I must be getting old. Finally I get round to watching the infamous Miley Cyrus VMAs “twerking” performance and all I can think about are the Two Ronnies and John Cleese.
I wouldn’t say Miley’s We Can’t Stop/Blurred Lines medley is exactly the same as the “I know my place” sketch. Still, if you overlook the complete lack of self-awareness in the former (and the entitled smugness in the latter), Miley’s twerkathon is to race and gender what the Cleese and Ronnies line-up is to class. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous foam finger, I could imagine it being used in teaching materials in years to come. This is how bad things were if you were black and/or female in 2013.These are the hierarchies. It’s simplistic, yes, but it seems we’re not yet ready for the nuances. This is how crude and unimaginative we are:
I’m a fully clothed white man. I look down on them.
I’m a barely clothed white woman. I look down on her.
I know my place (bending down in front of a rich white woman, having my arse slapped while wearing a massive teddy bear backpack).
I’m wondering what level of delusion it takes to choreograph this sort of thing, without at least, for one small moment, asking “hang on! Just what AM I thinking?”
Perhaps inadvertently Miley’s done us all a great service. Even if you can’t use this video with kids, it’s a great one to bring out next time someone tells you that intersectionality’s way too hard and “academic”. Look! Here’s Robin. He’s the patriarchy in a zebra-striped suit. And that’s Miley, who gets to wear sod all. Poor woman! But hang on! Who are these people over there? The ones Miley is using as accessories? Why, they’re black women. Kind of puts your oppression in context, eh, Miley? (And no, Robin, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.)
Interesting responses I have seen to the performance so far include the Sun telling female pop stars to “put your clothes back on, ladies” — proof, if ever it was needed, that Page Three does absolutely sod all to endorse a woman’s free choice to show her body in public. And then there’s that white man I spotted on twitter, loftily informing a black woman that Miley’s dancers had a “personal responsibility” not to be complicit in their own oppression (whereas white men on twitter, hands clean, have nothing to worry about – no zebra-striped suits in that closet!). It’s surprising the lengths people will go to in order to avoid just saying “this is really, really shit and I bear some responsibility for the society which churns it out”. There seems to be a fear that to say so would be prudish, yet I can think of few things more conservative and sexually limiting than this oppression-by-numbers posturing (Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps. But that’s about it).
One final thing that gets to me — I’d never seen Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines before. And yes, it is “kinda rapey”. But I was imagining Thicke as someone a bit younger and cooler-looking than that. I didn’t realise he was practically my age, with equally terrible dress sense. I know this is superficial but my god — if we are going to be oppressed by the values of a plastic, sexually conservative, appearance-obsessed age, didn’t we at least used to hold our oppressors to higher standards than this?