I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you

August 30, 2013

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A lifetime ago, when I was writing about rock’n’roll for a daily newspaper, I had to watch and then write about the very first MTV Video Music Awards.

And the scandal of the night? The fact that then-newly-minted star Madonna bumped, ground and otherwise humped the stage while singing her hit of the moment, “Like A Virgin.”

The outrage was such that you’d have thought she performed a ritual sacrifice of kittens onstage, instead of merely dancing suggestively.

Yet here we are, more than 50 years into the sexual revolution sparked by the invention of birth-control pills – and that Puritan ethos still holds incredible sway when it comes to popular entertainment.

Was I shocked at Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance? You’re damn right I was. I didn’t watch it live (I had something urgent to attend to, like plucking unsightly hairs from my ears) and only read enough to get the gist of what she’d done. Then I tracked down a link to her performance and tried to watch it.

But I couldn’t stomach more than 30 seconds before I had to turn it off. Shocked and appalled, I thought to myself:

Why is this minimally talented, mildly attractive young woman a star?

And why are people surprised that she’s doing her best to attract attention?

As I used to tell my kids when they were young and impressionable, there’s good attention and there’s bad attention. And then there’s the media.

Geez, folks, that whole sexualized-teen thing? That genie’s been out of the bottle for a looong time. No matter how many right-wing idiots in Congress and the various statehouses around the country try to put a cork back in it, that battle was lost long ago. The same folks that promote these nonentities into pop icons are the ones tsk-tsking when they suddenly break bad.

Never mind that the right wing in this country is trying to reboot the 1950s; indeed, if they had their way, they’d probably figure out how to repeal a woman’s right to vote.

Is it surprising that popular music is about sex? Hey – why do you think the religious right objected to rock’n’roll when it emerged in the 1950s (and still do)? What do you think the term “rock’n’roll” means?

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But Miley Cyrus? She’s just the latest product to draw focus. She obviously needs and wants it.

But in terms of what she actually did on the VMAs? You see the same kind of thing on commercials every night of the week.

And if you think your kids haven’t seen much, much worse than Cyrus’ tongue-wagging performance (worse in the terms of more explicit – it’s hard to imagine music that’s worse, frankly), you haven’t been checking their browser history.

Personally, when I saw that snippet of Cyrus flapping her tongue like a windowshade that’s lost its spring, I worried that she’d suddenly become the world’s youngest stroke victim.

Miley Cyrus is a flash-in-the-pan, enabled by the media and the Internet. Ten years ago, we were all tsk-tsking about Brittany Spears, with her head-shaving and going commando in limos. More recently, it was Justin Bieber who, shockingly, decided that all the money and attention meant he could pee in public and do anything else he wanted.

Somehow the world spun on.

The only thing threatened by Miley Cyrus’ performance is our standard of what constitutes talent. Since the advent of “American Idol” and its many imitators, that’s a battle we long ago lost.

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