Catching Up 2: Selling Cyrus

Another current issue is the sexualisation of mainstream culture. Politicians are attempting to make on-line porn more difficult to access (especially for children) and the mass media is regularly criticised for the overt sexualisation of images – especially images related to products that appeal to ‘tweens’ and teens. There have been several interesting pop-media events over the summer that add to the sexualisation debate. And here’s just one….

Aug 2013Miley Cyrus.

If talent was measured by the amount of media attention a person gets then Miley must be brim-full of it… She’s currently ‘top of the charts’ in terms of self publicising and creating media interest. I don’t intend to add to the avalanche of comments and opinions expressed about her VMA performance or her most recent music video. I’m not even going to post links. All I am going to say is – we are a terrifyingly confused culture right now. Miley poses provocatively with teddy bear clad dancers and Operation Yewtree identifies more alleged abusers of the young and vulnerable. Miley (20) grinds against Robin Thicke (36) but we want to protect young women from male predators. The Mail Online’s sidebar of shame (more on The Mail in my next post) judges women on their physical appearance before anything else. Miley shows us that adopting the iconography of porn culture is how an adult female singer breaks away from her Disney past. The Mail Online and other tabloid media is simultaneously titilated and disgusted by Miley.

The videos for Wrecking Ball and Blurred Lines do make it clear that a woman’s role is to be sexually available and Mr Thicke may have denied his song was about the grey area between consensual and non consensual sex as some have claimed, but seems very proud of the way his video degrades women – although he seems to think he’s doing something clever with this representation:

He said:

‘People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head…’

The Edinburgh University Student Association tried to ban Thicke’s song from its campus as it contravenes its ‘policy against “rape culture and lad banter”’. History tells us that banning pop culture products doesn’t do much other than give more publicity to the ‘problematic’ product. However, in a culture where rape threats are all too common online, where abuse victims are described by their own lawyers as ‘predatory’ and photos of sexual abuse make their way online for entertainment and comment (all too often ‘slut-shaming’ comment), it might be reasonable to wish that either Thicke had been less willing to, in his words, ‘degrade’ or audiences had been less willing to collaborate with that degradation.

So – is Miley expressing her sexuality in a modern and healthy way or is she reinforcing a culture that sees women as sexual objects? Is she, as SInead O’Connor thinks, being prostituted out by the music industry? Miley isn’t the only one of course – check out Katy Perry, Keisha and of course Nikki Minaj and Rhianna (I exclude Lady Gaga who may show a lot of skin but strikes me as strangely sexless). Look to films and the way Selina Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens etc. are shedding their squeaky-clean images. Look to any number of male R&B artists for images of male sexual dominance and female insignificance outside being an icon of male prowess and success. None of this is new of course – but that, perhaps, is the point. The Angel-Whore dichotomy is as present as ever and pop culture rewards the women who provide sexual titilation. Whether the culture values them though is another matter.


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