Miley Cyrus's performance at the MTV Video Music Awards was clearly supposed to be the cause of a one- or two-day burst of watercooler and Twitter conversation, but it's become a cultural watershed/outrage for no damn reason I can figure out, even though Cyrus didn't do anything Madonna and Lady Gaga haven't already done, more or less. Richard Cohen is blaming her for the Steubenville rape, even as he's blaming us for regarding the Steubenville rape as a rape. (Rebecca Schoenkopf makes short work of Cohen's arguments at Wonkette.)
And then there's Victor Davis Hanson. Really, Victor? It'll be the sixtieth anniversary of Elvis's first records next year, and we're still writing nonsense like this?
There are no real rules about popular dance anymore: no set steps, no moves borrowed from ballet, not even a few adaptations from scripted square dancing. It is all free-form wiggling and gyrating -- twerking -- as if to shout out, "Who are you to say that fake screwing in a vinyl bikini is not dance?"That's right -- there's no actual structure to any music anymore. A gen-yoo-wine historian told me that, so it must be true!
The same is true of music and lyrics. You can talk to a drumbeat and call it music. You can hit the same chord ad infinitum and call it music. You can scream almost anything and call it music. Doggerel becomes lyrics. Half notes, full rests, rhyme, meter -- all that is irrelevant, to the degree it is even still remembered. That is why we often see our performers just stop singing for a few moments in a daze; the dead beat goes on without their constant mindless input.
And Miley ... what the hell is she rebelling against?
In the first part of the 20th century modernist contrarians established a counter-music, an antithesis to classical genres. Populist dancers announced, "Who needs ballroom formality?" But again, how do you oppose that opposition, without a reactionary, full-circle return to formalism?Actually, none of that would be shocking -- it would just be a scene from the worst Baz Luhrmann movie ever, or maybe a Ken Russell follow-up to Lisztomania (1975) discovered deep in some streaming-video catalogue. But please continue, Victor:
The advisers of Miley Cyrus should have a problem in that the 20-year-old ignoramus is not a Paris showgirl in the Folies Trévise of the 1870s, not an Impressionist artist in 1890, not a Ziegfeld Girl circa 1910, not a poet of the Great War, not a Depression-era novelist, and most surely not a blues singer in 1940 -- all defiant in arguing that in turbulent times genres, rules, protocols in the arts, literature, and popular expression were confining, hypocritical, and fossilized (as if it is more difficult and challenging to write a poem without iambic pentameter, rhyme, or poetic diction)....
She surely was not going to appear in her vinyl bikini, put on ballet shoes, and do a bit from Swan Lake (now that would be shocking). Nor was she going to offer "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi, waving her huge foam finger in Mitch Miller sing-along fashion. That too these days would be shocking.
So what is a poor multimillionaire celebrity to do in the age of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, when slumming has become passé and the audience has become post-decadent? Just say, "And you idiots are paying for this"?I don't think it was resistance to anything, any more than Nik Wallenda's Grand Canyon walk was "resistance" to some other daredevil. It's just the American way -- entrepreneurialism and innovation, even in entertainment (even if the innovation isn't really innovative).
There are no large cultural stimuli to force Cyrus the Younger to question society's classical norms. No struggle to win the vote for women and then blacks. No Verdun, with a million dead in the muck. No Great Depression, with rampant starvation.
Instead we live in a psychodramatic age of virtual oppression and feigned want, in which "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is updated with Oprah’s melodramatic account of being denied a closer look at a $38,000 Swiss handbag. Our version of D-Day is the question whether or not to lob a few cruise missiles at Bashar Assad to make Obama’s redlines red. Soup kitchens and five-cent apples have transmogrified into electronic EBT cards and Obamaphones. Where is the elemental inspiration, the existential need to tap popular anguish and turn it into revolutionary artistic expression?
If multimillionaire rapper Jay-Z performs at the White House, where is to be found the font of resistance? In short -- resistance to what?
But if it really was "resistance," then the answer to your question ('resistance to what?") is: resistance to you, Victor. Resistance to schmucks like you who are, pathetically, still shockable when confronted with a little butt-wiggling on TV.