Miley Cyrus really, really wants us to know something: she f----s.
Her Me-So-Sexy show-and-tell at MTV’s Video Music Awards was the least sophisticated display of youthful sexual prowess in recent memory (and considering the venue, that’s saying A LOT).
It did, however, provoke a hot, gushing lava-like flow of media outrage, prompting pundits to describe her so-called “twerking” routine as pornographic; vile; racist; degrading; unoriginal; inauthentic; or in the words of the Daily Beast, “the nadir of American civilization.”
What a compliment to her twerking tush that her performance inspired such fervor!
Cyrus isn’t the first female to wave her I-am-Woman flag through hypersexuality. Like Madonna and Monroe before her, she wants us to know that she can have sex like a man, and should be treated as more than just a powerless girl. In Cyrus’s case, that girl would be sweet little Hannah Montana, who was rinsed, waxed and neutered by the squeaky-clean Disney image machine. Thus, the general read on Cyrus’s race-y anal exploits is that she desperately wants to proclaim her adulthood.
So why on earth is she acting like a stubborn, rebellious child?
The Freudian answer is that she never got to be one. Cyrus became the headlining star of The Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” in 2006, when she was just 14. It ended five years later, which basically means that Cyrus spent her high school years cut off from the typical trajectory of adolescence and puberty, and thrust into adult professionalism. Within the first year of Hannah Montana airing, Cyrus became a multimillionaire.
The irony about Cyrus’s alter-ego, Hannah Montana, is that while the character was permitted a double life -- as both a “normal” teenager and a superstar -- the actress playing her was not. Only in fiction can split lives co-existence so seamlessly. In reality, coming of age as a child star in Los Angeles, there was nowhere teenaged Miley Cyrus could go and not be seen as Hannah Montana. A famous face and a young professional, Cyrus was forced out of the cocoon of childhood and into the quid-pro-quo of adulthood, where one must sing -- quite literally, in her case -- for their supper.
A dirty little not-so-secret about youth in the entertainment industry is that it both profits from and promotes family dysfunction. The parents of child stars often get so seduced by the glitz of success, they attempt to realize their own broken dreams through their children. Instead of protecting their young from an inestimably complicated life, parents push their kids to further perform. As my friend Irene Dreayer, a producer of children’s programming and a talent coach often asks of showbiz parents: “Who’s dream is this -- your kid’s or yours?”
The other thing Dreayer will tell you about the trajectory of child stars -- having honed her expertise as executive producer of The Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and the sitcom “Sister, Sister” -- is that if young talents don’t have reliable authority figures in their lives, they crumble.
"No one is protecting her," Dreayer said when I called her for comment. "There’s nobody there to say to her: 'What the f--- are you doing?'
But even worse than parents who can’t be depended upon are jealous parents who exploit a child's success. As with Lindsay Lohan’s mother, Dina, I wonder about the relationship between Miley and dear daddy, Billy Ray. Yes, “Achy Breaky Heart” was a catchy little number that a lot of people heard too many times, two decades ago. But does it count as a career? Last I checked, poppy Billy Ray was earning his pay playing a father to his daughter on her star-making show.
When a parent’s well being is dependent upon his child’s success, that parent can hardly encourage what is best for the child. And if a parent is less successful than his child -- in the same chosen profession -- what sort of dynamic arises in the family?
Fast forward to Miley Cyrus, “all grown up” at age 20. Eager to escape the childhood career that stole her childhood, she thinks an overt sexual consciousness will make her appear more adult. On television, she projects a voracious sexual appetite that makes her feel powerful and in control -- “Look at me, Daddy; I can do whatever I want” -- when really she is expressing a child’s deep and desperate need for discipline and boundaries.
All that tuchus-in-the-air twerking? A quite literal request for a spanking. All that sticking out her tongue? A child’s taunt: “Na na na na na -- come and get me!”
If Cyrus was seeking to display adult maturity with that faux provocation, she failed. That was not the performance of a young woman in full thrall of her sexual powers; it was the enraged acting out of a little girl seeking a responsible father.
It is dead wrong to interpret that performance as Miley Cyrus’s declaration of adulthood. What she wants is to be a child. What she’s singing for isn’t sex, it’s a parent.