Miley Cyrus

August 26, 2013

I did not watch the VMA’s. But I have seen the clips of both Justin Timberlake’s reunion with NSYNC (insert my jr high friend’s scream of joy here… not mine) and Miley Cyrus’ very… uh… interesting performance. I confess that I don’t keep up with recent developments in popular music, especially the artists whose main fan base is preteen girls. And so I can’t comment on Miley, her ability, her artistry, or really anything other than what I saw.

Amid the myriad of articles online today about her antics, amid the scornful tweets, amid my own cringing at the dancing, I was  asking, like many others, “why?” Why would a young woman do this? Unless we know Miley, we cannot really answer that question in earnest. We do not know her motives or thoughts, no matter how many people from Hollywood or Evangelicalism claim to. But I did wonder about some things.

Sure, she could have done it to sell her work. Press is good for a celebrity, even bad press sometimes. Even horrified witnesses will still talk about an artist who is known for pushing the limits. Some will even defend things an artist does, saying that while he or she would not do it, at least the artist was “brave,” “secure,” and “honest.”

Sure, she could have done it because she thought it was fun. Anything sacred in our world lends itself to the profane very easily. I think that happens for a few reasons but two I will venture is 1) the more sacred something may be, the more attention one gets when one profanes it, and 2) those who hold something as sacred are very often hypocrites (myself included) who profane their own beliefs and open the door for others do the same.

Sure, she could have done it because she is trying to break out of a stereotype. She was a Disney sweetheart, the innocent girl that preteen girls loved when they bought her Hannah Montana brand at Toys R Us.

For me, the things that I most think about when these things happen are:

1) We live in a world where women are scrutinized and held to a very different standard than men. No one has said anything about Robin Thicke serving as the object of some of her most raunchy moves. No one has mentioned the theme of Robin Thicke’s song. Sure, he wasn’t throwing his half naked body around, but he was certainly the recipient of Miley’s behavior. This double standard has been a problem for a long time in our culture- including the Christian culture- where girls are told they are more responsible than boys for sexual encounters. The way many outside the Church have responded is to either de-feminize women and encourage them to reject their gifts uniquely given to them as women, or to do what Miley did- throw everything out and use their bodies as toys in order to break out what is seen as restrictive. Particular groups in the Church have not done much better. Their response has been to clamp down on girls and restrict them even more for fear that in every young woman is a raging Miley Cyrus that we must never let free, and so they load up the millstones around young women’s necks, exalting a skewed “femininity” as a reason for such restrictions. Other groups in the Church have avoided the topics of sex and sexuality entirely, which leaves generation after generation fumbling their way through a highly sexual world, trying to manage both basic biology and silent spirituality. Still other groups in the Church have acknowledged the unique gifts of women, and yet fail to acknowledge the continued deep seeded sexism that exists when those women are not  given the full dignity of call, support, and godly encouragement. Could it be that Miley, a young woman I do not know at all, felt her only option to break free from the confines that stripped her of dignity and worth was to actual act out- in a way that did the exact same thing?

2) We live in a world that fosters the need to top the last thing in order to get the next best thing. This too is not restricted to music artists. I pastored in a church where I felt that pressure too. I know many pastors who do- who have to “top” last week’s sermon. Who have to “perform” because the eyes of their denomination are watching them. Who feel like they have do something outside the box in order to be remembered by the authorities above them. How many church conferences have I been to where they only bring in the big name speakers of the biggest churches to tell us how we too can have the biggest and best church if we just did what they did? Could it be that Miley, like so many performers before her (ironically especially women… which could relate to point 1), feels the pressure to do something over the top so she can rise to the top again and again? The problem is: when does it end? And where? And does this translate down to the small lives of so many in our world- trying to top the last test, the last game, the last weight division, the last relationship, the last ______________ until we run out of energy and crash?

Again, I don’t pretend to know what was going on in her mind, or the minds of her staff that allowed her to do such a performance. And I’m not going to rant against moral decay and bad parenting and all the other rants that many Christians will have about this recent VMA’s. I don’t think those arguments are useful or necessarily true. And maybe my questions aren’t either. But for me, it makes me wonder… and it also lessens some of the disgust I had when I first witnessed the VMA clip.

Perhaps if we sought to understand and rectify the loss of dignity and createdness each person has- man or woman- we might find the compassion to understand and help heal the “mileys” among us.

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