By G. Michael Dobbs
My stock in trade is the use of words and on Monday I was compelled by my curiosity to look up the verb “twerking” after the numerous stories on the web about Miley Cyrus’ performance on the MTV Video Music Awards.
Go ahead, look it up yourself. It’s not as bad as you think.
I watched the clips online of her performance, which were laced with a large dollop of sexuality that seemed inappropriate for someone who is just 20 years old.
Television shows, posts on Facebook and overall chatter on the Web showed that Miley had accomplished everything she had intended: hijack the awards show to the extent that no one was talking about the winners, but rather how little she wore and what she did onstage.
Either she’s smart or her management is smart.
In a way, I have to express my admiration for her embrace of the kind of scene stealing that has been part of popular music for the last 60 years. She has learned the path to increased sales isn’t just through a string of hit songs. It’s through her careful manipulation of an image.
Elvis was only photographed above his waist so TV audiences couldn’t see his gyrating hips. Jerry Lee Lewis calls himself a madman, banging the piano with his feet and actually marrying his 13 year-old cousin.
Think a moment about exploits of the Rolling Stones, various rockers who trashed hotel rooms – Keith Moon, for instance – and the phrase “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” The latter says it all.
In many ways there was nothing new about what Miley did.
In her case, her image is complicated by having reached her audience initially as a squeaky-clean Disney star. She is following a path that other child performers have taken: the best way to forge into an adult career is to do things that force people to see you as adult and that is frequently through an exhibition of sexuality.
Now I’m all for freedom of speech. I abhor censorship and I think that what Miley did was acceptable. Why? Because she acted within the time-honored American tradition that substitutes talent with sizzle.
That’s what so much of mainstream American entertainment is about. It is retreaded mediocrity that is cheap and easy. People seem to like it, though, because they keep on buying it over and over and over.
Don’t blame Miley. Blame the people who have encouraged this kind of behavior for years – the American consumer – and you might be one of them.
So, why the uproar? Well, mainstream America enjoys being horrified about things that don’t matter. Last week the web was alive with people outraged with the concept that Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in an upcoming movie.
People were actually angry.
There are few things more trivial than worrying about the fate of a fictional character due to who is playing him or her in a movie. And yet, we fixate on this stuff. I assure you Batman will survive. Heck, he survived Adam West.
You want to be horrified about things that matter? How about Syria? That’s pretty grim and we may be part of that. How about the story that 1,000 Buddhists rioted in Myanmar and burnt hundreds of homes belonging to Muslims? The issue of increasing the minimum wage, that’s something that affects millions of people in the country. The on-going stalemate in Congress is another issue that should grab your attention.
These are real events and issues that actually have a life and death urgency about them because they can involve life and death.
I understand the need to divert one’s attention from the real to the trivial. We all need to do that for our own mental health. I certainly do. Sometimes, though, people lose their perspective.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at email@example.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.