Thursday, October 10, 2013

Celebrity Skin

Oh look at my face
My name is might have been
My name is never was
My name's forgotten

During a family dinner not long ago, the conversation turned to the current shenanigans of the pop tart du jour (the name escapes me now, it might even have been Miley Cyrus at the time) on a recently televised show but not the one I plan on speaking of today. I asked the kid and my two nieces for their reaction to her behavior. I was interested in their perspective as teenagers. Before they could even formulate a response a male relation shut down the conversation by observing dryly: "Well, that's a deep topic, isn't it?"

Of course, they seemed intimidated about voicing an opinion and said nothing. I wonder if he would have reacted the same way if the discussion turned to Grand Theft Auto 5? Or some loserish Indie band with a reputation for being cool?

This angered me although I wasn't quite sure why at the time. Why isn't how young women, in positions of power and prestige in the media and pop culture, and how they present themselves in public deemed to be  a topic worthy of discussion? Because it bores some of the male gender? I assure you it doesn't bore most women and/or girls. Most of us have a very definite opinion about these things. How women present themselves publicly and how young women process that information, is important to us. It should be to all of us.

Having said that, do we still want to go there dear readers regarding Ms. Cyrus? Have we not had enough of this twerking business, the wrecking ball, the licking of the sledge hammer, the subsequent name calling and the ethics of "slut-shaming"? Some things, alas, we can never unsee.

For those living under a rock, who are unfamiliar with the topic at hand, I am referring to Miley Cyrus' performance at the VMAs with Robin Thicke during his rendition of "Blurred Lines". There was twerking, there was a foam finger involved, some unfortunate hand movements, an active tongue and ... a whole lot of very, very negative feedback.

And even women who are sympathetic to Cyrus are chiming in, sometimes with advice, encouragement, support; sometimes with admonishments, disappointment: Sinead O'Connor, Jezebel, Amanda Palmer, comedian Elvira Kurt ...

Cyrus is unrepentant about her performance and that's her prerogative. During her SNL monologue that premiered on October 5, 2013 Cyrus declared that Hannah Montana was "murdered". In a sense, she was ... Cyrus has been trying to kill the damn b for years now.

Why do the actions of this moderately talented pop star engender such intense scrutiny and opprobrium when she doesn't "behave"? I don't know, nor pretend to understand, Cyrus' motivation but I imagine it has something to do with distancing herself from the Hannah Montana persona created for her at Disney. It might be easier if she just hung a sign around her neck that read, "I'm ain't Hannah Montana any more, bitch ..."

 When I wake up in my makeup
It's too early ... for ... that ... dress
Wilted and faded, somewhere in Hollywood
I'm glad I came here with your pound of flesh

When I started to write this blog, it had a real finger wagging tone to it. That got old. Real fast. I was boring my own damn self with my condescending attitude. I scrapped that first draft. Who am I to judge this kid, and the pressures she is under?

I do think that she seems to be trying desperately to develop an "adult" persona. For young girls this sometimes manifests itself in overtly sexual, vaguely disturbing antics that have adult women collectively clucking their tongues. If only young women were mature enough, secure enough (if only I had been) to choose a different "adult" path with the beauty, money and clout they possess as celebrities we collectively sigh in our infinitely superior wisdom and at our advanced age ... Perhaps they could start a foundation, volunteer with troubled youth, serve as a spokesperson for a worthy cause, or, perhaps ... just keep their clothes on while performing.

But ... nah ... that's so boring! Upsetting people. Making tongues wag. Watching your album rocket to number one on the charts. Being covered by every media outlet on the planet ... Having a very public break up with your boyfriend. Now that's fun! And I get it. That is more fun. Not more adult, but more fun.  

When you are a sexually desirable girl or woman, you get daily affirmation, constant acknowledgment, some of it positive, some of it negative, about your looks. This is something that many young girls/women desire, even crave. No one admires the size of your brain when there are other body parts to consider. Nor are they interested in your opinions when you are twenty unless it's something they can titter about afterwards and endlessly deride.

What adults don't get (unless you've been there) is this behavior is a short cut to attracting and maintaining the attention of all and sundry. No matter that when gravity has its way and you are no longer young and nubile no one will be interested in seeing your sundry wares. No matter ... for the here and now (and that's all that matters when you are twenty), that may appear to be enough.

You better watch out
On what you wish for
It better be worth it
So much to die for

And what about the esteemed Robin Thicke's role in all this? Why is he not held accountable since he is almost twice her age at the ripe old age of 36? Why aren't people calling him out, insulting and condemning him? (Aside from deriding his terrible dress sense in those hideous striped pants and jacket?) Even his darn mother came to his rescue saying the poor boy had no idea that was going to happen. As if ...

I am, philosophically, somewhere between Sinead O'Connor and Amanda Palmer's positions on this: I think Miley is in control of these decisions (not necessarily the men in her life who make the "business" decisions) but I don't think it's necessarily a celebration of her sexuality and independence and therefore admirable. I think it's a bit of a misguided way of building one's confidence and self esteem. But on such an ephemeral foundation such as youth and beauty ... what happens when this fades? And it will fade girlie, for all of us ...

This complex, perverse craving we have, as the viewer, to both witness this salacious, obnoxious behavior and then try and destroy the young (usually female) celebrity who succumbs to this, is a real and disturbing by-product of celebrity culture. Our desire for the consumption of celebrity skin and its destruction is a frightening, awful thing to behold.

Maybe we should consider that before we pillory, judge and summarily crucify some little 20 something who barely seems able to comprehend the silly actions she undertakes or the long term consequences. I am more than a little peeved at how we denigrate these girls and anyone else who chooses to recognize this as a significant part of pop culture and the fact that, like it or not, it has a massive influence on young women.

You want a part of me
Well I'm not selling cheap
No I'm not selling cheap

Lyrics courtesy of "Celebrity Skin", Courtney Love, Hole (who ought to know a bit about celebrity skin) ...

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Well said, Michelle. Bravo!