Flashing the Flesh

Today’s post inspired by The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge.

This week The Daily Post’s writing challenge asks us what we think about Miley Cyrus‘s controversial performance at the MTV VMA Music Awards. The singer, once the innocent face of teen pop icon Hannah Montana, has been criticised for an overly sexualised performance involving flesh-coloured swimwear and some bloke’s crotch.

TDP asks us “Did Miley’s performance cross the line, are we making too much of it, or are we missing a chance to have a more important conversation about race and sex?”

I’ll admit, I was made only vaguely aware of the issue by various oblique references on my Facebook feed and it was only today that I actually watched the footage from the show. That is to say, I watched the first couple of minutes of it, then felt compelled to switch it off.

For me, this isn’t so much about female sexuality and/or there being too much of it, but more a basic matter of talent and intent.

From what I could make out from Miley Cyrus’s over-produced vocals, the song she was singing was about having a jolly good house party, and her wild and slightly embarrassing gyrating was some kind of visual metaphor for the song’s general “we can do what we want” theme that seems to fly in the face of conservatism.

Now, I’m all for flying in the face of conservatism, don’t get me wrong. But is this really the way to do it? On the stage of a popular music awards ceremony? It’s about as mainstream an arena as you can get. It’s the kind of arena that nullifies pretty much any controversial statement you might want to make by turning it into either a farce or a stunt. Which makes me think that the song/performance isn’t really about stating any kind of sociopolitical message, but rather about selling records and getting in the papers.

My main point of comparison is the peerless Amanda Palmer who recently, in response to some typically thick-witted journalism on the part of The Daily Mail, performed completely naked at London’s Roundhouse venue in July.

The Daily Mail had written a piece about Palmer’s 2013 Glastonbury performance, in which they focused solely on the fact that her top had popped open to reveal one of her breasts, and made absolutely no mention of her music or her performance.

Quite rightly taking umbrage with this lacklustre attempt at a music review, Palmer penned a special song entitled “Dear Daily Mail / Up Yours!”, during the last verse and chorus of which she flung off her kimono and continued to sing in the buff.

Am I offended by Amanda Palmer’s naked body? No. Am I offended by Miley Cyrus’s “sexy” dancing? Yes, I am a little bit as it happens. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with a woman expressing her sexuality in public, but because it seems like she was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Amanda Palmer got her kit off because she was making an extremely intelligent and well-thought out point about journalism, female sexuality and the music industry. Miley Cyrus appears to have based her performance either on being controversial for the sake of it or lewd for the sake of it, with some base vanity and an ill-formed publicity strategy thrown in.

There is nothing smart about Miley Cyrus’s performance and, frankly, nothing sexy about it either. By contrast, Amanda Palmer’s nuddy fling is both sexy and challenging, forcing us to confront our ideas about female sexuality and the way it’s portrayed in the media.

While Amanda Palmer’s nakedness challenged The Daily Mail‘s observations about her Glastonbury “wardrobe malfunction”, Miley Cyrus’s exhibition only enforces and encourages bland voyeuristic journalism and negative impressions of female sexuality. It’s all surface and no substance.

I’m not sure if Amanda Palmer’s video is still up on YouTube (it might have been censored for being too brilliant), but I encourage you to listen to both women’s songs and make your own judgment about which is making the more valid observations about sex in our society.

  1. rbunt said:

    My 26 year old daughter brought Miley’s performance to my attention. I have no problem with sexy and exciting performances. The VMAs (and most award shows) should be a bit controversial or they are rather boring. Miley was simply not good. Perhaps she appeals to a particular age group and audience but as a 58 year old rather liberal adult i was a little embarassed for her. She simply lacked talent in my opinion.
    There are artists whose music doesn’t appeal to me but I can appreciate them for their talent. Miley was just a sad kid trying too hard that night.
    Doesn’t anyone say, “Gee Miley, maybe this isn’t the best idea?”
    Oh well, she’s sure getting plenty of attention which seems to be the goal.
    I’ll check out the Amanda Palmer performance.

    • folleree said:

      It definitely was a “trying too hard” performance, and I don’t think she even really knew what she was trying too hard to do. I managed to track down Amanda Palmer’s video, which is still up on YouTube (well done, YouTube), so I hope you enjoy her performance. Thanks for the comment!

  2. awax1217 said:

    Miley is doing slapstick of the body and nothing more or less. She is young and not gentile. But the industry she is in makes money from the frolics of the young. Look at the publicity. True it is mostly negative but her name is out there and that is what matters. When I taught at the middle school level I learned that many of the worse students were acting out doing outrageous things because even negative attention is better than no attention at all.

    • folleree said:

      True, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, apparently. Thanks for the comment!

    • folleree said:

      I think there are a lot of very twisted ideas about female sexuality out there, and the culture you talk about is certainly one of them. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I’m offended for exactly the same reason. You hit it right on the mark.

  4. well said. (And I will search for Amanda’s video.)

    • folleree said:

      Amanda Palmer’s video is still up on YouTube (credit to them) so I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for the comment.

      • Yes I saw it. very interesting. I wish it was a better quality. But it makes your point rather well.

  5. Miley Cirus achieved exactly what I think she wanted to – which was pure publicity. Look at how much time and emotion so much of the western world is putting into a few minutes of silliness. Haven’t seen it, just saw the pictures on every news site. I agree – there’s nothing sexy about it. But it does keep her in the news.

    • folleree said:

      Indeed, it’s all about getting people to talk about you, even if you yourself have nothing meaningful to say. Thanks for the comment!

  6. I’ve avoided The Video but have been unable to avoid much of the Miley’s earlier celebrity barrage and have been struck by how tacky so much her “career” image has unfolded.
    Perhaps you remember the stink her handlers raised way back when Vanity Fair magazine published some candid portraits and then claimed she wasn’t nearly as racy as the photos presented. How hypocritical those objections stand now.
    You’re on the right track, I think, when you contrast Amanda Palmer’s understanding of sexuality against Miley’s lewd pandering.

  7. VOID RPG Admin said:

    I honestly heard about this through people posting status updates via Facebook. Otherwise, I would have had no clue that it had ever taken place. This only adds to the reasons why I do not watch television.

    • folleree said:

      Agreed, RPGs are loads better! Like the look of your blog – will check it out properly soon.

  8. kldawson said:

    I have misgivings about people who are outraged by nudity. A little self hatred going on there I think. There was nothing lewd about Ms. Cyrus’ performance. I was embarrassed for her because she looked so foolish, a child acting out. Of course that’s probably exactly what she was working for.

  9. Shreya said:

    Great post dear ! loved it ….

    • folleree said:

      Thank you for commenting, I’m glad you like it.

  10. I really liked reading this line above: “It’s the kind of arena that nullifies pretty much any controversial statement you might want to make by turning it into either a farce or a stunt.” I hadn’t thought of an arena that way before — thanks for helping me see that new perspective!

    • folleree said:

      You’re welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  11. It’s all about context. Miley Cyrus’ dancing is definitely lewd and pretty offensive considering the context of it.

    On a side note, I hated her show Hannah Montana with the power of a thousand flaming exploding suns. Having to watch it while looking after my younger cousins (who were hooked on it) was torture. The title character is quite possibly the most irritating, ear-scratchingly screeching awful monstrosity who ever was created in the history of TV shows. So I’m automatically based against Miley Cyrus for that reason.

    • folleree said:

      Ha! Yes, I’m definitely not a fan of this kind of pop scene, although I tried to keep my personal and subjective ideas about music out of my write-up as much as possible… Thanks for the comment.

  12. This is a GREAT post! And thanks for bringing Amanda Palmer to my attention and for making my night — found her on Youtube. Hysterical. congrats on the FP!

    • folleree said:

      Thanks! I’m glad I’ve managed to spread the good word of Amanda Palmer a little further. She’s a great spokesperson for the music industry.

  13. cammeeo said:

    I agree with adventures in Kevin’s world did you see how many hits miley got she achieved what she set out to do and I seen it and I wasn’t offended by it at all I think she is a little girl trying to shake off the Disney “Hannah Montana” image…and I remember 20 or so years ago Madonna coming out in a corset horrifying everybody it’s their job to be different or you will be lost in the crowd ☺

    • folleree said:

      I’m not sure it counts as different if you’re emulating something someone did 20 years ago 😉 Agreed, it has got her a lot of publicity, it just makes me a little sad that it seems that’s all she’s interested in. Thanks for the comment.

  14. Here here! I agree. There is a big difference between true talent and Miley Cyrus. She’s trying to hard to be anti-disney. I see her face on TV and I change the channel. Great post!

  15. This is one of the better perspectives on this issue that I’ve seen so far, and I have seen plenty. A refreshing use of common sense.


    • folleree said:

      Thank you for the kind comments.

  16. Violet said:

    I really like this blog post. Amanda Palmer is one of my favorite singers. Everything that she does is an art.

  17. I totally agree that Miey’s performance was purely to sell records. I think she is also so desperate to shake her Disney girl persona, but it going about it the wrong way. I agree that there was nothing sexy about Miley’s performance. When I watched it on youtube, quite frankly I was embarrassed for her.

  18. Remember when an artist would suffer for their art? It seems we are the ones who are to suffer when mediocre artists decide that controversy is more important than talent. It isn’t about the nudity or clothes, or even the behavior. But it isn’t about the music then either, is it? Gimmicks used to fall flat on their faces without the skills to see a performance through, but now the gimmicks are all people can talk about. Thanks for your insight.

  19. What is even more ironic is the amount of media attention that stunt has afforded “that person” which essentially is the life blood for those people. The instant people no longer talk about you is the moment you become a normal everyday human. I submit the case of Brittney Spears for my evidence.

  20. melriga said:

    I personality think even expressing women sexuality in public is wrong , it’s something private you don’t need to show the world

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