Social media was ablaze on Monday with reactions to Miley Cyrus’ performance at the Video Music Awards. There are a variety of angles to take with this, from photos of the Smith family reaction, to renewed conversations around cultural appropriation, to the double standard evident in the mounds of criticism directed at Cyrus and the comparative silence on Robin Thicke.
I didn’t watch the VMAs. Nor have I watched actual footage of the Thicke/Cyrus performance. I’m not sure if I really want to. Actually, I’m sure I don’t want to. But yesterday morning and throughout the day, it seemed as if I couldn’t escape reactions to and conversations surrounding Cyrus’ twerking, gyrating, stripping, etc.
I sure as hell had no intentions of writing on the event.
But Monday night, on a whim, I Googled “Miley Cyrus South Park” to see what, if any, commentary Trey Parker and Matt Stone had offered in the past on Miley Cyrus. The episode I was directed to was “Britney’s New Look”, an episode where the lidless public eye on Britney Spears results in dire consequences.
Halfway through watching the episode, I was prompted by the plot to furiously type out “Rene+Girard Miley+Cyrus” in the all-knowing search, and found nothing. And that’s why I’m writing this at 3 AM Pacific.
There are a few connections that can be drawn between the work of Girard and Cyrus’ recent antics. For starters, Cyrus’ appropriation of black culture can be read through mimetic theory, which postulates that humans naturally imitate each other, which then causes conflict born out of desire for the same things. That desire is known as mimetic desire.
And the collective reactions to/against Cyrus can be read as scapegoating in action. Now, I’m not trying to give Cyrus a free pass. But I do hope the attention on Cyrus doesn’t detract from examining the ecosystem that produces a former child star who turns to cultural appropriation (uh, among other things) for taking the next step in her career.
I’m struck by this quote on Girard’s work: “Former enemies now become friends, as they communally participate in the execution of violence against a specified enemy.” Since Sunday night, I’ve seen people as far right as Rush Limbaugh and Concerned Women for America hate on Cyrus’ act, to the writers at Salon, Colorlines, and other left-leaning publications. It seems as if everyone is hating on Cyrus, although their reasons may be vastly different. I’m not sure if Cyrus quite fits the criteria of “innocent scapegoat.” Perhaps the social media scapegoating of Cyrus keeps us from, I don’t know, further examining Macklemore’s appropriation. To his credit, Macklemore admits he is a beneficiary of white privilege.
But what makes Macklemore different from Cyrus? Aren’t both profiting from black culture? And if the game is zero-sum, then they’re taking somebody else’s shine, right? But is there ever room for cultural appropriation? Does my affinity for hip-hop make me no different from Miley Cyrus?
These are the half-coherent musings of someone who can’t sleep and is trying to get a taste of the glory days of writing papers at ungodly hours. But, in all seriousness, if somebody else wants to pick things up and further flesh things out, I’d love to hear it.