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Miley Cyrus VMA Critics: 10 Reasons Why They’re Off-Base

Miley Cyrus lets loose at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Miley Cyrus lets loose at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Music Video Awards continues to generate fearsome reaction from nearly every quarter, ranging from the mainstream media to egg-head publications and, of course, the blogosphere. Most of it has been negative and most of it equally way off-base.

Here are ten principal arguments critics are using to lambaste the 20-year old singer and why they are all mostly ridiculous.

10. Hannah Montana: Miley played a public school student who lived a secret life as a pop star in the squeaky clean Disney show. The series ended three years ago, yet critics just can’t seem to separate Miley from Hannah. They say Miley betrayed her fans with her risque performance. But Hannah Montana was a character, just like her sexy stage persona is a character. Miley has grown up and so have her fans. Hannah Montana was not real; she does not exist; Miley is not her. If young teens are still associating Miley with the role, they’re the ones who need a reality check. It would be like saying Christoph Waltz must be a Nazi because he played one so effectively in “Inglourious Basterds.”

9. Miley is a bad role model: This is the ‘How do I explain this to my daughter’ argument. Simply, Miley is an entertainer; she was on stage entertaining. If a parent believes their teen takes that as a signal that it’s now cool for them to wear the same clothes or act the same way at school, they also need a reality check. In fact, Miley, the person, is a positive role model in many ways. She works hard, she’s not promiscuous, she engaged, she’s open, accepting, embraces all lifestyles, she’s inquisitive, fun loving, in touch with her sexuality in a healthy way, talented and seems to know her limits. Who wouldn’t want a daughter like that?

8. Miley’s behavior is inappropriate: This is an off-shoot of the bad role model and Hannah Montana argument. The issue is ‘How can I tell my daughter not to do it, if Miley does it,’ whatever it may be. The fact is Miley will turn 21 in November. She’s an adult and legally has been since she turned 18. When your child turns 18, and certainly by the time they’re 21, you won’t be able to tell them what to do, either… because they’ll be adults, too. They can, and will, do whatever they want. Any parent who can’t explain the difference between teen behavior and adult behavior needs a course in child rearing.

7. Miley is desperate to stay relevant. Like all specious arguments this one has a grain of truth as well. The fact is every actress, actor and pop star struggles to stay relevant. Welcome to show business. That criticism can apply to anyone in entertainment, yet Miley’s VMA critics act like she’s the only one facing that problem. Hello, Avril Levigne, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato to name a few?

6. Miley’s performance was crude and vulgar. This argument totally lacks context. Miley wasn’t performing at Carnegie Hall, it was the MTV Video Music Awards. The show has a long, long history of staging “mock-shock” incidents, whether it’s Madonna kissing Britney or Borat butt-planting on Eminem. In fact, Miley’s performance of “We Can’t Stop,” clearly mocked the media hand-wringing over drug references in her song. The dancing pink teddy bears, a blatantly obvious metaphor for drunken hallucinations, were a tip-off. Obviously, these critics have never read Jack London, Raymond Chandler or even seen the Disney movie “Dumbo,” which includes dancing “pink elephants” with the same meaning.

5. Miley over-sexualized and objectified women. This criticism arises out of Miley’s and Robin Thicke’s performance of his hit song “Blurred Lines.” Objectification is often all too real, especially in entertainment. But a thin line exists between objectification and female empowerment. This argument is often used to beat down women who aren’t submissive and dutiful. In other words, women who act like men. It’s valid when objectification is forced, but when women choose to openly express and control their own sexuality isn’t that empowerment? Miley’s act was clearly the latter. Critics obviously had never seen Thicke’s unrated “Blurred Lines” music video, which contained prancing nude models. By wearing a nude-colored bikini, Miley was parodying the models; it was pure mockery. Unlike the video, she played the sexually dominant role, dancing, strutting and making crude gestures usually associated with men. Also, unlike the video, Thicke looked thoroughly emasculated by Miley’s dominance on stage. Of course, a lot of wheels had to click to get the send up; critics, as usual, went with the knee-jerk reaction.

4. Miley engaged in “racial appropriation”: This is one of the more odious criticisms. Essentially, it means Miley was trying to act black, what with her twerking, reggae-influenced song and experimentation with hip-hop. It’s the flip side of criticizing a black person for “acting white.” Neither is valid and both are reprehensible. One of the great strengths of this country is the ability for cultures to intermix and nowhere is that more evident than in music. Elvis was inspired by Mississippi Delta Blues as were The Rolling Stones. Jimi Hendrix was inspired by acid rock and Kanye West sampled Peter Paul and Mary (Touch the Sky 2005). It would be the same as accusing Paul Simon of “racial appropriation” because he collaborated with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and used traditional African rhythms in some of his songs. Or arguing that whites can’t eat peanut butter because, well, George Washington Carver invented it.

3. Miley’s act was racist. Miley grew up in the south so this criticism seems unavoidable, even though she was born and raised in Nashville, one of the south’s more racially enlightened cities. Nonetheless, some critics claimed Miley was racist because she used African-American backup dancers. Of course, they would have argued the same had she used only white backup dancers. They also claim the act was racist because the dancers, meaning black women, were portrayed as sexual objects; right, Miley butt slapped one and made a nasty gesture with another. Is it possible, though, to be guilty of racism and racial appropriation at the same time? (See Above) And, can’t black dancers be just as empowered by their sexuality as Miley?

2. Miley’s act was morally outrageous. This one comes from the conservative right wing, embodied by The Parents Television Council. They’re quick to issue a press release and are, all too often, a quick quote for lazy journalists. When they talk about violating a moral code, it’s their moral code. This group is no more representative of the United States than the Posse Comatius. When you start talking about a national moral code you’re talking about Saudi Arabia. The United States has no moral code, precisely because the Constitution guarantees free expression. But it doesn’t mean the nation isn’t moral. We just get to choose the level of morality that suits us, as long as it doesn’t involve criminal behavior or infringe on the rights of others. So far, no one has argued that Miley’s act was either, so take this argument and stuff it.

1. Miley’s performance was just plain bad: This is a legitimate point of contention, but much of the criticism, again, lacks context. (See No. 6 above) It’s like comparing the Academy Awards with the Golden Globes. The MTV Music Video Awards are to the Golden Globes what the Grammy Awards are to the Oscars–two entirely different events. To say Miley was bad or lacks talent is not only unfair, it’s gratuitous. She’s no Maria Callas, but her voice is distinctive, like John Fogerty’s, John Mellencamp’s or any number of other artists. Miley’s already proved she can sing and dance and act. She wouldn’t be where she is if she couldn’t. (See No. 10 above) Incidentally, “We Can’t Stop” has sold more than 2 million copies and her video for the song was the fastest to reach 100 million views in the history of Vevo and YouTube. That says something. It was also the MVAs, and Miley was clearly goofin’.

As Kevin Fallon, of The Daily Beast said: “Sometimes a VMAs performance is just a VMAs performance.” Now can we all get over it?

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