Tuesday, 08 October 2013

Nothing compares 2 idiots

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The fracas between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor has provided amazing spectator sport, but like most pop-culture zeitgeist schadenfreude, we’re just watching a fight between two idiots. Two unlikable idiots who leave the rest of us looking like idiots when we buy into their game.

Put simply, Miley received patronising censure from Sinead O’Connor in the form of an open letter, a method of communication that is all attention-seeking and none of the “spirit of motherliness” which O’Connor claimed to be expressing. She repeatedly referred to Miley as a “prostitute”, in the act of “prostituting” or “pimping” herself, under threat from the public and the music business. She advised Cryrus to put on some clothes (lest she become “prey”) and to keep her body for herself or her boyfriend. So far, so indignant.

Miley responded to the outburst, presumably in a break from rubbing her shivering vulva on cold concrete but still with her tongue poking out, making things unutterably worse, by mocking Sinead’s mental health. Sinead responded by writing two more open letters, while Miley went the younger-generation response of subtweeting Sinead O’Connor’s lyrics and repeatedly stating how happy she is and, by the way, how she’s making a huge amount of money.

Naturally, everyone has been up in arms at the logic bombs going off in each camp. How can you take the side of someone naked on a wrecking ball? She associates with low-slung animated turdslick Terry Richardson, she was ableist about Sinead’s mental health, her whole act has been ‘white girl steals ratchet culture from Afro-Americans’ and, listen, that tongue thing she does is really fucking annoying.

But – and remember this is a woman who has made decades of self-destructive headlines based on philosophical whiplash - Sinead behaved as a whorephobic, patronising, attention-seeking, body-hating, youth-hating, victimising, out of touch second-wave feminist, standing on her porch yelling at all the third wave sluts to get off her lawn.

How are we supposed to pick a side when both are so spectacularly stupid?

To inject just a touch of sense into this whole shebang it must be said that O’Connor has a point about the exploitative nature of the industry. Anyone can see how it chews and spits out entertainers – the Spears sisters being particularly tragic examples – and can’t help but observe the manipulative, toxic hand that can irreparably damage the lives it exploits. One point to O’Connor.

Much has been made of Cyrus’ exploitation, whether she is exploiting others, herself or is being exploited by a music business that wants to sell her body. She fought her way out of the Disney machine, making slight variations on the stereotypical path starlets use to progress from child star to adult: sex.

Jessica Biel was fired from 7th Heaven for attempting to pose nude for Playboy, Christina Aguilera became X-tina, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez starred in Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers”. Get naked, get edgy and people will think of you as an adult.

This isn’t a path chosen only by women – Daniel Radcliffe dropped trou for Equus, McCauley Culkin jumped into every art house film he could find and Keanu and River’s coming of age was captured in “My Own Private Idaho”.

Were they the same hypersexualised performances women create? No (although there was a frisson of “whoo” to be had at the sight of a shirtless rent-boy Keanu in a Stetson on the cover of “Homo On The Range”). But men have lower hurdles to jump in their transformation because we expect men to be sexual, the major difference being that it’s for their own sake and by their own choice. Justin Bieber matured from singing foetus to swaggering, bucket-pissing, toking lothario Alpha douche with no-one suggesting he was a victim of anything other than his own bottomless well of derp.

In contrast, women have to cast off a virginal identity to present one of willing sexuality. The interesting thing about Cyrus is that her hypersexuality is not only aggressive – transcending our expectations on how sexual a woman should be – but it is more centred on her own enjoyment than for the enjoyment and choice of men. Score one to Cyrus.

Cyrus is using the capital she has (her youth, talent, connections and looks) and revels in exploiting it as she pursues what she wants in the short time she has - because let us not forget women have an expiry (or, to be brutal, “use by”) date in popular culture. Is the resulting work profound?

Fuck no. It has all the meaning of a cornflake.

A cornflake that makes millions of dollars for a woman who has grown up in the industry and learned how to make it work for her. That’s a sophistication that’s hard to see when every performance from Cyrus is painful to watch.

It’s easy to cringe at someone trying to shake off their childish past and become more mature and edgy. The desperate reaching to become adult, trying on mannerisms and personae, whether it be pissing in a bucket or simulating masturbation with a foam hand, is so painful to watch that it requires UN classification as torture.

It’s a painful and uneven performance that reminds us of our own faltering steps from decades past – steps which, may I remind you, we (and Sinead O’Connor) were able to make in private. Even so, Cyrus manipulates this for her own benefit, describing her VMA performance as a “strategic hot mess”. She may be younger than the contents of my ovaries, but she knows exactly what she is aiming for and it is her choice.

And this is the point where all the stupidity of participants and spectators converge. Youth, in its ecstasies and inexperience, wants to make all the choices and be a strategic hot mess. The older generation, often annoyed their experience or politics aren’t heeded with the importance of a messiah, spew patronising intransigent monologues, treating Youth as victimised dumb animals in need of house-training.

Meanwhile, we the spectators sit back and watch. Each editorial fed to the public exhorts us to pick “a” side. Pick a person, but never the multiple issues presented within. Find the symbolic truth, but only for one side. Given both O’Connor and Cyrus are as painful and uneven as each other, it is illogical to pick a side. Anyone who does is wilfully simplistic and misses the multitude of issues contained within.

Exploitation definitely exists in the music industry, though some can avoid it. The sexuality of women is tightly policed by both sides - those who seek to profit from it and those who think the use of sex indicates a lack of agency or artistic intent. And your heroes always act like jerks, whether they’re ranting from an invisible pulpit in Dublin or downtown LA trying to steal yet another dance move from someone else.

Amy Gray

Amy Gray is a writer and broadcaster from Melbourne, Australia.

Follow her on Twitter @_AmyGray_

www.peskyfeminist.com/