Attention, Enrichment, and a Conspiracy of Lies

I’m very glad my daughter is past the Disney stage of her fandom. In fact, I don’t know if she’s really a fan of anybody these days. She reads a lot. I suppose she does watch tv here and there. Not the VMA show and its spectacle.

I hadn’t planned on blogging about it. I’m not really a commentator on pop culture. But I liked Omid Safi’s take on his RNS blog. I think his analysis here is spot-on:

(W)e live and participate in a patently patriarchal society.    Even if she “owns” her sexuality, by appearing essentially in her underwear and twerking, she is essentially perpetuating that patriarchal system that collapses the worth and value of a woman to her commodification as a sexual merchandise.  Other than appearing to be semi-nude, what else can a woman do to receive such great attention on social media?  And that, that, is a pathetic comment on the range of possibilities open to all of us, women and men.

Getting attention: this is what it’s all about. Attention as in a carnival barker who promotes the flashy, the spectacular, the lurid. Given a choice between what is healthy and nutritious and what is empty and addictive, we’re going to choose the former much of the time. Unless the crowd creates a current, irresistible and aggressive.

So-called social media sure seems like part of that current.

Professor Safi is pretty much correct on Ms Cyrus selling herself as a sexual commodity. She, but also her handlers, are taking that to the bank.

The mere fact that she as one artist (if we wish to call her that) is laughing all the way to the bank does not negate the patriarchy system.   This is not women’s liberation or emancipation. This is one woman riding a patriarchal system all the way to the bank, the same way she rode the foam finger.  And that was indeed Ms. Cyrus’ response today on her Facebook page, noting how high her album was ranking after the debacle last night.

There’s more to this than just personal enrichment and grating laughter of a lost young woman. You can bet that Ms Cyrus is not taking the greater share of the “take” to her bank account. My guess is that her pimps at MTV and her media company are very pleased with her album pre-release sales. They’ve been at the top of the food chain since before Hannah sang her first song. And they’re going to be there at the end of the ride, still riding.

You can also bet that some other person will be found to be prostituted next year by a patriarchal corporate culture, and if Ms Cyrus can’t develop the artistic or the shock chops, she will disappear from social and other media as fast as her father did after his achy, break-y heart.

Professor Safi’s last word:

It says something about the absurdity of the world we have created that instead of participating in the struggle of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, of thousands of innocent lives lost to gun, of half of all Americans living at or below the poverty line, of a fifth of the world’s population living on a dollar a day, of the imminent destruction of our shared planet’s environment, of over 100,000 lives lost in Syria, we are pulled along a sex-crazed, crass song and dance.

Syria and the March’s anniversary have been buried. Coincidence? I think not. After 9/11, even the presidency was eager to see us back in the marketplace, throwing good money after bad. Syria is sad news all over–that’s not going to sell product. The March–that’s something that Americans can celebrate. But maybe not the aristocracy so much.

Ms Cyrus made her first impression on us as a character who basically lived a lie. She wanted to keep her alter-ego separate from a normal life as a teenager. She found herself in all sorts of contorted situations because of the lie. But Disney scripters were able to package it all in happy-ending style week after week.

In her movie, she self-reveals at a concert, singing a personal and moving song. But she still can’t break free of the lie. She has several thousand co-conspirators. But we can all smile and pretend it’s just harmless fun. The joke is on the rest of us, and the kids rebel against the silly parents who are just interested in the truth of the matter. Heart-strings pulled, happy ending triumphs.

The VMA spectacle is just an “adult” version of the adolescent lie. We can laugh, be shocked, or congratulate Ms Cyrus on being “liberated.” And she is being paid more than just about every college student I know in my town. But she’s not raking it in like her handlers. And when her cog doesn’t fit the machine, she will be discarded like trash. The next person will step up to the mic, and another generation of co-conspirators will be ushered in on the flood.

My main regret is that I’ve probably given this more attention than it deserved. I could’ve blogged on Syria or Dr King instead.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Attention, Enrichment, and a Conspiracy of Lies

  1. Art Deco says:

    The gross conduct of Cyrus is an aspect of the detachment of sexual expression from family life – i.e. from the world of patriarchs. He never bothers to explain why the presence of black performers renders it racist. He does not truly believe a ‘patriarchal system’ is responsible for Cyrus’ vulgarities, or that patriarchs pimp their daughters. Safi’s game is to direct opprobrium at a portfolio of approved villains.

    As for Safi’s last word, mundane life goes on, in his house and everyone else’s. You do not think his wife and daughter have their dinner snatched away from them because people in Mozambique are wretchedly impoverished. He does not stop organizing Koran readings and teaching Rumi either. The commemoration of the march on Washington was an inconsequential and unnecessary exercise, the planet is not due to be imminently destroyed, and street crime is a constant in human societies; you do not do much about it by manufacturing red tape for gun collectors and recreational hunters. But gun collectors, like patriarchs, are approved villains in this man’s blotto little world.

    You really ought to recognize a posing and foolish academic when you see one.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for commenting, Art.

      I don’t make a point of sifting through the biographies of people I draw upon for small insights. What’s more, I don’t recommend it–it seems to do little but to bring out the name-calling in you. I think your argument would be better served by building it up, rather than a vain attempt at ad hominem. It’s a little unclear though: by criticizing Omid Safi, are you not aligning with Ms Cyrus? Or don’t you realize that perhaps her spectacle is so bad the criticism is nearly universal?

      I think Professor Safi and I would dispute your sense of “patriarchal” as equating with the family. And alas, there are enough very poor witnesses to patriarchy in the Bible.

      In the present age, I hear Billy Ray Cyrus has lamented the devil’s deal with Disney. If so, that is some recognition of his own role in pimping his own daughter to the cult of celebrity.

      • Art Deco says:

        No thanks for rancid little debater’s tricks, Todd.

        Papa Cyrus has his regrets; it’s rather boorish of you to accuse him of ‘pimping his daughter’, as if kid television was interchangeable with pornography.

        You get older. You do not improve.

        The notion that mine is an ad hominem attack is non sequitur.

        As it happens, he does have a wife and several children, oldest of whom is a daughter. He also organizes Koran readings and teaches Rumi. There is nothing esoteric about this information; that is why his name is publicly known. All of that is incidental. Remarks of a like sort could be made about anyone, with adjustments of detail. I did not sift through the man’s biography. I did not have to; I used to know him.

        His argument is nonsense, but nonsense of a particular sort, nonsense in accordance with the contemporary professor’s catechism, and nonsense of a sort he has offered in other circumstances. Cyrus makes a grotesque out of herself in accord with the perversion of human sexuality and Safi goes on a whinge about patriarchs, global warming, raaacism, and gun control. Why not just cut out the middleman and talk about patriarchs, global warming, raacism, and gun control? Or alternatively, why not say something about personal modesty and chastity, even in the partial, coded and attenuated way Mika Brzezinski managed?

        Now, there is a reason he should not talk about patriarchy (it’s all rot), a reason he should not talk about climatology or criminology (he knows diddly/squat about either) and a reason he should not talk about racial problems (if his thinking on the subject fancies the latest dreary commemoration-cum-al sharpton, he ought to pick a different subject).

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks again for the comment, Art. There’s no trickery here, and there’s no debate. You object to the inclusion of patriarchy in Dr Safi’s critique? Fine. Make a clear point, then, and leave the man’s history out of it. You “debated” “to the man,” not to the issue. If you find it rancid, my suggestion is to streamline your argument and keep to point. If it’s incidental, why bring it up at all?

    My sense of Dr Safi’s concluding remarks is that there’s a lot more important material to focus on in the public square. I don’t think you are saying that video music awards are more important than the serious issues of the day: weapons, genocide, and even racism.

    That said, it’s always good to have dissent in public discussion. It keeps us all, and I mean all, honest.

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