Sometimes, no matter how insulated or indifferent to pop cultural matters one might be, they end up seeping through and demanding one’s attention more than one might wish them to. I’m experiencing more than a little of that phenomenon at the moment, partially due to the fact that I was surrounded by people immersed in pop culture over the weekend (i.e. the rest of my family), and that had some spill-overs into the start of the work week yesterday.
And, I am also on the internet, and I can’t seem to turn to any of my commonly viewed websites without seeing at least something on this matter. In two conversations I had with polytheist friends and colleagues yesterday, this matter came up, and we were all sort of kicking ourselves over the fact that we felt we had to say anything about it at all. So, I am taking this opportunity, hopefully in a kind of cathartic fashion, to talk about the issues raised by these recent “news events,” and what they might signify to us as pagans and polytheists, as signs of the times.
The specific event to which I’m referring is the performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards on this past Sunday night, which featured Robin Thicke, and a whole bunch of sad-looking bears, amongst other things. Everyone seems to be flipping out over it for a variety of reasons, and some of them are relatively cogent. I don’t feel the need to include a link to a YouTube video or anything else, because all you need to do is practically type the letter “M” and it will be suggested on YouTube and various other sites.
One point that has been made is that some of the reaction over this “coming of age” performance involves slut-shaming Ms. Cyrus. The problem I’m finding with that argument is that this was a performance on stage by a young woman that was meant to be suggestive and provocative (and, honestly, I don’t think it was, for reasons I’ll explain below), and not any reflection of her actual experiences, desires, or a realistic description of her activities. Yes, an immense amount of sex-negativity exists in our culture, and has bubbled over in the reactions to the performance she and her colleagues did on Sunday night, which is more than anything a demonstration of how very sex-negative and confused our wider overculture is regarding any number of matters having to do with sexuality. That Ms. Cyrus had to do a performance like this to “transition” from child/teen stardom to a supposedly more “adult” celebrity performer status is something to take into account; but, the fact is, the sexualization of Ms. Cyrus is a ship long sailed, and the apparent sadness that some people are expressing over her “sexual expression” in that performance not fitting their own preconceived fantasies is in itself quite telling.
Adding in Robin Thicke and his song “Blurred Lines” then adds to the confusion, I think. I am not a fan of the song, and ever since I was able to actually make out some of the lyrics a few months ago, I have been an even more avid anti-fan of the song. People far more eloquent than myself have already pointed out how the song is steeped in and perpetuates rape culture. So, just a few quick bullet-point comments on that song before we move on to more important topics:
1) Mr. Thicke, you, nor anyone else, does not “know” when someone “want[s] it,” and the fact that what “it” is can’t even be said adds to the simultaneous taboo-ing of all things sexual, while still yet trying to talk about “it” directly, that leads to all sorts of misunderstandings and double-talk when it comes to sex and that can lead to situations like sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape very easily.
2) If what is really going on is projection of the male’s desire for sexual relations with a female–which, let’s be honest, it is–then it would be better to admit that up-front and be honest about it. Does anyone remember the old song lyrics “I want you to want me”? There’s nothing wrong with that sort of approach, and it’s far more honest, sincere, and lacking in outright harm than the reverse, i.e. assuming that someone else “wants it” because one actually “wants it” but can’t admit it.
Now, a two-parter…
3a) “Must” is an assumption, a conclusion, again based on what has been discussed in points #1 and #2 above–projection and unclear communication. “The way you grab me” has nothing to do with how someone might feel in a given situation, and therefore no conclusions should be drawn based on it.
3b) The full line including the word “Must” is “Must wanna get nasty.” (It’s a poor rhyme/bit of lyricism, to be sure, but we’ll be addressing that general matter further in the next point!) The entire discussion of anything sexual in these terms, e.g. “doing the nasty,” and the reference to genitals as “naughty bits” or “junk” or other such euphemisms is a further symptom of how entrenched the overculture is in anti-body, anti-material, and sex-negative patterns of thought which have been inherited from certain dominant creedal monotheistic religions. Talking about sex, bodies, and genitals in these ways is profoundly devaluing, disrespectful, and counter-productive, and leads to all of the neuroses that our culture experiences around even “perfectly normal” forms of sexuality; and it further leads to the abuses that cause rape victims to be treated as in some ways complicit in their victimization, to slut-shaming, and to any number of other things involving pathologization of any sexual expression whatsoever. The further notion that “But you’re a good girl” from the song also plays into this, and the notion not only of “good girls” not ever engaging in sexual activity, but also the diminution and infantalization of adult women as “girls” being so prevalent in popular culture as to be almost unnoticeable amidst all of this.
4) “What rhymes with ‘hug me’?” No, Mr. Thicke, “fuck me” doesn’t rhyme with “hug me” unless you’re illiterate, and you’re not–you’re Canadian. However, “butt-plug me” does rhyme with “hug me,” so I suggest you be honest about your Freudian slip in that regard and teach your wife about pegging.
Okay…so much for “Blurred Lines” and the many failures of its intention, message, and actualities.
All of that having been said: I just watched the YouTube videos for the performance on Sunday night, and I have to say, I don’t really see what all the hype is about. There was nothing particularly shocking about the portrayal of “coming-of-age” or “sexuality” in the performance of Ms. Cyrus. Yes, many are not used to seeing her wearing that few clothes, but full or even partial nudity does not necessarily indicate sexuality nor necessitate sexualization. “Dancing provocatively” also doesn’t necessarily mean that sexuality is indicated…and, anyone who thinks that Ms. Cyrus’ dancing on that occasion (outside of her interactions with Mr. Thicke–and even that wasn’t by necessity sexual either…but the fact that people make the interpretive jump directly to sexualization is telling about the people doing the interpretation!) was provocative needs to think about their own projections and over-sexualizing of the objects of their gaze. Let’s not blame those “objects” for your own objectifications, shall we? I didn’t find her dancing provocative at all; if anything, it was a bit awkward, and looked like she was trying too hard…which isn’t sexy at all in most cases when done by anyone.
This highlights a semantic difficulty in all of this discussion; and by “semantic”–I shouldn’t have to say but given the times we live in I must underline–I mean “the actual meaning of words involved,” not “something ultimately meaningless based on hair-splitting interpretations.” The semantic difficulty I’m referring to is the notion that some of the dancing in these performances was “suggestive,” when in reality it wasn’t at all “suggestive” or “implicit” or “connoting” or “allusive,” it was “indicative” and “explicit” and “denoting” and “descriptive.” The intention, I think, was to do any number of things that to the overculture do not “imply” sexuality, but instead directly “point to” it–with a gigantic foam finger, if necessary, as the case was on Sunday night. There was nothing suggestive about the performance at all, as far as the larger culture is concerned. And yet, we are mired in the world of safe and sometimes witty doubles entendres where all expressions of sexuality are concerned, and where such neutral and pedestrian words like “it,” “unit,” “do,” “junk,” “thing,” and any number of other words that are, if anything, nondescriptive and vague, end up being charged with an explicit semantic quality that can make teenagers and twenty-somethings blush in embarrassment and collapse in laughter when used in everyday conversation (and when one uses the actual and more descriptive terms for sexual actions, genitals, and so forth, forget it…!). Of course, this allusiveness-as-explicitness tendency has occurred in our cultures because of the taboos around actually talking about sex directly and descriptively in a mature fashion. As mentioned above, we all know what the source of these taboos happens to be…
Now, don’t get me wrong: allusion is the mainstay of poetry, and of a great deal that can be called erotic. Some of the most erotic things I’ve ever encountered have an allusive and a suggestive quality to them that can be surprising, breathtaking, and supremely pleasurable to behold. Not all allusions are steeped in the sexual taboos of dominant creedal monotheistic religions, by any stretch of the imagination. Allusion can be an ally, a weapon, a tool, and a pleasure all on its own…
But, all too often, the nature of doubles entendres in the wider culture makes them more akin to humor than to seriousness, whether due to the rather immature approach the wider culture has to these matters, or because the people who resort to them are doing so for comedic or self-deprecating purposes. Thus, whatever “suggestive” or “allusive” qualities might have been part of the performance on Sunday night didn’t then land as erotic, they landed as funny and lacking in seriousness. Sure, play and humor are great and wonderful things to engage in around a variety of issues, sex and spirituality and social issues included; and yet, most people would greet someone in a clown nose and wig in a bar asking if someone wanted to “help raise the big top’s pole” not as a seriously seductive pick-up line, but as a joke. And there certainly was a circus-y quality to the Sunday night performances.
It’s hard to conclude reflections like this on anything other than a rather pessimistic note. So, I’ll attempt to refrain from doing that, and instead suggest that this entire matter and the allure it has had for the media and the popular cultural sphere for the last few days is a kind of useful can of worms that has been opened, and has been an opportunity for examination of some of these issues around which the greater social overculture has been deeply conflicted. It is always possible to take good lessons from these situations and find something useful to think with in them; but, getting over all of the emotional reactions to “our little girl growing up” and so forth so that this type of deeper self-reflection can occur is a necessary first step, and one that unfortunately a great deal of the modern American (and other wider Western) cultures and subcultures have not been properly prepared to do in a mature and useful manner.
I don’t know…what did you think? What are your thoughts on some of these issues?