The problem is that most want to cast the performance of Miley Cyrus at the VMAs into one of two extreme categories. Most want to say that either the performance exemplified all that is wrong with today's youth, or run to the other end of the spectrum and suggest it was benign musical fun.
It was neither.
Having said that, it's every bit important to note the significance of the moment in a substantive and dispassionate manner. Let's not be overrun by the stampede of convenient, media outrage or swayed by the laissez-faire/vale tudo mentality of many young people. As a former music industry professional (which included The Grammys) and present cultural critic, Cyrus' performance speaks to me on a number of levels. Yes, performers are compelled by the very nature of their artistry to push the boundaries and create their own historical footprint. We as fans expect as much of them and they happily oblige us. And yes, what was scandalous 20 years ago is passé today and the Cyrus performance will be considered passé in fewer than 20 years, you best believe.
Historically, this country has always had a contentious relationship with music, sex and television. From Elvis Presley's "scandalous" gyrations and undulations which led to television appearances "from the waist up" to Prince's "butt-window" pants at the 1991 VMAs, to even the infamous Madonna/Britney kiss in 2003; sex on TV makes America wholly uncomfortable.
If there is any argument to be made for Miley Cyrus... wait, let me re-phrase.
If there is any "mitigating factor" as to the outrage, let's view her performance through the correct historical lens. The MTV VMAs have traditionally been the place for such envelope-pushing performances. History is on her side in that respect. Also, this was MTV VMAs on cable, as opposed to the Grammys on broadcast television. The latter celebrates its winners with a golden grammophone, the former with a pewter moonman planting an MTV flag.
Say that out loud...
Not to mention, the people watching the VMAs probably also watched the sexually overblown True Blood that same night. Context always matters.
But... (and you knew there was a "but" in relation to her "butt.")
The nature of Cyrus' performance has very specific reference points. The twerking and ankle-grabbing are not sensual, they are overtly sexual with present, direct ties to strip-joints and pornography.
Marvin Gaye singing "Let's Get it On" is not comparable to demonstrating sex positions on stage and using a foam finger as a makeshift phallus between one's legs. Madonna or Britney Spears walking across the stage with barely nothing on is not comparable to grabbing the genitals of a fellow performer.
To "push the envelope" is to also acknowledge that there are in fact boundaries. There is then such a thing as going too far.
Miley Cyrus went too far. It was too far 20 years ago, too far today and those with standards know that it should still be considered as "too far" in 2033. Such content is not suitable for children... ever. No amount of stuffed animals on stage will change this fact.
It has nothing to do with America's supposed sexual repression but everything to do with Miley Cyrus' irresponsibility as an individual performer. Parents to some degree have a say in whether their children watch a show like True Blood, saying nothing of the preceding warnings as to the show's content and appropriate time slot. No such warning preceded Cyrus' performance and the onus is on her and Viacom if it was aware of her intended antics.
There are very good reasons you must be at least 35 years of age to become president, 21 to consume alcohol or 25 to rent a car. Judgment matters and is most often age-influenced.
I care nothing about Cyrus' Disney roots; the association is not connected to my disgust. My disgust has everything to do with her having no shame, even after the twerk and crotch-jerk performance. Lack of judgment can lead to poor decisions in the moment and it can be understandable and forgivable. Lack of shame and humility after the fact says one simply doesn't care and seeks not to understand. Unless it is AVN, simulated sex acts have no place in an awards show. Not 20 years ago, not today... not ever.
At the top, I submitted that people should not cast this into any extreme as either an indictment of America's youth today or blithely ignore it. If anything, Cyrus' performance is indicative of failed parenting in specifically the Cyrus household, not America's households. Her performance indicts this particular youth, not all of them. Also, it's indicative of our hypocrisy; forsaking discussion of the important underlying issues to instead focus on the titillating ones.
There are others who should be held accountable as well as Cyrus. The married Robin Thicke needs to explain his complicity in the moment. Viacom should be made abundantly clear that standards exist just as much for them too, as we cast all this aspersion on a single performer. The parallel is that Viacom property CBS forever changed its business practices after the ill-fated Janet-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl performance. If we are truly outraged and not simply posturing, then we must again go to the source and force Viacom to increase its responsible broadcasting quotient.
Cyrus can and will continue such behavior when given the platform. She has no shame, is not ashamed and isn't interested in learning the meaning of humility. Nevertheless, it does not mean we have to be complicit in the process.
Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is host of "The Mo'Kelly Show" on KFI AM640/XM Satellite and "Mo'Kelly in the Morning" on KTLK AM1150. The Mo'Kelly Report is a syndicated politics and entertainment journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and all commentary is welcome.