Cyrus twerking reflects abusive society
Former child star Miley Cyrus is taking her cues from the adult world around her
Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke perform at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York last week. Photograph: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for MTV
Every year at the MTV Video Music Awards, the producers try to find a flashpoint they can exploit for publicity the next day. After the reaction has been exhausted, everyone forgets that Madonna ever kissed Britney Spears, or Kanye West stormed the stage when Taylor Swift was given an award instead of Beyonce, and gets on with their lives. It’s been a week since the singer Miley Cyrus performed at this year’s ceremony, aeons in terms of today’s news cycle, but what’s interesting about Cyrus’s actions is that she wasn’t manufacturing an incident that producers could package and sell as a talking point, she was just reflecting behaviour. Cyrus is trying to free herself from the shackles of being a child star, and the quickest route to speed up that process is by transforming into a sexual being. At the VMAs, she performed her tune We Can’t Stop, the video of which is a collage of meaningless images attempting to depict the wildness of youth.
After that, Robin Thicke, a singer who has one of the biggest hits of the summer with the creepy Blurred Lines, appeared fully clothed while Cyrus was in a flesh-coloured bikini and what seemed like a deranged state, sticking out her tongue repeatedly, rubbing her crotch with a giant foam finger and bending over in front of Thicke (she’s 20, remember, he’s a 36-year-old married father, so I don’t know who should be more embarrassed).
In the States, Cyrus has attracted criticism for the performance being racist, as well as everything else. Cyrus is fond of twerking, a sexually overt dance move that has emerged from West Africa to the Caribbean to the US to Europe as the late-night dancefloor shape-throwing of choice. The appropriation of African American culture by young white Americans is nothing new, but poking fun at body types and not having the self-awareness to examine the complexities of the “white girl doing a black dance” dynamic is another thing. But this wasn’t another award show gimmick.
Cyrus’s outrageous and uncomfortable antics demonstrates how sexually abusive popular culture has become. Sexual reactivity – the acting out of inappropriate sexual behaviour – is a fairly common response to sexual abuse. I am not insinuating in any way that Cyrus is taking her cues from sexual abuse, but she is the product of a sexually abusive society. If the trauma of sexual abuse can lead to inappropriate behaviour in an individual, then surely it can be argued that the trauma of taking cultural and behavioural cues from one’s environment can lead to inappropriate sexual exhibitionism.