Sunday, adding to an already extensive list of peculiar attention-seeking behaviors exhibited by modern young starlets, Miley Cyrus performed her song “We Can’t Stop” at the MTV Video Music Awards. The video, a trippy compilation of twerking, surrealism, and misplaced hip-hop clichés, features an overtly sexual Cyrus writhing on furniture and protruding her tongue with great zeal, and last night's performance was merely a rehash of that eyesore.
What's more, it also says a great deal about the state of popular culture as we know it.
The song, a deliberate departure from Cyrus’ bubblegum-pop teen idol years (remember “Party in the U.S.A.?”) is a timely follow-up to the twerking kick Cyrus has been on since March, when a video of her twerking in a unicorn suit first went viral. Since then, she has been on something of a twerking spree, demonstrated last night by her gyrating against Robin Thicke in a Beetlejuice suit.
Since Cyrus’ game-changing video “Can’t Be Tamed” debuted in 2010, she has gone to great lengths to announce to the world that she is no longer living in the shadow of her former Disney channel star self, including dropping significant weight, bleaching and cutting her hair into a platinum Mohawk, and immersing herself in the hip-hop community.
But that's not what I’m here to discuss.
Let's talk about contemporary culture for a second. The VMAs pride themselves on raising the shock-value bar every year — this is not news. Remember when Britney Spears ripping into a nude-color sequined body suit was considered risque? A generation prior to that, Madonna writhed around on stage in a now-infamous wedding dress that, at the time, was considered to be the most raunchily suggestive, tasteless, and at once brilliant performance the world had yet seen on mainstream TV.
Now, these performancs would be considered tepid at best.
Like scores of other people on the interwebz and IRL, Cyrus' display makes me want to gag. And that is precisely what she (and the entertainment industry as a whole) set out to accomplish — to provide ample conversation fodder/publicity for the throngs of culture-junkies out there hanging on the every move of the ultrafamous.
This is not the start of pop culture's rapid decline into vapid numbing awfulness, but we've reached a point where I almost want to peace out of the conversation. The web is over-saturated with noisy discourse and I wish I could elect to not care about Cyrus' offensive display, but I do.
Why? Because I’m assaulted by it on all fronts. Because next there's Lady GaGa trampsing around in a seashell bikini. Not a meat dress, mind you, but an absurd ironic gesture at haute couture nonetheless.
It's a blitzkrieg of popular absurdity that I can't help but be drawn to. It's the mental equivalent of empty calories. It's art for arts sake in its purest, most unadultarated form, except I'm not sure if some of the things I'm seeing can be honestly classified as "art," by any vast stretch of the imagination or a curator's most generous assessment.
If I was back in college sitting in a liberal arts classroom reading Adorno and discussing dialectics and maybe, just maybe giving one iota of a crap, I would try to explain how Cyrus' twerking is actually some kind of profound statement on postmodern culture. But I'm not, and so I won't.
There is good culture out there. Too much of it. Cultural consumers of the world, I urge you to go seek it out. Or create art of your own. Anything to not be subjected to the brain-melting rankness that is Miley Cyrus dancing in booty shorts and a faux hawk.