Guys, it's important that we gather as an Internet to collectively criticize Miley Cyrus today, but there's a right and a wrong way to do that. Here, "wrong" means "shamelessly paternalistic." Let's make sure we enjoy this moment of virtual catharsis without any sexism, okay?
Now, Cyrus's hosting job last night was precisely the personification of a cultural appropriation think piece we expected. She wore her hair in dreads, spoke in a "blaccent" and referred to her grandmother as "mammy." Yet, when Nicki Minaj called her out for her comments to The New York Times, she turned into a shruggy emoji. "We're all in this industry," she snapped back, dismissing Minaj not unlike she'd dismiss Kanye West for his Video Vanguard speech later in the evening.
"Oh, prominent black artists," she seems to think, flipping her matted pony tail. "So funny and animated! LOL drugs and stuff."
Cyrus accessorizes herself with black culture like she's ordering from a menu à la carte. The whole thing may as well be the McDonald's drive thru after she's smoked some marijuana: she'll have the grills and the twerking; hold the institutionalized racism, please.
Even that drag show at the end, while certainly not her worst infraction to date, felt a bit icky. As Roxane Gay tweeted, "The way she parades The Other in her performances is truly uncomfortable."
But this is all so obvious. The number of think pieces being published, even as you read this particular think piece, surpasses the total number of individual glitter specks that covered Miley's private parts last night.
That's the other thing the Internet is talking about this morning: Miley Cyrus' tits. To be fair, she talked about them, too. She thought it was hilarious when she wore pants mid-way through the evening. One of her outfits was made of just Mentos and Saran wrap. We were threatened with a "nip slip" before the show even started.
There's a sense -- a perhaps not entirely wrong sense -- that Cyrus does all this to be shocking. Although, she has made some valid statements about the way we police women's bodies: "America's actually fine with tits," she told Jimmy Kimmel matter-of-factly last Wednesday. "It's nipples they don't like."
As I told "So POPular" host Janet Mock, Miley's 7-year-old, lost-at-a-rave aesthetic diminishes her overall impact, but she has a point. The stigmatization of the nipple is one of the clearest ways we control female sexuality. Show us your boobs, but God forbid we catch sight of that devil's paw print of an areola.
So, yeah, there's a lot going on here. Almost as much as whatever was going on in all of her Dov Charney for Party City ensembles Sunday night. There's Miley the Minstrel Show and Miley the Beacon for Sex Positivity. It's too nuanced for our typical outrage culture. How can we be feminists and eschew racism simultaneously? (Well, the white feminists are probably all set there either way, but what about those of us with awareness of intersectionality?!)
One solution would be calling out the specific issues instead of hurling pitch forks at the person as an entity. But that's ridiculous! We're the Internet! That's like asking for there to be a logical reason why grown-ass, successful woman Mariska Hargitay is part of Taylor Swift's girl squad. Rationality, who has the time?
Still, there is an ethics to discussing all that is capital-P Problematic with Cyrus. The way she capitalizes on otherness is tasteless at best and fully racist at worst. But questioning her promiscuity or asking what her dad thinks of the whole thing would be misogynistic bullshit even if she did her opening monologue in full black face. Holding Miley accountable for her bigoted nonsense is valid. Belittling her sexuality to do so is participating in another realm of oppression.
A more interesting way to parse together her polarizing presence is the effect of Cyrus being so complexly "laid back." She's both good laid back (accepting! sex positive!) and bad laid back (flippant, ignorant). And yet, from sexual liberation to cultural appropriation, it's less likely that she's thinking critically about any of the concepts we are reading on to her than the supposition that a mere wig was able to disguise her identity in "Hannah Montana."
That doesn't make the dialogue in either space less valid, just something to take note of while we write our 140-character thesis statements. There are other stars who are champions in one realm and a disgrace in another. Amy Schumer, for example, is great at feminism and an embarrassment when it comes to dealing with race. Although, that's not a precise comparison, because she's a writer, with a deliberately crafted mission and message. Cyrus's presence is more hapless and chaotic than most other examples. Her destruction is forceful and unmeditated, like the corrosion caused by acid rain. Except it's a racist, sexually-empowered sequin rain. And that's probably worse.
If it helps at all, hive mind, know that probably the only part of Cyrus' brand that she's explicitly worked to build is the weed-smoking thing. Did you notice that at all during the VMAs? Yeah! Weed, weed, weed. She doesn't care what you say, she loves to smoke weed. It's pretty edgy. Weed.
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