Unless you live in the wilderness, you probably caught wind of the fact that erstwhile popstar Miley Cyrus made quite a stir at MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) last Sunday night. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say her act involved tongues wagging, stuffed bears, very little apparel and a dance move known colloquially as “twerking.” (full disclosure: I’d twerk, but I think I’d throw out a hip).
By and large, Miley’s antics have been roundly panned. As over-the-top hyper-sexual. As inappropriate for prime time TV. As a shameless publicity stunt. And more. The backlash has been strong. For instance, the Parents Television Council condemned the performance, writing:
“MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate ‘twerking’ in a nude-colored bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds? How is it appropriate for children to watch Lady Gaga strip down to a bikini in the opening act?”
For my money, two things are true about Miley’s behavior. First, we really don’t need that on TV. What good did Miley’s performance do? How did it help our culture? How did it build up people? I think the answers are “none, it didn’t, they weren’t.” And, second, her stunt distracted us as a society from what we really should be paying attention to; namely, Syria, or the 50th anniversary on the march on Washington and what’s next for the national conversation about race.
But lost in the “what the heck is wrong with Miley and what the &*%$ was that at the VMAs?” conversation is Miley’s dance partner. That’s right. Because at the VMAs, Miley’s act involved one other critical component:
Rocker Robin Thicke was Miley’s “twerking partner,” if that’s such a thing. And he’s been largely ignored in the post-VMA kerfluffle. Why? Could male privilege have something to do with it? Does a cultural bias in favor of men in some way explain how a 36 year old, married father of a 3 year old son could participate in a sexually charged dance with 20 year old popstar in front of a bazillion television viewers and come out basically unscathed?!?
For the most part, in Tertullian’s reductionistic world, when it comes to sexuality men are there to be serviced. It’s our privilege. And at the VMAs, Robin Thicke was certainly playing his part, singing lyrics about liberating the young “animal” grinding against him.
In the end, I appreciate this take on the topic, with this summary of what was happening last Sunday night:
“This is about how the music industry uses every aspect of women’s lives, bodies, and sexualities in order to benefit off of their careers, and then lets them take all the fire for being sluts, dumb, shallow, crazy, and other endearing terms that the public and the media throws at them. The producers, agents, and Robin Thickes just get to smoothly walk away with all the money and none of the public shaming. “
Indeed. Robin Thicke, you need to better than that. We all do.
You’ve heard the expression “it takes two to tango?” Let’s update that expression to read:
“It takes two to twerk.”