Just Being Miley: A Failed Parody of Rape Culture

Cyrus (Left) with friend Demi Lovato

Miley Cyrus has made headlines in the past few weeks but not for the right reasons. Miley-- previously well-known and loved by kids as Hannah Montana from The Hannah Montana Show-- has done what she wants. Much of the Western world has heard of her co-performance with Robin Thicke for the Video Music Awards (VMA), a performance that was supposed to be rated as suitable for kids under 14. Miley has actually received a lot of heat for her hyper-sexualised performance in a playbear leotard-turned-latex underwear, however Robin Thicke has somehow received minimal critique as an older man simulating anal rape on Cyrus in the performance. Albeit, Cyrus is the one initiating the act. But does this lack of anger toward Thicke concern you? And let's not forget that MTV approved this performance to go ahead. Yet not many viewers are particularly angry with MTV. There are many issues that Miley's performance raises. How is blame meted out and how is this contributing to rape culture? By 'rape culture', I mean a culture which blames and condemns the victim rather than holding the perpertrator full accountable. How should we raise the topic of rape in art? Is sexualisation of child actors and performers in Hollywood being normalised and if so, why?

Who's to blame? Cyrus? Thicke?

We all like to dish out our fair share of blame. But are we too keen to quickly jump into blame mode without first thinking through who is at fault and are we in any position to judge? Miley Cyrus may rightly be criticised for her performance -- and indeed string of performances and music videos -- as being unhealthy and encouraging sexual violence, but what about blaming Robin Thicke as an older, married man for just casually receiving Miley's 'twerking'? What about MTV's flouting of content requirements for under-14 viewers? Robin Thicke co-performance with Miley Cyrus in his 'Blurred Lines' had obvious parallels with Miley's first song of the night 'We Can't Stop'. According to Thicke, this was all intended to parody rape culture. There are a few issues with this claim. Disturbingly, Thicke and Cyrus seem to both be endorsing male sexual advances to female 'animals' rather than critiquing them. In fact, Cyrus seems to be promoting female sex-crazy advances by women toward men, rather than questioning male predatory behaviour. And in both performances, Thicke receives the attention of hungry, one-track sex animals with no qualms or reservations.

Everyone has dirt on their hands 

Clearly then, Cyrus isn't faultless, but Thicke most certainly isn't either. I think the weight of the blame should be on MTV and Thicke rather than on Cyrus. Cyrus knows better, but they should know even better. They're males. They know how males' brains work: males generally aren't going to study the artistic merit of all this. Many men are going to self-righteously blame Miley for being all sexually-provocative and then go ahead and drool over the videos and images of her. And really we, as consumers, need to avoid pointing the finger judgementally. We fund the whole system by consuming this content and talking about it in a shocked way (which of course generates more views)! And those of us who are men need to look at our own hearts rather than thinking we are somehow immune to enacting on unhealthy, wrong sexual desires.

Pop Music: not a great medium for serious discussion? 

Pop music is not a great medium for parodying or even for raising the topic of rape culture. Or is it? I want to give pop the benefit of the doubt by saying it may be able to convey profound ideas effectively and helpfully, but pop is hardly a reflective music genre and both these videos position even thoughtful, concerned listeners to think, 'Oh, it's just another upbeat music video'. No big deal. Perhaps pop music is limited in what it can achieve. What then is a good medium for raising the topic of rape? It's an important question that we as a society should be taking seriously, if we want to do well in the fight against rape. Perhaps, just perhaps, pop music parodies are not the best way of addressing the topic of rape?

Kids are being sexualised because it makes adults more money 

Do you like me see a Western trend where children in the music and film industry are becoming increasingly sexualised, under the guise that they are 'growing up'? Whether it's Justin Bieber turning badass or Nikki Webster as a teen being labelled No. 96 in the 100 Sexiest Women poll, whether it's Daniel Radcliffe needing to ride a horse in the nude in the play 'Equus' (2007) or Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in the wake of the Twilight series, underage actors and singers are tending to show excessive skin, or at least create a persona of breaking out as 'rebellious' and 'adult' as their rite of passage. Back in 2003, senior lecturer in popular culture, Dr. Karen Brooks from USC made a telling comment about how Nikki Webster (then 16) was being sexualised.
“We are engaging in a type of cultural pedophilia. When we put young girls that look like they are under the age of consent and portray them in a sexual way, that is wrong.” Dr Brooks said the marketing of padded bras and G-strings at girls under 10 and portraying teenagers such as Webster in a sexual way were “all connected”. People who marketed the lingerie at children should have “a good, long, hard look at themselves... The crazy thing is it’s the spillover effect and mums wanting a ‘mini-me’,” she said.
In summary, kids in the public eye are sexualised because it means particular companies and adults can make even more money, regardless of the collateral damage both to the child model and indeed to every child in our society.

The Verdict: Thicke and MTV culpable; family and money speak volumes

Where should we go from here? Should we give Miley Cyrus a break? Yes, and instead focus more of our criticism on MTV and Robin Thicke for condoning and encouraging such behaviour. Sure, Miley is 100% culpable for her own behaviour, but MTV is made of adults who know the content requirements for a family-friendly show, and yet they wilfully put on something that made even adult audience members squirm. It's not fair just to attack Miley without attacking the huge team behind Miley. And again, our comments need to be taking into account our own hearts: we're culpable as well. After all, we consume and get entertained by this trash. We feed this exploitative industry if we consume this content without speaking out against the supply. We Westerners are neck deep. If we really want to stop these negative trends of sexualisation of kids, then we need to put our dollar where our mouth is. And instead of complaining to our friends on social media about the demise of our society, why not write a letter of complaint to the producers and suppliers of aforementioned content? Finally, if we want to properly address rape in the public forum, why don't we think more carefully about our jokes, about what we're saying on social media and what we're doing in our families to encourage our next generation to be wise and kind when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex?

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