Social media and news media was on fire after Miley Cyrus’ racy performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) from Brooklyn’s Barclay Center on Sunday night. The former Disney teen star went rated-X for the thousands in the arena and the millions watching on television worldwide. The reaction was swift and visceral, with outraged journalists and critics calling Cyrus to task and condemning her as a desperate low-talent starlet starved for attention.
The anger toward Cyrus is misplaced. She is but a pawn in a larger system of exploitation for profit, moral submission for fame. Don’t hate Miley, hate the game. The outrage should be directed at the real source of the evil – the record labels and the television networks, MTV and BET among them, that proffer the exploitation of young women, criminalize the characterization of young Black men, and accessorize their madness with Black culture. Were we really that surprised by Miley Cyrus’s sexually suggestive routine? After all, the VMA’s show stopped being about music a long time ago and now stays relevant only through its shock value. It is a platform primarily for the outrageous and not a stage for the musically talented.
Most of us did not take up C. Delores Tucker’s campaign for decency in the early 1990s when she challenged Interscope Records over violent lyrics in its rap music. In fact, Ms. Tucker was widely attacked and ridiculed for her stance, and literally written off as a bitter elder. The truth was that Ms. Tucker saw where this was all heading and tried to forewarn us. She heard the ugliness in the lyrics and saw how the visual representation of the genre was drifting into pornography and aural pollution. And behind it all was the profiteering of corporations, led by white male executives who could care less about the collateral damage inflicted upon the nation’s youth, young women and the African-American community by their peddling of the vinyl and now digital equivalent of heroin.
Miley Cyrus simply lived up to the low moral expectations of her industry. In her world the more the artist debases their art and their self, the more notoriety it brings the label and the greater the increase in unit sales. Young people have been conditioned to feed out the trough. Just witness the reaction to a tweet from an artist that demeans another artist or contains a sexually suggestive message. The twitterverse is lit up instantly as teenagers engage in a nonsensical debate about the most trivial and irrelevant matters. And while they are distracted by the poison peddled by music video channels, their peers are dying by the hundreds in the streets from gang violence and dropping out of school in scores. But the primary concern is what’s “hot.” We have a generation living in the reality TV world of unreality.
Should we be surprised by Miley’s behavior when an elder and icon of hip-hop, Russell Simmons, insults the memory of Harriet Tubman in a most obscene manner? If Simmons can stoop that low, it leaves little height from which a Miley Cyrus can fall. The gutter is the gutter, whether you are an artist or a hip-hop entrepreneur. The problem is that we have made the gutter acceptable as the living quarters of our youth. They don’t feel dirty. They don’t feel ashamed. The gutter is where dreams come true and money is made. So while the suits sit up in the suites, and in their wash and wear denials enjoy the fruits of their debasement, our community suffers from their irresponsibility and recklessness.
We pity Miley Cyrus. She is a victim, as are so many young people who get swallowed up by the leviathan. Hopefully, she will see how she has been exploited and will come to the conclusion that her gifts and her life have more value than what she has acknowledged.Our concern is not for her proclivity to try to be sexually provocative, it is for her humanity. She is being run down like the young ladies who swing on poles and mistakenly see their “art” as empowering and not the first act en route to self-destruction. Like so many before her, Miley is getting pimped by an industry that will use her and then disclaim her and paint her demise as the product of her own shortcomings.
If we are truly offended by Miley’s showing out, then we must be more offended by the game that compels her to do so. It is the same game that has reduced young Black women to bitches and hoes, and young Black men to heartless thugs; while profiteering from this miserable system and reducing our children to mindless droids. Hopefully, this young lady will find her way out or be rescued before it is too late. Tragically, if she does, there is a long line waiting to take her place and willing to degrade themselves at the VMAs.