Op-ed time, as Jane Fraud levels both barrels on Miley Cyrus and her twerking antics
Our resident sexpert Jane Fraud has been sadly absent recently due to her recent computer troubles, but now she’s back with an open letter she wrote just after witnessing the notorious Miley Cyrus performance at the VMAs. Welcome her back with open arms, or proceed to roll your eyes and hurl abuse like you always do.
Cyrus The Virus
Dear Readers of The Monolith,
We live in a world where a young white woman dressed in a bear leotard has the ability and “authority” granted by dominant culture to re-purpose dance moves created by people of colour (some of them queer) in order to make public declarations about her sexual maturity, autonomy, and artistic prowess. This performance was offensive, racist, and frankly, enough to make me think twice about the ethics of the network that endorsed and aired it.
Obviously, questioning the ethical practices of MTV is like questioning the wetness of water. It is the same network that exploits teen mothers, drug addicts, and various other groups; for huge profit margins while we sit back like hungry Midwestern Americans at a state fair and consume this entertainment, while simultaneously trying to justify it as a cautionary tale for young people everywhere. Some parents saw this performance as a way of warning their daughters to not allow men access to their bodies too early, some feminists thought we unfairly judged a female performer, without batting an eyelash at the males involved.
Prominent queer artists of colour like New Orleans based rapper Big Freedia spoke out against the performance, telling Fuse, “… It’s offensive to black culture and black women who’ve been twerking for years. Every time we do something, people want to snatch it and run with it and put their name on it. And they still don’t even have the moves down yet.”
I think Big Freedia is correct. This performance was out of line and insulting to those who pioneered the styles, moves, and ideas that influenced it. As a white woman, my understanding of this can only go so far. My culture was not commodified for millions of people and made the matter of jokes, but I can acknowledge that what went on there was wrong and accept that as part of the dominant racial group of the United States, I participate in this commodification in unseen and subconscious ways daily. We must fight this with our every word and action. We must be anti racist and check our privilege each day.
Well, what does this social moment have to do with my work here besides that the performance was clearly highly sexual and I write about sex?
I believe it allows us to cast a careful eye on our cultural vocabulary and the intelligibility of our language, music, and visual media. As members of the 21st century we have the unique ability to access immensely different cultures, discourse styles, and rhetoric on a daily basis, and incorporate these into our own lives.
We can listen to Sockweb at lunch, Kanye West at dinner, and Moby right before bed. We are people who have the amazing ability to inject our lives with incredible richness and cultural diversity, but only if we are respectful, careful, and compassionate. Culture is definitely an exchange, but we need to honour those with whom we are exchanging our inspiration. Art doesn’t exactly allow us to put footnotes in a performance, but we cannot use this as an excuse for sloppy or insensitive material. Just because one person uses a word or action in a certain way does not mean we all should even if we think it is harmless.
For example, the other day I walked into my office and used the word “gay” to describe an inanimate object that was annoying me; I think it was the slow elevator in my building. Moments like this are not funny and ironic (even if you are card carrying member of the queer army), they are just stupid. Having experienced homophobia and hearing the aggressive throwing out of the term “gay” to describe everything from a song to a toaster, I’m a fool to think that there is no impact when I use that language myself even if I think it’s a joke. The world is a fluid, beautiful, and cool place. Let’s stop making it ugly.
Twerking on Robin Thicke may make you feel sexy or transgressive, but its really a statement of privilege. The privilege to pick and choose someone’s cultural experience and the art they make as a reflection of such an experience and make it yours with no problem. We must stop this. It is not right. We aren’t living in a post racist, post homophobic world. Yes, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made a ton of money trying to teach middle America gay is okay (even though they are straight) and Miley feels like she can twerk with no problem because it’s just a dance. But, it’s not just a dance. And it’s not just a political cause that happens to make a romantic song.
To conclude this short letter, I urge us all to start being a little more sensitive. We never know who is watching or listening.