Thursday, August 29, 2013

Insightful Cultural Reflection on the Miley Circus

Sarah Condon:
I am intrigued by the response Miley Cyrus’s performance got at the VMAs last Sunday night. The sort of moral backlash I’ve seen on social media is pretty wild. People at all ends of the appropriateness spectrum are scandalized. I keep wondering: Are we offended by the act itself? Or are we offended that we’re being forced to play along in whatever the erstwhile Hannah Montana is so obviously working/acting out? Do we feel a little used? Or are we upset by people giving us a “show” of how screwed up they are without really naming it? It often seems like we have such a deep need for people to “come clean” about who they really are (because we have such a deep need for this ourselves), that the thought of someone acting like she’s screwed up without naming or knowing that she is in fact screwed up is really upsetting. The lyrical content of her song “We Can’t Stop” sounds like some kind of a love ballad to booze-induced freedom, “It’s our party we can say what we want/It’s our party we can love who we want/We can kiss who we want/We can sing what we want.” And yet, when we see Cyrus’s painfully broken self on stage, it is hard to believe that she’s doing what she wants at all. Maybe she’s another victim of the childhood celebrity machine, maybe she’s a bit of a megalomaniac, or maybe she’s just got bad management–whatever the case, she is so clearly not a free agent. So is it an act? Is she really hurting? Is this just for show? The contrast is too great and it seems to raise a flag of cultural discomfort for everyone bearing witness.

Now it is a strange juxtaposition, but this whole Cyrus debacle reminded me of a great performance by Miranda Lambert at the 2013 Academy of Country Music awards. Lambert is the heir to a strong line of female country music singers who speak to the difficulty of life as it is and are wildly popular for their honesty. At the ACMs, Lambert sang a little ditty called “This Ain’t Your Mama’s Broken Heart.” In her raw performance (below) she names the crazy-making pain of being heartbroken. She’s so upset with life that she can no longer adhere to the rules of appropriate behavior:
I cut my bangs with some rusty kitchen scissors
I screamed his name ‘til the neighbors called the cops
I numbed the pain at the expense of my liver
Don’t know what I did next, all I know I couldn’t stop 
Word got around to the barflies and the baptists
My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook
I can hear her now sayin’ she ain’t gonna have it
Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look 
Go and fix your make up, girl, it’s just a break up
Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady
‘Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart

Lambert does not just get up and put on the facade of brokenness. She’s braver than that. She is not afraid to be vulnerable. Lambert speaks to brokenness and owns it for herself. It has become a country anthem of sorts and not because everyone is breaking up with everyone else. People are drawn to this song because they identify with the raw pain of loss and the difficulty of our screwed up lives. People unabashedly love Lambert because she names the devastation of the world and her place in it with honest emotion. We can look to her and think, “Wow, I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel like partying on stage in my underwear.”

Get this song here.

HT:  Mockingbird

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