Making sure your teen doesn’t Miley-out

The internet is amazing. Not only for school kids researching projects on things like lemurs, or solar energy, but for nerds like me who enjoy cultural analysis. This week, the Miley Cyrus saga continues in full force. If you didn’t hear the Cyrus/Thicke performance at the VMAs, I presume you live under a rock in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Good for you. You’re probably better off. Or, catch up here

Anyways, in summary (feel free to skip past this paragraph), after desecrating a foam finger in a dance called twerking, Cyrus launched a music single ‘Wrecking Ball’, considered by most to be a *very* good tune and great vocal, overshadowed by the fact she was .. ahem.. naked, and licking a sledgehammer. This led to outrage, with someone collating a list of 21 other inanimate objects Miley has violated here. In defense, Miley cited Sinead O’Connor’s 1992 ‘Nothing Compares to You’ video, which led to a heart-rendering and slightly uh… bizarre conversation between the Irish legend and Hannah Montana star, with O’Connor writing three open facebook letters in explicit language – first here, then here and here. Miley’s shorter tweet taunts maybe point to intergenerational gaps in social media platforms more than anything. Interestingly, Miley’s comments about actor Amanda Bynes were the subject that elicited most fury from O’Connor, who stated Miley had mocked two women suffering mental illness she attributed not just to genetic predisposition, but also the strange pressures of the entertainment industry.

… Also this week, another woman famous for melt-downs, Britney Spears, was cited by Cyrus as a role model. In fact, Cyrus remembers that Billy Rae worried his nine year old would grow up to be a stripper when she was emulating Spears’ videos. Clue here anyone??? Spears features on the documentary Miley: The Movement strategically set to air this Sunday on MTV. Strangely enough, Britney also made the news this week as her former attorney admitted her crazy was caused by drugs, and she innocently agreed in interview she was forced to be sexy and strip on set, a comment refuted quickly by her father.

Admittedly, this may all be an intentional media circus ring. Maybe these women are all totally empowered and laughing at us – all the way to the bank. Maybe Cyrus is paid megabucks by VMA or MTV to be ridiculous, and maybe O’Connor was asked to do something particularly wild to promote her appearance on the Late, Late Show in Ireland, and upcoming tours. Maybe Britney was just staging a controversial promotion of her recent release ‘Work B***h’. And maybe Amanda Bynes is genuinely fine, and rehab is all she needs to get back into the movies. If so, slam dunk, entertainment industry!

But if not, then THIS is the new face of the oppression of women… we’ve all heard of the cyclical powers of poverty – and also attempts to disprove it, which are countered by equally as many studies still asserting that something happens to your psyche when you’re living under oppression, and often display behaviour acting out of emotional pain. I can’t help but see direct links.

You see, the public perceive a difference between sitting on the ground and crying because you’ve been sexually violated by a religious leader. They will even be OK with you putting this act to music as the only thing that could adequately represent how you feel — versus swinging around on a concrete ball naked because you’ve been taught to admire the women who performed naked because they’ve been abused. It’s like shooting up because it’s all you’ve ever seen and all you’ve ever known.

It gets kind of worse. Pretty much all the above women display signs of an eating disorder, which is rarely mentioned anymore in the magazines. All of them have been cited using (or have photographed themselves using) drugs. Many of them posed for pornographic shoots, whether taken by someone else, or themselves. Yet all of them have copious amounts of male producers, managers, and family members (enablers?) who fade in and out of these stories, none of them stopping the pattern. Look, I’m not saying drugs are forced down your mouth, or that you can’t make the simple decision to put a shirt on while shooting a video. But the rhetoric of ‘personal responsibility’ is failing these women over and over and over again. There has to be another way of caring for the individuals we fawn over online. Otherwise, we are just intentionally using them just as Sinead suggests the industry does.

I’m *really* into artist formation. I’m fascinated by the little kids that display musical talent and I’ve helped many songwriters and singers negotiate the ups and downs of the Christian worship industry since writing a bizarrely famous church song (these kids I’m talking about are no less talented, but *way* less famous, unless, like Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry they decide to cross over).

I know full well that little adoring eyes and ears are watching Miley Cyrus’ latest clip, and absorbing the message that sex sells baby, sex sells. And some of them will be her successors. We can’t bring up tweens in a cultural vacuüm, and neither do we want to. But we need to give them skills to live in the real world, and I really urge you to break the cycle.

a) Turn off the television at the right moments, particularly if your nine year old is dancing to ‘Wrecking Ball’. Doing this, you teach them how to turn off media. You could practice this with the particularly raunchy video clips, or encourage them to just listen to CDs – of course, being careful of the lyrics they are singing.

b) Don’t be naive, be aware of what your teen is watching and reading online. Explicit articles come up on simple searches for favorite artists. Articles lead to more articles, and the internet is not always tween appropriate. There is too much adult content to browse entirely unsupervised.

c) Watch who they emulate. If they follow music artists on twitter, they are hearing messages about drugs, body image, and all of the toxic package that comes along with fame. Teach your girls that they are beautiful, and that it’s sad when women see themselves as ‘ugly’ or ‘fat’.

d) Most importantly, talk to them about their music influences, and what they do like and don’t like about these artists. It’s important to emphasize that although someone has talent, their personal character may not stand up to scrutinizing.

e) Make sure you are providing other role models, particularly for your kids who are musical, and want to pursue it as a career. You can talk to them about women responsible for the breakthroughs of thought in the sciences, literature, politics, aviation, or sport, and how they changed our world.

And please, don’t bother commenting that oppression is all in women’s heads. I’m so sick of this response, it’s communally irresponsible. Maybe this is the new rhetoric that needs to replace the idea that women artists should pull themselves together and snap out of it. Because it’s clear that this approach is not working.

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