Writing Challenges

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.