Kim Schulze

Miley-Shaming: Moral whiplash for the outraged

2013-10-09 08:46
Morality in entertainment has always been an issue for me. Well, the argument that there should be more responsibility exercised when young singers and actors know they have an influence on their less famous peers. Criticism of young stars always comes in short but powerful bursts: Britney Spears playing the coy sex kitten suddenly shaves her hair off, or Christina’s breaking the good-girl image in assless chaps and red panties. Miley Cyrus’ transformation is the hardest thing to hit the morality and responsibility police since Madonna. And make no mistake, the people who feel celebs have a ‘responsibility’ mean this on moral grounds. The two thoughts aren’t separate.

The biggest problem with this comes straight in with the issue of 'morality'. Morality isn’t a black and white, graded system. It’s based on religious beliefs and personal boundaries, which differ entirely from person to person. It’s essentially silencing an individual’s freedom of speech and self when you inflict upon them your ideas of what’s morally right. Wherever you think the lines are – they aren’t in the same place for everyone. Morality is open to interpretation and where it isn’t, the law is there to tow the lines that go into the territory of becoming harmful and exploitative.

Miley’s clearly on a path of reinvention – from cutting her hair to her new provocative style, it’s obvious she wants to break away from her Hannah Montana persona. She is too well known as a young innocent. She’s even stated that "Hannah Montana was murdered". Whether you believe it’s record company PR stunting or all her idea – she does want to evolve, and every move she’s making is calculated and intentional. You have to question what it is you don’t like about Miley being naked on a wrecking ball. Isn’t it just that you feel uncomfortable seeing a young woman naked, as opposed to there being something WRONG with a young woman being naked? And that you need to remind yourself that she is indeed a young woman and not a teen star?

I sincerely believe that she, and any other celebrity in whichever capacity, has absolutely fuck-all moral responsibility to anyone. How can we suddenly decide that because we don’t like a celebrity’s behaviour, that we then have a right to amend and police that behaviour?

Not in our service

No matter how commercial they are, these people are still artists. They belong to the creative section of society that has always, always broken boundaries and tested authority. Artists, poets, filmmakers and musicians (especially musicians in so many cases) have played a huge role in the various fights for various liberties. They’ve sung and made films about taboo topics, forcing us to address societal battles we’ve swept under the rug. Even in cases which are seen as negative – artists we’ve lost to drug and alcohol abuse, for example – the stars’ actions didn’t encourage people to substance-abuse, they highlighted the tragedy of it. Some cases may have even helped their fans get to grips with their inner demons. Either way, art is never made to conform. From John Lennon’s cries for peace to current musicians fighting for equal rights, their work has never been out of responsibility, but out of their own passions and beliefs.

Entertainers are there for entertainment; our entertainment. That doesn’t mean they’re in our service. That doesn’t mean, like a restaurant, that once we’ve had service we approve of, we expect it every time we go back. To a point, yes, they’re giving us what we want, but mostly they’re singing about things they want to sing about, or things they know will get a reaction. They’re dressing in ways that express themselves, or in ways that intentionally provoke. Didn’t everyone have a bit of a cadenza about Lady Gaga’s influence? Don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to see a young girl walking around in meat clothes or sea-shell bikinis. Funny we worry about exposed bodies and strange attire, when a pop-star is tirelessly promoting equality and standing up for who you are and what you believe in. Believe it or not – that’s the message Gaga’s fans get at the end of the day. Not that we should wear alien-exoskeletons. By becoming a talking point through eccentricity or provocation, they have a higher platform from which to send positive messages.

The idea of morally grading music and the visuals artists choose to complement it is the most tragic thing I’ve ever heard. Imagine putting dress codes, word codes and tongue codes on musicians. The musicians cease to be creatively free, and you’ve immediately lost everything that’s awesome about the entertainment industry. It’s wild, it’s ridiculous – it’s not something we base our real lives on. Performers have very clear lines of when they want to be taken seriously and when they just want to be entertaining. For example, the clear difference between Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ songs Thrift Shop and Same Love. In the case of young starlets breaking their own boundaries, it’s clear they’re saying, "lighten up".

Closer to home

We cannot isolate our children from external influences we might not approve of – no matter how much we want to. There’ll be other kids at school whose behaviour we don’t like, there might be idols and celebrities whose antics we don’t want our children to be exposed to. We can’t stop the outside world from turning, all we can do is learn how to guide our children around these issues, and teach them how to make decisions based on their own sense of self and not through peer pressure or copycatting.

However much you think pop stars, specifically young ones, influence young people, it is not up to them to teach our teens wrong and right. They’re talented and they’re having fun while THEY try to grow up. Putting it on them to make sure today’s youth gets a good 'moral influence', is as unjustified as it is unfair.

I’m also not entirely sure what it is that Miley's doing that seems so morally offensive to people. Yes, her tongue thing makes her look a bit silly, but it's not sending some gruesome, deviant message. Kids (and adults) will do it in photos for a while, until they go back to duck-facing. She’s wearing revealing clothes while she proudly shows off her hard-earned body – but suddenly it’s okay to slut-shame her? When the world is trying so hard to fight victim-blaming? Tsk, tsk. She’s expressing her sexuality and taking ownership of it. Ironically, the very open criticism of her exposure only further aggravates the idea that our bodies aren’t ours. It’s like telling our kids, ‘keeping your bodies covered keeps them safe,’ suggesting that we don’t have a say in how we treat or explore our own bodies because it opens them up to harm. It’s dangerous, and associating nakedness with negativity exacerbates more problems than I could address in one column.

Messages, interpretations and intentions aside, it’s not up to strangers who happen to be in the public eye to make decisions for the sake of our children. No matter how much you believe they influence young people, and no matter how little you approve of their behaviour, it’s not their responsibility to raise a nation’s teenagers. I’d put that responsibility a little bit closer to home. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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