Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance betrays a blindness to racism that she shares with the feminist establishment

A few posts ago I defended Miley Cyrus’ right to perform in any way she chooses, and folks shouldn’t indulge in slut-shaming. Well, my earlier post deserves a huge “that being said” because it’s important to note that while Cyrus’ desire to define her own sexuality is valid, her desire to appropriate, manipulate, and distort black female sexuality is not only invalid, but insensitive and narrow-minded.

The performance has been described and shared ad nauseam, but the low-hanging fruit of offensiveness included Cyrus twerking (more on that in a second), and grinding with Robin Thicke (who wandered in late into the performance, warbled a few lines of his hit “Blurred Lines” and was dutifully overshadowed and eclipsed by Cyrus) and gyrating with a crew of black female dancers, before smacking one of them on the backside and simulating rimming.

The placement of Cyrus in this tableaux vivant is purposeful – her thin, white young body barely clothed, moving on a stage with her backup dancers – one of whom plays the role of Cyrus’ personal Hottentot Venus.

All of this isn’t new – Cyrus isn’t the first white pop star to try to ape black tropes to appear transgressive. That sin isn’t what’s so terrible – the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Adele all have used sounds traditionally used by black performers to creat their sounds, but have remained gratefully free of the offensive minstrel act that Cyrus revealed last Sunday at the VMAs. In his questionably complimentary article, “Miley Cyrus triumphed at the VMAs — but where does she go from here?” Entertainment Weekly writer Nick Calucci rightly points out that “As for Miley herself twerking: How different is this from Madonna voguing? Madge borrowed that style from New York City’s multiracial drag ball scene, and used dancers to help represent it. Twerking’s a much more explicitly sexual dance, and it comes from more strictly African-American sources.”

Calucci is right – Madonna’s thievery of voguing is similar to Cyrus’ tweaking, but he’s wrong if he thinks that no one has raised an eyebrow over Madonna’s appropriation of black gay culture (Calucci should check out bell hooks’ work on Madonna). But aside from that, there’s more to Cyrus’ “race” problem than simple posturing – because, after all, Cyrus isn’t the first in line of white people pretending to be a media-concocted version of black people.

The issue is that Cyrus is the latest in a long line of whites who exploit and otherize black women and their sexuality for audiences in hopes of creating a sexual stir. In an attempt to look sexually transgressive, Cyrus adopted faux bisexuality and markers of what people think of as black culture to impress her audiences.

In her excellent article “When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland,” blogger tressiemc writes of this fetishicizing of black female sexuality by sharing her own experiences of being objectified because of perceived exoticism. She writes of white people – both men and women who sexualize black women in places like dance clubs, reveling in the supposed transgressive act of bumping and grinding up against a black woman.

And she’s right – moving away from Cyrus’ vulgar act of racial appropriation, our culture is positively fascinated with black women’s buttocks – again, a harmful throwback to the offensive image of the Hottentot Venus – a sexual side-show of stereotypes and exotic othering.

Many defend Cyrus’ racial blind spot, arguing that she’s not sophisticated or introspective enough to participate knowingly in racially offensive discourse. And those supporters are probably right, but her inability to read what she’s doing doesn’t ameliorate the situation – if Cyrus’ racial insensitivity is a result of ignorance , then she merely represents the sort of banality of malevolence that normalizes this kind of behavior.

 What we’re talking about is more than just treating black women’s bodies are our personal playgrounds of sexual experimentation – a practice that has been an issue in this country throughout its whole history. While Cyrus shouldn’t be ashamed for celebrating or flaunting her sexuality, she should be ashamed for celebrating or flaunting her racial insensitivity.



Filed under Celeb, commentary, music, Television

2 responses to “Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance betrays a blindness to racism that she shares with the feminist establishment

  1. m.e.

    Of course some would praise Miley Cyrus for her performance at MTV awards. Like her, they have no talent in their professions, use african-slang words such as ‘twerking’ because they cannot think of real words (for the illiterate, twerking means sticking your tongue out and wiggling your posterior like a dog in heat), and they just want to advance the proliferation of shockingly-grotesque behavior. Miley was terrible at what she foolishly thought was ‘dancing’, and her stage show could easily qualify her as Poster-Girl for birth control. She looked like a cheap floozy in all her outfits, and her singing demonstrated her weak talent. If all it takes to generate praise from some in the audience is to rub your stinky rump and stick it up in someones face, then talent and artistic creativity must be dead at MTV. You can see the same kind of behavior in the monkey cage at the local Zoo (it is not female sexuality; it is dog-with-itchy-rectum behavior).

    She is a hussy, and her mother praising her lude behavior reflects that this rotten apple must not have fallen far from the tree. I guess her one-hit wonder (loser !) father must have told her, that when you have no talent, just be shocking instead and the audience will not notice. Miley obviously hired equally-untalented black co-gyrators, and was auditioning for a chance to star in low-cost porn0graphic movies (no chance for success, since she is so ugly). Robin Thicke (does anyone really remember him that night?), is just as much at fault for facilitating the behavior of this trollop. I guess he and Cyrus are both starving for attention, and feel this scene was interesting (for the few that do not have higher-quality entertainment). MTV should be punished for allowing this, just to boost their sagging ratings. Why don’t the advertisers cancel their ads, and the consumers boycott their products?

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      Thanks for the read and your reply, but you should read my other post about Miley Cyrus – it’s not so much the sexuality that bothered me and the kinds of words you put in your response like “hussy” or “cheap floozy” is exactly the kind of slut-shaming that I wrote about that I found offensive in the response. I don’t think MTV should be punished – the channel’s not to blame for her performance, nor is it to blame for the audience’s tastes – the channel provides a kind of service and people buy into it (and if Miley Cyrus’ sexuality is the worst thing on TV now, then we’re still pretty lucky).
      I find the vehemence in your response interesting – I wonder just why you’re so upset or angry about Cyrus’ performance – it’s a curious thing to get so angry to the point where you’re throwing sexist labels at her.
      Anyways, I think any piece of popular culture or instance in pop culture deserves a more thorough look.
      Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s