Well, Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus Inc. succeeded in being controversial.
Facebook, twitter, and the blogosphere have been flooded with analysis of the VMAs all week. The response has been everything from blunt to nuance, from confused to disgusted. If any good came out of all of this, it has been the opportunity to discuss cultural appropriation, race, and gender in mass media. Rather than add another voice to the already-shouting conversation, I have sifted through the internet to offer a few pointed links.
First of all, let’s back up to June when the “We Can’t Stop” music video came out. Salon publish an article asking “Is Miley Cyrus’ Twerking Racist?” of two Professors: Reiland Rabaka (African American Studies at University of Colorado at Boulder) and Tricia Rose (Africana Studies, and director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University). To put it succinctly: the video is juvenile, ignorant, and Miley is going to get a lot more flack for it than if she had been male.
Two months later, the VMAs were not exactly surprising. Fortunately, Vice magazine did the sensible thing and also reached out an expert: Akil Houston, Professor of African American Studies at University of Ohio. Despite Houston’s pointed critique, this article is in the end forgiving of Miley Cyrus herself who is portrayed as a pawn in the music industry, who is need of an Africana class. Houston’s analysis looks at the structural issues in the multinational corporate music industry which favors white artists, dilutes images of black artists to fit a mold, and uses ethnicity “like spice seasoning.” Between this performance and the fact that Macklemore won Best Hip Hop Video, it would be a good time to reaffirm what rappers have been saying for over a decade: Hip Hop is Dead.* If anyone is interested in resurrecting the art form under a new name, you can join me in the drawing room. I will be there working on a new word for “feminism.”
The second most salient critique of this VMA performance was that Miley was vulgar and sexually explicit. Female pop stars, especially those coming of age in the public eye, are heavily scrutinized for their expressing their sexuality. While this is nothing new, it is particularly dismaying to see how clearly gendered the reaction to this performance was. Robin Thicke (whose rape-culture-anthem was included in the performance) has walked away practically unscathed, while Miley has been condemned. Soraya Chemaly wrote a pointed piece for Salon that puts Miley Cyrus in the long list of “troubled diva” narratives that includes Amanda Bynes, film noir stars, Rhianna, and Britney Spears (to name a few).
Cultural analysis is important and hopefully these three links can provide a few good insights. Ideally, from these discussions we can become more informed consumers, shape industries, and dismiss problematic messaging. Alternatively, we might be able to channel the public outrage over Miley Cyrus’ performance into productive energy through projects like “Miley Twerking On Things We Should Talk About.”
by Nicole Hasslinger, Editor-in-Chief
*Disco however is making a comeback.