When it comes to uproar about Miley Cyrus's VMA performance Sunday night, one thing we can all agree on is this: Cyrus definitely started all the tongue-wagging. Literally. All week, the blogosphere has been polluted with posts about what Cyrus's performance does and doesn't mean, who it does and doesn't demean, and who is and isn't to blame. It's not even Friday yet and I'm already exhausted. On the plus side, I learned a new word: twerking. On the minus side, my retinas were damaged in the process.
As a proud feminist and an even prouder mother of a 12-year-old daughter, allow me to weigh in on this already bloated topic so we can put this matter behind us. Below are my answers to the various questions that have been posed in the aftermath of this sad spectacle.
No, Cyrus's performance doesn't count as an act of feminist independence. Doing a sexually suggestive dance while scantily clad doesn't serve to break new ground for women. Rather, it only reinforces the roles that women have long struggled to break out of. The fact that Cyrus did a new sexually suggestive dance -- twerking -- while scantily clad does not advance the ball; it confirms how far we have to go.
Yes, Cyrus's performance was degrading.
Whatever that was that Cyrus was doing was both degrading to herself personally and women generally. But it wasn't any more (or at least not appreciably more) degrading than much of the lyrics and imagery prevalent in popular music today. Take, for example, Robin Thicke's wildly popular video for "Blurred Lines." The women in that video may not have been twerking, but the roles they were put in and the acts they were engaged in were no less sexualized. (Riding a dog? Really?) If it takes Cyrus twerking on national television to spark a dialogue about how women are being presented in pop music, then I guess it's worth the eye bleach it's going to take to strip away the residue left from that six minutes' worth of imagery. But if we are so busy clucking our tongues about Cyrus's tongue that we miss the chance to have the bigger discussion, then the trauma to my retinas was in vain.
Yes, pop culture has an influence on kids.
I don't know anyone who as a kid was not influenced to some degree by popular culture. Does that mean kids copy everything they see on television or embrace every point of view presented in song lyrics? Of course not. But just as dropping the "f" bomb is much more prevalent today than it was 20 (or even 10) years ago, pop culture does move the line of social acceptability, for better or for worse (and it's almost always for the worse). That means parents have a duty to screen the popular culture to which their kids are exposed and to be selective about what makes the cut. In other words, parents need to parent.
Yes, parents are partly to blame.
The fact that the VMAs included something that was shocking and/or inappropriate can hardly come as a surprise. Britney Spears and Madonna's kiss on that very same show 10 years ago caused a huge uproar. And Janet Jackson's "surprise" nip slip in her 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance met with similar outrage. In light of these events, what happened Sunday night was completely predictable. In fact, it would have been more of a surprise if nothing shocking had happened on Sunday night's show. So, parents, if you let your kids tune in to this ceremony expecting something along the lines of" The Donny and Marie Show" of yesteryear, that's your fault. And even if your kids saw the Cyrus clip on "Good Morning America" the next day, I still blame you. When Cyrus acts a fool on "Sesame Street," then I'll share your outrage.
No, the options for role models aren't limited to a pop star or a princess. Some have proffered the opinion that they want their daughters to look to Kate Middleton rather than Miley Cyrus as their role model. When it comes to potential role models for girls, it's not a closed universe. I think we can all agree that Cyrus is off the list. But as far as I'm concerned, Kate Middleton hasn't yet earned the right to be on it. When it comes to role models for my daughter, I want her to choose someone that is known for what she accomplishes, not who she marries. Kate Middleton is lovely, but if she hadn't married a prince, no one would be talking about her at all.
No, popular music is not all bad.
Although there is plenty of garbage out there, there is also some harmless pop music and even some good stuff, too. So, if you're a parent, baby, baby, baby, please, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. A total ban on popular music is not the answer. Tune in to what your kids are listening to, and then discuss the songs with them. Use this as a chance to help them further develop their critical thinking and rhetorical skills. If you find a song or "artist" to be offensive, inappropriate or just plain annoying, explain your opinion to your kids, then give them a chance to tell you theirs.
Yes, we can all recover from this.
And by "we" I mean everyone -- including Miley Cyrus. We would do well to remember that at 20 years old, Cyrus has not even completed her second year of adulthood. (Fun fact: her dance partner Robin Thicke -- who presumably rehearsed the act with Cyrus in advance -- is 36 years old.) Yes, Cyrus made a fool of herself; but I don't know a single 20-year-old who hasn't. Everyone makes mistakes. And once a mistake is made, what matters is how it is handled. Ideally, you learn what you can and move on.
Yes, good can come from this.
As a parent, don't get hung up on whether all of this uproar was exactly what Cyrus and the masterminds behind the VMAs had hoped to engineer in the first place. (Of course it was.) If your kids were unfortunate enough to have witnessed Cyrus's embarrassing spectacle, view it as a teachable moment. Talk to them about what you find objectionable or regrettable about the performance. But don't present this as some sort of irreversible mistake from which Cyrus can never redeem herself. If Cyrus keeps making stupid decisions, that's another matter -- but that too is something you and your kids can talk about.