We’ve each selected our favorite media shitstorm of the summer. There were far too many qualified candidates.
This isn’t an article in defense of Miley Cyrus. She’s been a corporate shill since day one, and I don’t feel bad or harsh in saying that since she was sold into it by Mr. Achey Breaky Heart . What America saw was a young adult expressing her sexuality. What they think they saw was a child being strung up and stripped naked set to pop music. Let me make one thing abundantly clear:
THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS.
Remember the Britney kissing Madonna thing? Remember the Britney being Britney thing? No? You won’t remember this either in a few years. The performance itself was problematic-she was performing a song that more or less disparages the obtention of consent in a sexual situation, not to mention the racist undertones of her use of all-black backup dancers as props, but these are things the public by and large doesn’t think about, they’re symptomatic of our culture as a whole in a vile way, but to me don’t represent the main issue at hand brought forth by this whole deal.
To me, this ‘incident’ and subsequent outrage is endemic of the notion that as a nation, we don’t get outraged at anything until we’re told to do so. Outrage should not work like this; it is into dangerous territory we tread should this become the new norm. Oh wait, it already has: the VMAs are more or less an arena (one of many) for controlled scandal. On a larger scale, that’s what celebrity culture is- weird vicarious living, even weirder moralistic revenge stories or just plain stupid trivia and data to fill our heads with, picking and choosing among the infinite stream of garbage to orbit our focus around the pretty faces that we see dance for us in our stories on various screens. However, awards shows, the VMAs in particular, seem to exist solely as a circus of faux-controversy that fills up the headlines, with familiar freaks and upcoming characters for everyone to gawk at.
You see, Miley is literally a non-factor here: she shook her ass on TV. That’s it. Mystery solved. She is nothing more than one of hundreds of rotating faces to attach admiration or admonition to, it just turned out to be her turn this year. I don’t know if people forget this, or never realize it, or if they genuinely do care that pop idol X did thing Y this year- all three have horrifying implications. However, the number of work hours wasted on punditry, coverage, “journalism,” not to mention the amount of the actual commonfolk’s time spent in contemplation of this most mysterious of Magickal Booties of Societal Subversion in argument, discussion, mockery, and so forth, is well, outrageous. I’m aware that pop culture is by its very nature escapist, so it’d be pointless to harp any further on the fact that the populace would prefer to discuss a skinny white girl vibrating on a stupid-suited rape-monger (sorry the prose, it just flowed) to discussing, say, the impending World War Three and all the possible permutations that could lead to it (seriously someone should make a betting pool) is hardly surprising. So, for this particular facet of this particular instance, I’m letting the public off the hook. This takes me back to the main offense: manufactured outrage by mass media conglomerates robs the populace of a very basic tool of societal agency by placating it with a dummied version that is harmless to the media’s ends, which are mostly money, but also power, and the money it holds. It’s one thing to have a populace prioritize entertainment and shallow vicarious living through idolization; it is quite another to not only validate but foster and propagate said prioritization in the name of making another buck and keeping the people in line.
To get a little didactic here, outrage is a tool that the people have and utilize to instigate social change, evolve ideas, and so forth. Outrage at the status of race relations in this country led to the Civil Rights movement. Point is, outrage is what leads to protest, and without that vital tool, radical change cannot occur. The media knows this, and they also know that by docking it, they exist in a far more economically stable and therefore beneficial environment – they stand to gain from a placated populace. Any real outrage that could lead to real change would disrupt their steady economic flow or challenge the ways and whys of their profits. The advent of the 24 hour news networks is one of the most damaging and destructive blows to the public’s perception of itself and its country since Watergate. They reinforce partisanship, antagonism, negativity, and by way of the other factors, the status quo. By creating their own news via usage of what essentially amounts to informational cannon fodder, they dictate what the public cares about simply by telling them that they not only should care about it, but already do. They use their position of perceived authority to drown the public in an informational stasis, while terrible things go on behind the scenes, things that could easily be seen behind the paper thin walls that block them if only people as a whole decided to actually look. Big news is covered, but only as a means of dividing, not informing.
And this is why the Miley Cyrus debacle is the biggest shitstorm of the summer- because it didn’t deserve to be and the people and the media made it into one, demonstrating quite clearly in a modern couple-minute morality play that deviation from any norm is to be shunned, abhorred, and never shut-the-fuck-up about.