I don’t have cable. Not because I’m not a television addict (admittedly, I totally am) but because if I had cable – I would never get anything done.
As such, I didn’t watch the VMA’s this weekend in real time. It wasn’t until I saw my news feed exploding with panic that I realized I must have missed something important.
The word “important” here is obviously a stretch.
Like many others I diligently Googled the Miley Cyrus performance the next day, only after seeing nearly all my friends sound off about some aspect of her show. I knew already to look for that tongue, the bears, and the most awkward costuming ever. I was prepared for the lewd acts and graphic gestures.
What I couldn’t have anticipated, however, was how weird the whole thing would be. I had seen outrage over her overtly sexy nature, but I saw nothing sexy myself. Which was strange, because I do think Miley Cyrus is a pretty girl with a good body and all the makings of a sexy-pop-star-to-be; I was prepared for sexy. Sexy would have been easy. What I saw instead though, was a performance that clearly lacked any kind of production value. Surely there couldn’t have been a choreographer or even legitimate costume designer involved in what happened on that stage. It was too disjointed. Too messy. Too… weird. Everything was out of place and awkward. I began to think MTV had actually set Miley Cyrus up; that she had been considered the go-to disaster all along. There is one every year, and it seems the bad performances have a way of getting people talking more than the good. I figured she had just won the honor of being this year’s train wreck.
Because everyone loves a train wreck.
Since that fateful YouTube viewing, I have been drawn to all the numerous opinions about what went down on that stage. I have absorbed the indignation of angry moms feeling betrayed by their child’s former idol. I have nodded my head in regards to a point about the hypocrisy of a society that wants to slut shame a 20-year-old girl for wearing skin colored underwear and making a few vulgar motions, but doesn’t bat an eye at the guy nearly twice her age singing about the blurred lines of sexual consent while standing by and allowing her to grind all over him. I have even learned all about “ratchet” culture – something I think I am either too old or too sheltered to have encountered before – and found myself agreeing with commentary on the questionable nature of building yourself up in that image, only to then use a stage full of black women essentially as props to be manhandled at will.
There are a lot of valid views and opinions about the Miley Cyrus performance, but one school of thought which can’t be ignored is that she might be a bit of a genius; one who knew what she was doing all along. Within just 24 hours of the show, she had 2 songs jump to the top of the sales charts – an accomplishment none of the other performers from that evening can claim. Not even Justin Timberlake, who by all accounts had far more women swooning than ranting after he exited the stage.
So clearly, I don’t get it. I am too old and too sheltered to understand. To me, what I saw was just bizarre. But Miley reached her audience, and for as many vocal critics as there are out there, she clearly also still has quite the fan base. As much as I was sure watching that original performance that she must have woken up the following day feeling some sense of shame and embarrassment, I’m now pretty sure I was wrong. Miley’s just being Miley – and it’s working.
Who knows what the future holds for her. She could wind up with a shaved head a la Britney, or she might find herself heading straight to crazy town like Amanda Bynes. There are obviously plenty of examples of these young girls entering their adult years plenty scathed by their fame filled childhoods, and Miley Cyrus could be well on her way to becoming one of the over-privileged who never quite figures out where to stop.
She might be a train wreck we are all addicted to for years to come.
Of course, she could also be a 20-year-old who girl is simply trying to figure it all out. While I may be absolutely perplexed by what happened on that stage at 30, I certainly don’t like thinking about what the world would have witnessed had cameras been following me around at 20. Yet there are plenty of young girls who follow similar career paths towards fame and never careen off the road. We just don’t hear about them, because the quiet life well lived doesn’t seem to draw our attention nearly as much as the awkward and outrageous antics of the ones striving for our attention. And in their world, that attention equals success. It’s a dynamic we don’t even have a right complaining about, because we have created it. We have continued feeding into it. The outrageous captures our awareness, while the rest simply fades into the background.
Face it: we all love a good train wreck. MTV knows it, and Miley Cyrus does too. There is a reason these antics get the attention they do, while tamer stars are able to live their lives in virtual obscurity should they choose to do so. The Miley’s of the world give us something to talk about, and whether we want to admit it or not – we are all vying for a chance to elevate ourselves above what we are seeing. We want to pretend we are better than the train wreck and immune to such behavior ourselves. And perhaps we are.
But we are also all watching and we continue to be talking.
About a 20-year-old girl who seems to have figured out there might just be something to be gained from being a train wreck after all.