim Palam from Jim Palam & Partners, August 28, 2013 at 3:36 p.m.

    Barbara: Let me first say that you are media's best reporter and writer. Keep up the good work. I happened to channel surf to Miley backing up into Thicke's crotch, blinked my eyes and changed the channel. I grew up on the mean streets of NY, believe sex is healthy and true art has no boundaries. But this crap is just that: crap. That debased performances get big ratings is not surprising -- just disappointing.

  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 28, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.

    there is the question of next year and the year after that and the ratings that will be stimulated by the expectation of something new, something more daring, something--as producers say--they will let you get away with......upfront warnings that only increase viewership.......my guess: nudity by 2020....oral sex by 2025....and a hit song "GOING ALL THE WAY" accompanied by going all the way.. oh around 2031.....

  17. Frank D'Angelo from FXD consulting, August 28, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

    @ Tom: The answer about next year is obvious. PAY PER VIEW. If Wrestlemania XXX can get $20+ per view, can you imagine what a VMA pay per view could generate next year with the escalation in shock value ? Just think of all the ancillary revenue streams this Pay Per view would generate: DVD's PG and R rated versions of cost, merchandising toys to pre-teens...limitless :)
    One thing for sure, Miley won't be doing any Super Bowl halftimes any time soon...

  18. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future, August 28, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

    Funny no one has mentioned that her mother was in the audience smiling and clapping.

    And what about Lady Gaga? She went rogue by going Vogue and then going native. I am sure she thought her uncovered rump would be the lewdest part of the show. Guess again you ancient 27 year old. Bare butts are so 20 minutes ago.

  19. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, August 28, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.

    Drawing broad conclusions from this is like watching a Friar's club roast and commenting on the new depths of incivility in our culture.
    You can't create shock without doing something unexpected and new, which means you have to take things a step further.

  20. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 28, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/world-stunned-by-girl-in-underwear-at-mtv-video-mu,102080/

    AND....mr. boer is correct which is why frank d'angelo may be correct to.....and on second thought, we have hard core porn by 2020, ....pay per view the first year, but if revenue flags...back to prime time......

  21. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, August 28, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.

    The Disney kids letting loose once they leave the company fold reminds me of how the kids who went to Catholic school in my neighborhood often turned into delinquents once they entered public school.

  22. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up!, August 28, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.

    Did anyone else watch the new PBS series "Silk" which was on at the same time?

  23. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 29, 2013 at 12:15 a.m.

    Do you think maybe there is a Disney problem ?

  24. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 29, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.

    this piece in Gawker is amusing: the inventor of the foam finger finds his inspirational product degraded.
    and now I see that the dirty version(!) of the Thicke video involved a foam finger. All the more reason that Miley should have stayed her ground.
    and it does bother me that pimp-striped Thicke seems to have gotten off Scott free while Miley is taking all of the heat.

    http://gawker.com/foam-finger-inventor-miley-cyrus-degraded-an-honorabl-1221976505

  25. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, September 1, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.

    Cyrus did exactly what she set out to do. Undo her Hannah Montana image and start tongues wagging - AND sell the song she dropped the night before the VMAs, aptly titled "Wrecking Ball." All of which are happening as she and her handlers no doubt planned. She's not the first to shock at the VMAs and she won't be the last. What you should really wonder about is MTV's odd censorship rules. Most notably they edited out the word "Molly" ("Dancing with Molly") one of the most veiled drug references I can think of (somewhat reminiscent of "girl we couldn't get much higher"), while allowing "All the people standing in line at the bathroom, trying to get a line in the bathroom" to stand untouched. And a few presenters later I couldn't help but notice the word "bitch" fly out of someone's uncensored mouth. What on earth is going on there? In truth, I think that's more disturbing to me. And you know in this modern Google age, blanking a word in a song lyric is really tantamount to highlighting and double underlining it. Left alone no one would have taken note of it. Think of all the unwitting 12-year-olds who tossed a couple quick search terms into their iPhones and got a lesson in modern drug terminology. And all without leaving the comfort of their parent's living room sofa? Thanks, MTV.

  26. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 3, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

    AT LEAST there is one area of Government oversight of our lives (the FCC) that sleeps through what would be in earlier, gentler times fodder for fines or for epithets such as "Vast Wasteland" for which Newton Minow achieved the kind of immortality that perhaps Hanna Cyrus will one day possess.
    Mr. McEwan analysis is very keen. Except for "unwitting 12 year olds." More likely he underestimates the typical unwitting by 20 years or so.

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