VMA Recap, AKA Slut Shaming, Robin Thicke, and Cultural Appropriation

With the VMAs this past weekend, it is nearly impossible to find a news site that doesn’t have an article detailing some juicy detail or outrageous story about the performances. This year, the top story is Miley Cyrus. Specifically her flesh-toned undergarments and twerking. Most media outlets ran something along the lines of “Miley’s performance shocks audiences” with words such as “troubled,” “inappropriate,” and “sexualized” cropping up frequently. There are three problems with the media’s response. Firstly, Miley has complete and utter agency of her body. Just because she shakes and shimmies in a way you find distasteful does not mean she does not have right to do so. Secondly, the media outlets (and most of the fans of Blurred Lines) are completely ignoring the fact that Robin Thicke sang about how much he hates the blurred lines of sexual consent and instead focusing on how a young adult danced to this song. Finally, though Miley has the right to control her own body, the cultural appropriation in her music video is downright offensive.

Let us first begin with slut shaming. For those unfamiliar with this term, slut shaming is the act of denouncing someone for the way they use their body, generally concerning revealing clothing or “sexual promiscuity.” This summary judgment of the worth of an individual based on their sexual actions is deplorable. When the media slams a starlet for breaking free of her childhood and sexing up her shows, I cringe for the children that are soaking up the message the media sends out: sex is only okay as long as you do it the way we want you to. Because that is what this boils down to: we want to shame people for using their bodies in a way we don’t agree with. And that is not okay. Laci Green , peer educator and blogger, has several wonderful videos on slut shaming and how harmful it is, not only on an individual level but a societal level.

When I hear Blurred Lines being touted as the “song of the summer,” I wonder if anyone has actually heard the lyrics: “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl. I know you want it…You’re a good girl. Can’t let it get past me. I hate these blurred lines. I know you want it.”

Let me first say that I find this song terrifying because the way it promotes rape culture isn’t as overt as other blatantly misogynistic songs that have wormed their way onto radio. This song plays on the idea that a “no” can really be a “yes” from someone that is shy, or hesitant. This song contributes to victim blaming: “I know you want it.” This song glorifies blurred lines of consent. Consent means an enthusiastic yes from both parties. “Not no” is NOT a “yes.” Only a yes is a yes.

Robin Thicke, on the Today Show, claimed that the lyric “that man is not your maker” made this song “a feminist movement in itself.” I want no part in this “feminist movement” that Robin Thicke thinks this song represents. This song is not about sexual liberation. This song is about rape culture and failure to obtain consent.

Now it’s time to take another look at Miley. It was said earlier that she has a right to use and display her body as she pleases, and that is true. However, the blatant appropriation of black culture cannot be ignored. From birth, Miley has been at least two things: privileged and white. She grew up wealthy due to her father’s career and later starting pulling in cash herself with the Hannah Montana show. After playing the “southern belle” on Disney Channel, she looked for a way to make herself an edgier image, something sexy. Nothing wrong with that. However, the way she went about it is problematic. She was actually quoted as saying “I want urban, I just want something that feels Black.” She has never lived as a discriminated minority. She can get on stage and wear a grill and twerk and pretend to be “rachet,” but at the end of the day, she is white and wealthy and has no concept of the daily trials and tribulations of being a member of a minority.

Another troubling aspect of her performance was using women of color as props:

In the video, Miley is seen with her “friends”: Mostly skinny white boys and girls who appear to be models. But in a few scenes, she’s seen twerking with three black women. Are they also her friends? Or is she just hoping for street cred? Note that she is wearing white, in the spotlight, the star of the video — and they are treated as props, a background for her to shine in front of. We’ve tackled the use of people of color in the background before; it’s a theme that persists, but remains wrong. In a white-centric world, putting white women quite literally in the center of the frame while women of color are off to the side is a powerful, disrespectful visual message, and it really must be said: Human beings are not accessories.
Jezebel

The same happens on stage at the VMAs:

“What Miley did last night was easily one of the most racist displays I’ve ever seen. From her insistence on twerking, to her use of all black women as literal props (they were teddy bears) to her smacking of her dancer’s ass and the simulation of rimming, it is very clear to me, that Miley thinks that black women’s bodies are to be enjoyed, devalued and put on display for entertainment purposes.”
Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance

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What Miley is doing is cultural appropriation. She, a wealthy white woman, is taking elements from black culture in order to achieve a specific image. Her status as a member of a traditionally oppressive race and class means that she is able to pick and choose what parts of black culture she wants to embrace without having to deal with the racism and racialization that black women live with every day. In short, she can imagine that she is being “ghetto” without having any concept of what living in a ghetto would really mean.
Even worse, in her performance last night Miley used black women as props — like, literal props — and barely anyone said anything. I saw very few people displaying any outrage over the fact that Miley was, at one point, slapping a faceless black woman on the ass as if she was nothing more than a thing for Miley to dominate and humiliate. I saw barely anyone discussing the fact that Miley’s sexual empowerment, or whatever you want to call it, should not come at the cost of degrading black women.

Anne Theriault in “What Miley Cyrus Did Was Disgusting — But Not For the Reasons You Think”

In short, though you’ll find videos and opinions on her “wildly inappropriate” dance routine everywhere, the focus of these discussions should be shifted to speaking out against slut shaming, acknowledging and denouncing Robin Thicke’s “rapey” blurred lines, and understanding that Miley’s use of women of color as props is not acceptable.

*Extra: This song wonderfully ties together Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus*