Wednesday, 28 August 2013

IN THE THICKE OF THE TWERK



Folks have reportedly been shocked and shattered by the aesthetic grotesqueries displayed by Miley Cyrus’s full-throttle sexed-up meth-bimbo act at the MTV Video Music Awards last Sunday. But the onstage schtick she stuck in the nation’s face during her performance of the vacuously generic party-anthem We Can’t Stop isn’t anything new; I caught the dubious scent a few days ago when I came across the bizarre video for this inexplicably chart-topping single, which, far from being sexily hedonistic, is downright creepy in its unsparing depiction of youthful degradation. (See also Colin Liddell's useful analysis of the video.)

Gone are the Daisy Duke shorts, the lustrous locks and the winsome eyes of Miley in her Party in the U.S.A. teen-tease phase. Even the smokin’ hot jailbait seductress look of Can’t Be Tamed is nowhere to be seen. What we have here is an entirely different vibe from anything that preceded it in the Miley canon, from Hannah Montana's premiere episode through to the present.

On display is, to be sure, what T.S. Eliot would call a “heap of broken images,” broken in every sense imaginable. A mockup of a human skull, inexplicably constructed out of french fries, is crushed by an unseen foot. Someone’s fingers are sliced off with a knife (albeit in an intentionally fake manner), and some bubblegum-colored fluid gushes forth instead of blood. Under a harsh light, a bunch of drugged-up kids gyrate quite joylessly. A glassy-eyed Miley grabs a big, fat black girl’s ass; she also lounges and wiggles her bony hips in an empty bathtub, sticks her tongue out in a Gene Simmons-like manner, and makes out with a blonde girl doll in a swimming pool. A bunch of stuffed sheep are dragged around and arranged in a circle, wearing surreally huge sunglasses over their dead eyes, again under the unrelenting glare of the same intense light; a group of dancers jump and cavort around with weirdly incongruous teddy bear faces affixed to their heads.

Long gone!
It is difficult to convey the oppressively unsettling atmosphere of the video in words. The song, as noted, is entirely unremarkable: a grab-bag of tired, teenage “Don’t tell me how to live my life” clichés and post-sexual revolution swipes at the chimeric bugaboos of judgmentalism and prudery (“It’s our party, we can do what we want… Remember only God can judge us…”), but the video is a haunting vision of hollowed-out humanity, drained of spirit and juice, wasting away under the barrage of its own untrammeled appetites, reduced to corpse-like mandarins and mannequins. There is a whiff of despair and hell-blasted, permanently-tainted lost innocence about these images that is almost heartbreaking, although provoking such a response was probably not the director’s intention.

Miley’s shenanigans at the VMAs, then, were little but a live adaptation of this same sad and surreal aesthetic menagerie of the absurd and the obscene. Of course, Miley’s performance at the VMAs wasn’t a solo effort. We must not forget the contribution of one Robin Thicke, who like Miley, is the progeny of a celebrity father in the entertainment business. (Miley’s dad Billy Ray sang Achy Breaky Heart and starred in Hannah Montana, while Robin’s dad Alan crooned the cheesy/sleazy-sounding theme song to 70s sitcom Three’s Company before starring as a loveable paterfamilias on the 80s sitcom Growing Pains, itself a sort of second-rate Family Ties.)

I have heard Thicke’s extremely catchy hit Blurred Lines many times in the last few weeks; my seven-year old son always bops his head to the funky beat whenever comes over our car’s speakers; he and his sister harmonize on the “hey hey hey” hook and enthusiastically echo the rhythmic “Everybody get up!” invocations. Little did I know until recently that the song is controversial in some circles, as some see its lyrics as slightly rape-y. (“You’re a good girl/ I know you want it… Must wanna get nasty.”)

The female as aloof meat.
Seemingly the video for the song has also caused some heartburn and indigestion among the easily offended. In it, Thicke and his two wingmen, rappers T.I. and Pharrell Williams, groove and swagger awkwardly around a trio of beautiful models, who, even while swaying and undulating obediently to the rhythm of the song, seem generally unimpressed with their boys. Indeed, most of the overheated feminist response to this video (which comes in two versions, one in which the girls are topless, another in which they wear bras with their panties) strikes me as astoundingly obtuse. These models are, in fact, quite unflappable and impervious to the lads’ oafish antics; their cool, unperturbed, impassive expressions, which call to mind Robert Palmer’s backup band in several vintage videos from the 80s, give the clear impression that these gals are not “victims” at all, but canny self-exploiters of their eminently desirable bods. Once they get paid, one suspects, they’re out of there, and off to another job.

Both of these videos, of course, push the normally-pushed buttons in some typical ways, even if Miley’s video strays almost accidentally into some discomfiting territory. Both have caused controversy. Yet each, in its way, is a symptom of the logical progression of what some Zeitgeist-upholders approvingly call “sex-positivity.” Indeed, a “sex-positive” culture—which is to say, speaking properly, a sexually permissive one—has consequences which usually cannot be foreseen until they happen. The momentum of uninhibited carnal indulgence has, as can readily be seen by all who have eyes, a deeply destabilizing effect upon civilization. As things now stand, we might just be one mere “twerk” away from utter collapse.




Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is a Catholic reactionary writer who loathes all modernist dogmas and superstitions. He is the author of five books, including Heart Killer and The Columbine Pilgrim. He occasionally updates his blog (www.andynowicki.blogspot.com) when the spirit moves him to do so.



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