Yup -- a glorious example of the golden age of non-network TV, the violent, sprawling, hyper-brilliant Vince Gilligan production is the absolute video storytelling equivalent of the Great American Novel. As such, the show receives all the plaudits and awestruck meta-analysis that goes with being at the white-hot center of high culture. And viewers want to be part of that hypnotic, Walter- and Jesse-based cultural currency.
And at the same time, at the low, low end, Miley Cyrus appears -- almost nude and cruising for a bruising -- on the cover of Rolling Stone. She has a double-foot tattoo, with the word “Rolling” on the soul of one, and “Stone” with a dollar sign through the “S,” on the other tootsie to prove it! She wanted to mark it as an event! No meta-analysis of her metatarsals required!
The interview was done only four days after her world-stopping performance at MTV’s VMAs. Twenty-year-old Cyrus comes off as an artist very sure of herself and offers an interesting perspective on all the freak-outs and criticism.
I had actually felt bad for the past month that I had come down too hard on her. My visceral response was sheer disgust at the sex simulations that were provocative and gross. And I went with it.
I was secretly hoping that in the Rolling Stone interview, Cyrus would explain that she was doing some high-minded art piece, an over-the-top send-up of the objectification of women performers and what it takes to be considered “sexy” in this culture.
Not exactly. But she did have an interesting response to the haters and critics. To quote her response exactly: “People do fucked-up shit.” Presumably she was referring to her critics, not herself.
Indeed, there are levels of holier-than-thou hypocrisy in the responses to her performance that she notes, correctly. For one, the inventor of the foam finger was outraged, and announced that she degraded “an icon.”
Brooke Shields, Hannah’s TV mom, who herself played a 12-year-old prostitute in “Pretty Baby,” was scandalized.
Worst of all, Gloria Loring, the sometime singer/actress and mother of Robin Thicke, gave multiple interviews describing her disgust with Miley’s abutment of Thicke’s big striped private parts. Loring said it was an image she could “never unsee.”
"No one is talking about the man behind the ass,” Cyrus said. “They're only talking about the one that bent over. So obviously there's a double standard."
In terms of morality, she points to another double standard, which places herself on the same cultural map as “Breaking Bad.” "America is just so weird in what they think is right and wrong," she said. "Like, I was watching 'Breaking Bad' the other day, and they were cooking meth. I could literally cook meth because of that show. It's a how-to. And then they bleeped out the word 'f--k.' And I'm like, really? They killed a guy, and disintegrated his body in acid, but you're not allowed to say 'f--k'? It's like when they bleeped 'Molly' at the VMAs. Look what I'm doing up here right now, and you're going to bleep out 'Molly'? Whatever."
Cyrus was also criticized as a rich white girl unfairly appropriating "ratchet" culture when it would benefit her. (“Ratchet” is seen as a pejorative, commodifying inner-city women of color wearing stereotypical giant gold earrings, grills, big booties, etc.) And in so doing, critics said she turned the whole thing into a minstrel show. “Times are a-changing,” she said, explaining that her backup singers and dancers are her “friends and homies,” and that this is the music and the kind of moves she’s attracted to.
But mostly, her performance was about her coming out. That’s an apt term; Disney stars who’ve been working since age two
have a different sense of growing up. They don’t have childhoods in the normal sense. So by the time they’re 16, they feel 36, and really want desperately to break away into sexualized
adulthood. (Actually, Michael Jackson did the opposite.)
“I already transitioned,” she told Rolling Stone. This to me was her oddest phrase. Normally, we associate “transitioning” with sex change: male to female or female to male. She used the word because she felt that the image her previous fans knew and loved her for is seriously limiting, infuriating, and no longer fits her. Just as with transgender people, for Disney kid stars, transitioning is a tough process -- not one event, that sometimes takes years to get right, and for their audiences to accept.
Britney Spears, who herself went through some really tough transitioning, shaved head, umbrella, and all, and memorably gyrated with a snake at the VMAs, told “Extra,” “I remember that age when I was just transferring into my career and doing more controversial things and the energy that you feel, all this chaos going on, and she’s just a ball of energy.”
As for the those hot-pink furry bear costumes, the tacky
cheerleader outfit, and the foam sports-fan hand, all were made by Cyrus’ stylist, Lisa Katnic, described by New York magazine as “Croatian-American.” That would give her
an interesting view of American culture. She says she was not appropriating African-American culture by coming up with all that stuff.
“‘Ratchet’ wasn't used to describe it” in the wardrobe memos, she told New York. “That was camp.” . So there was some conscious, high-minded art sensibility behind it. It’s not about the twerking, it’s about Susan Sontag!
Lest we get too carried away with the symbolism of camp, Katnic has already moved on from the expected wardrobe of the inner-city streets. She thinks the activewear trend is taking an “earthy” turn, she told New York. “I think that ‘stoner’ is going to be the new look,” she said, citing hemp necklaces, and saggy shorts, “I put athletic socks under rope sandals, and now I’m obsessed with them,” she said.
Maybe that explains Cyrus’ latest appearance, wearing only a G-string and what looked like large pasties under a see-through, fishnet, hemp-like mini-dress.
So it’s the co-existence of low and high, hemp and meth, that explains what’s happening. The world’s falling apart, and we need something to be shocked by or devoted to on the tube.
Because in this economy, we are all transitioning -- and not always successfully.