A few weeks back, I wrote a column about Miley Cyrus’s tongue and the politics of twerking. At the end of it, I urged everyone to just please go back to what they were doing before the Video Music Awards: reading a book, bathing the dog – whatever it was, it had to be more important than deconstructing the cultural ramifications of a 20-year-old stroking herself with a giant foam claw.
And now here we are. Several weeks, one Saturday Night Live spoof, five celebrity open letters and countless deranged Twitterspats later. Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer have waded into the debate, making the whole thing feel like one of those mad Women’s Studies Department town-hall meetings from university in the nineties, complete with girls in Ecuadorian sweaters shrieking at each other to “Check your personal privilege!”
What started off as a vaguely amusing Buzzfeed viral – the 2013 version of Liz Hurley’s 1994 safety-pin dress – has somehow snowballed into a full-on culture war, complete with a self-avowed feminist cloaking her bourgeois discomfort in patronizing faux concern (O’Connor), a “sex-positive” punk cabaret singer banging on about shaggy relativistic notions of cultural acceptance (Palmer), a spiteful pop star taking unnecessary potshots at her once-talented-but-now-clearly-imbalanced former idol (Cyrus herself), and a legion of angry teenage superfans plugging their ears and singing along to the chorus of We Can’t Stop: “We can kiss who we want … This is our house. This is our rules!”
Just in case I’ve lost you, here’s a quick primer to bring you up to the minute on Mileygate.
First there was the VMA performance. Then everyone – and I do mean everyone in the entire world including goat herders on their smartphones in Burkina Faso – googled the word “twerk” and used it jokingly in conversation. Then Miley released a video in which she licks a sledgehammer and swings naked from a wrecking ball.
Then O’Connor, the supposed inspiration for said video, wrote Miley a rather sweet, if intellectually discombobulated, open letter urging her to stop being “pimped” by her management and to put on a sweater. Then Miley responded by retweeting some of O’Connor’s old tweets from two years ago involving suicidal thoughts, and added that she was too busy to write an open letter because she was hosting Saturday Night Live.
Then, like the half-cocked soccer mom she clearly is, Sinead took to Facebook and wrote Miley not one but three more open letters, thoroughly undermining the sweetness of the first. But it didn’t matter, because we were all too busy enjoying Cyrus’s SNL star turn – a spoof video about the U.S. government shutdown with Cyrus twerking as Michele Bachmann – to notice Sinead caterwauling on the sidelines.
And just when the entire world (by which I mean you, me and the African goat herders) was about to draw a line under this ludicrous little tempest, songstress Palmer decided to weigh in as the Voice Of Reason. And very reasonable she was, pointing out that if Miley wants to wriggle around with her “Hannah Montana boobs” out, she’s more than welcome to – feminism needs to accommodate twerking sexpots just as it does dreadlocked white girls in Ecuadorian sweaters. “She’s writing the plot and signing the cheques, and although I think it’s tempting to imagine her in the boardroom of label assholes and management, I don’t think any of them masterminded her current plan. … I think that’s All Miley All The Way.”
And now here we are.
Just attempting to outline the whole insane business has brought me close to the end of this column, but I would like to impart a couple of thoughts before I go and promise to never, ever say another word about it.
1) Is it not glaringly obvious that neither Sinead O’Connor nor Amanda Palmer nor anybody else in the universe except Miley Cyrus actually knows what is going on in the heart and mind of Miley Cyrus? Perhaps she feels exploited. Perhaps she’s loving all the cash and attention. Perhaps (and this is where my money is) she veers from one extreme to the other like a talented, impulsive 20-year-old who has a boundless need for attention and a severe lack of good taste. In any case, we cannot know, so why bother speculating? To do so is simply to project our own hopes and fears and desires onto the body of a young pop star. And there’s nothing revolutionary in that.
2) Back in the late nineties, when I was a girl in an Ecuadorian sweater in those Women Studies departmental meetings, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the point of feminism was not that educated, intelligent women should stand around shouting at each other. Maybe the point was that we should listen and learn and, most importantly, learn to laugh. I remember looking out the window and watching guys on the rowing team slapping each other’s backs and heading off to the pub after a hard practice. And I realized we feminists could learn something from those meathead jocks. Our house. Our rules. We can do what we want.