It would be easy to pick on Miley Cyrus, she being the One Who Would Writhe Her Way to the Twerking
Throne. It would also be easy, and understandable, to lament her
recentwhat shall we call it?performance/lap dance at MTV Music Video
awards (say, didn't MTV stop airing music videos in 1993 or so?). If
you've seen it, you likely don't want to again; if you haven't seen it,
don't bother. Please don't bother.
Victor Davis Hanson both laments and analyzes in an NRO essay yesterday, "Miley Cyrus and Ugly Sex":
generation used to call the boredom of bad habits “reaching rock
bottom”; the present variant perhaps is “jumping the shark” that
moment when the tiresome gimmicks no longer work, and the show is over.
a moral sense, Miley Cyrus reached that tipping point for America,
slapping us into admitting that most of our popular icons are crass,
talentless bores, and that our own tastes, which created them, lead
nowhere but to oblivion.
After all, what does an affluent and leisured culture do when it has nothing much to rebel against?
A good question. And a question worth pondering, as Hanson ably does.
But of interest to me here is what Cyrus had to say about her tasteless
tease, and what is says about what so many Americans apparently find
important and meaningful in life. Three days after acting like a porn
star on crack in a stuffed animal store, the young Cyrus provided this deep insight (warning: tasteless stuff everywhere) into the matter:
pay attention to the negative. Because I've seen how this plays out. How
many times have we seen this play out in pop music? You know what
happens. Madonna's done it. Britney's done it. … Anyone who performs,
that's what your looking for; you're wanting to make history. Me and
Robin [Thicke] said the whole time, "You know we're going to make
history right now." It's amazing, I think, now we're three days later
and people are still talking about it. They're overthinking it. You're
thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I
didn't even think about it, 'cause that's just me.
Cyrus is going to be roundly mocked by some for these silly comments,
but I think she's provided a modest service for those folks who are
scratching their heads, asking, "Why? Wha...? Huh?" How so? Because she
outlined, without resorting to philosophical jargon or esoteric
analogies (as if she could resort to such), the basic worldview of so
many twenty-somethings (and thirty-somethings). And that worldview
consists of these basic premises and assumptions.
1. Reality is maleable and words are merely means by which to mold said reality.
Cyrus claims to not pay attention to "the negative", but she clearly is
quite tuned in to the negative, as her comments indicate. Yes, this
likely reveals that typical trait of most young rebels without a cause:
vehemently insist you don't care what anyone thinks while constantly and
obsessively predicating all actions and comments on what other people
(especially older people in positions of authority) think or say about
you. But I also think she believes, as so many others do, that she is
free and clear of any consequences of her acts and actions by virtue of
simply saying none of the reactions matter to her. Put another way, she
lives on a one-way street, and all the traffic moves from her to
everyone else. It helps, of course, that she works in an industry in
which any publicity is good publicity. On the other hand, she works in
an industry in which performers like herself are as disposable as
diapers and are usually treated with less respect than are dirty diapers
once their "entertaining" shelf life has expired.
It's easy to think this "create my own reality" mentality is mostly
found in "Hollywood" and the "entertainment industry", if only we could
rid ourselves of those cursed entities. However, this "make it up and
live it up" perspective is far more pervasive than that; I would argue
it is about as mainstream as can be. It was certainly around when I was a
teen in the 1980s, but it has now reached heights (well, lows) that
are as mindboggling as they are depressing.
2. History began when she was born. Chronological
snobbery has been in fashion for decades, even centuries, but when
someone talks about "making history" by feigning sex on an awards show watched by 10 million people,
well, history may actually be dead. Or at least choking on the fumes of
the post-modern, post-moral limo. It is nearly endearing how Cyrus
expresses her amazement that after having apparently made history,
people are still talking about her perfomance three days later.
What sort of sense of the Bigger Picture can such a person really
possess? How thick is the bubble she lives in? But, in fairness to
Cyrus, how different is she in this regard from so many younger people
(and, increasingly, middle-aged folks like myself) who flit from tweet
to Facebook post to e-mail to text to tweet to post, etc., etc.?
Constantly. Obsessively. 24/7.
One of the lessons of history
should be humility, for studying history provides a sense of persective
that can, and should, inform our understanding of the temporal realm and
our inevitable entrance into the realm of the world to come. Oh, sure,
there is the History channel and some "based on real events" movies, but
what is the basic attitude of, say, a 25-year-old toward history and
the various currents of wisdom that have endured (at least in some
quarters) down through the centuries? Read on.
3. Thinking is out; provoking is in. Mark Bauerlein, in his book, The Dumbest Generation
(Penguin, 2008), writes about how the digital age has brought about a
new disdain for reading and thinking that is nearly shocking in its
brazen insolence. "Earlier generations," he writes, "resented homework
assignments, of course, and only a small segment of each dove into the
intellectual currents of the time, but no generation trumpeted a-literacy
(knowing how to read, but choosing not to) as a valid behavior of their
peers. ... Today's rising generation thinks more highly of its lesser
traits. It wears anti-intelletualism on its sleeve, pronouncing
book-reading an old fashioned custom, and it snaps at people who rebuke
them for it." While Cyrus was not, of course, talking about reading, she
was saying something notable, and obviously negative, about
thinkingthat is, trying to understand and comprehend the motives and
purposes of her performance. Which brings us to the final point.
4. Logic is for losers. This is closely connected to
#1 and #3. Note that Cyrus says, on one hand, that she and
co-provocateur Robin Thicke (a 36-year-old married man and father!)
spoke about "making history", but on the other hand, she put no thought
into what she did. And that those who do "think about it" are,
apparently, a sorry lot. Notice also how she cites her predecessors in
crimes against morality and good taste ("Madonna"! Britney Spears! What a
hall of heroines! She really does study history!), but then acts as if
her act was unique, one-of-a-kind, historical. Or consider how she
claims to not care what people think when it is obvious to anyone with
half a brain and all of their clothes on that if there is one thing she
cares about it, it is what people think of her. It might be that she
would happily perform semi-nude for an empty room, but I doubt it.
This past year, I've spoken to some college students (smart,
thoughtful ones), and they have each said the same thing: there is a
palpable disdain for logic, reason, and sound thinking among most of
their peers. Reason is considered oppressive; logic is deigned outdated;
intellectual pursuits are found untried and unbecoming of a generation
that has been relentlessly praised for being bright and beautiful just
because they are always emotioning with deep passion and feeling with
strong feelings. Consider the challenge of evangelizing a large swath of
the population who think they are smarter than you simply because they
exist and that your Catholic beliefs are stupid simply, um, because they
are. (And don't argue otherwise. Only haters argue.)
Finally, isn't it a bit strange that no one really talks about Miley
Cyrus as a singer? Is it because she cannot sing? (Actually, she can
sing, but in a bland and mediocre way, just like thousands of "American
Idol" hopefuls.) The only talent involved is getting attention for doing
something on television that takes place in strip clubs all across the
country every night of the week. Part of the blame, surely, can be
placed at the feet of new technologies. I must confess that when I was a
young teen, back in the early days of MTV, I thought music videos were
"cool" and so much more. Little did I realize what role they would play
in creating a flood of "music" that is not even music. But there is
plenty of blame to spread around, especially among those of us who
consume the crud.
The poet (and critic, composer, and teacher) Dana Gioia noted the following a few years ago:
now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial
entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly
become one vast infomercial. ... But we must remember that the
marketplace does only one thingit puts a price on everything.
of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the
price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should
tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the
marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good
life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing
Cyrus and Company (the many, many people making money off of her twerking ways) are cynical hucksters constantly peddling stuff, stuff, and more stuff.
Their lives are essentially a continual informercial and their wares are
themselves: enticing, empty creatures whose cynicism is matched by our
consumerism. Having little interest in reality (in what really is),
ignoring history and real culture, and disdaining thought and reason,
they cannot provide anything resembling a "cogent view of the good
life." But they can provide us with some food for thought, even if it is
downright tasteless and impossible to swallow.