Written by Todd Mangum
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:00
I promise this won't be another conservative Christian rant from a crotchety middle-aged man against MTV. And, by the time this blog comes out, who knows what new Miley Cyrus item may be hot in entertainment news? The MTV show is now in the rearview mirror even now, passed at this point by her riding naked on a wrecking ball and seemingly breaking down emotionally on stage over the break-up with her fiancé.
But Miley Cyrus told Robin Thicke as they practiced for their VMA awards performance that they "were going to make history". And I'd contend they did.
Yes, this was just the latest in a long line of child actors and actresses "making a statement" that they've now grown up, so quit type-casting them as innocent kids. At least 10 years ago, Britney Spears made certain no one any longer remembered her as a Mouseketeer; and 20 years ago, Macaulay Culkin made sure he got a long way from "Home Alone" with his performance (alongside fellow child actor Elijah Wood) in "The Good Son" (and I mention just two so as to provide one male and one female sample among dozens that could be listed). Childhood actors demanding they be viewed as adults through disturbing performances (which are often also very adolescent, ironically) are nothing new.
Yet Miley Cyrus did somehow still manage to cross a new line (or reach a new low) with her "coming out of childhood" performance. Now, it was deliberate, sure. It was in the line of deliberate deconstruction - and mockery - of chaste values embodied perhaps most forthrightly by Madonna (why she calls herself "Madonna" after all) and taken up by Madonna-heir-apparent Lady Gaga. That's who Miley was trying to one-up; and at that I'd say she succeeded.
So, that ratty hairstyle was supposed to mimic the teddy bears used in - and shed mid-way through - the "performance"; that was supposed to make a statement of overt discard of childhood. The song, "You Know You Want It" is all about, "you're a good girl . . . but you want it" heightened the deliberate "statement" of the "performance." Just can't help those insatiable sexual urges now that you're all grown up. Yeah, we get it.
And yes, Miley was going for shock value, and so she knew it had to reach new heights of extreme vulgarity to register that shock (given that she had to outdo not only Boy George, Madonna, and Jay-Z, but also - and at the same awards show even - Lady Gaga). It takes a lot to move the American shock-value Richter scale these days. But she did it, just as she hoped.
Except I'm not sure it was just as she hoped. Just as speech act theory teaches us that often we communicate more or differently than we intend by our words, so likewise Ms. Cyrus's "performances" conveyed some things more and differently than she realized or intended.
The shock value of her performance was not registered just by her extreme vulgarity - though that was certainly there. The American viewing public was confronted with a stripped down, made-to-look-naked, but nevertheless barely post-pubescent body simulating publicly on stage the most overtly raunchy copulative acts with a 37-year-old, married (with a 3-year-old son, by the way) man. Yeah, yeah; turns out that picture of the Will Smith family watching it was actually of them watching Lady Gaga - but no matter, the expressions on their faces about sums up the visceral reaction of anyone watching the Cyrus-Thicke spectacle - Ich!:
It wasn't that their performance was just shocking and vulgar. It was appalling. If it's all about in-your-face, brutally honest-but-real statements, then I'd say Cher's comments on the "performance" were most spot on. Not what Miley and Robin were going for, I'd bet.
Hollywood and MTV will get better at this. Now that they've seen what margins the American public will tolerate, be prepared for more provocative - only next time more attractive - in your face innuendos and indecencies. But the Miley Cyrus "sexual debut performance" reveals something that I'd say we missional Christians, especially, shouldn't miss.
American culture wants sexual freedom and unrestrained sexual promiscuity approved. Well, here’s what it looks like America. Do we really want a culture that expects girls to grow up into unashamed sex-crazed sluts as their rite of passage? Do American feminist ideals mean that we allow both women and men to be gluttonous sexual pigs — is that what our ideals of freedom embody?
In the fourth century, the newly converted Christian emperor Constantine was able to temper the paganism of the Roman Empire by gradually doing away with the gladiatorial games — in part because it was dawning on even the most pagan of Romans that the fostering of primal bloodlust in their culture had just gone too far. It just wasn’t right. And deep down, even they knew it.
So curdle at that Miley Cyrus-Robin Thicke performance one more time, America. And, missional Christians, here perhaps is a window of opportunity for us to say to American culture, “Look, we know we at times have mistakenly presented Victorian-era prudishness as the Christian ideal. We’re on a pilgrimage and we’re learning, too. But, come on. Look at this. There has to be a more excellent way.”
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and co-author (with Dr. Paul Pettit of the Howard Hendricks Leadership Center in Dallas, TX) of the just-released book, Blessed are the Balanced: Following Jesus into the Academy (Kregel), and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. < a href="http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum">See also his faculty profile.