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Why Miley Cyrus matters

Miley Cyrus debuted the music video for her latest single, “Wrecking Ball,” on Monday, earning the most-ever views on Vevo in a 24-hour period. And if that weren’t enough of an ego boost for the Disney-star-turned-provocateur, new stats show that Cyrus dominated the Internet over Syria after her controversial performance at the VMAs.

“Americans viewed twelve times as many pages about Miley Cyrus as they did about Syria — even though the news sources published 2.4 Syria articles for every one about Miley,” writes New York magazine’s Maureen O'Connor.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans care more about Miley Cyrus twerking than the harrowing situation in Syria, where innocent civilians have been gassed to death. I’m sure for a lot of adults, she’s been an intermittent distraction.

But that doesn’t mean Cyrus doesn’t matter. Some parents whose kids look up to Cyrus’ Disney character Hannah Montana are horrified -- as though Cyrus is the first child star to grow up and act like she’s in her 20s. And for those who fought so that women could succeed not on their looks or body parts but on their merits, Cyrus’ sexualized performances sure do seem to be pushing buttons.

In her latest provocation, Cyrus is seen licking a sledgehammer and straddling a wrecking ball while in the buff. You could critique it as borderline pornographic, or you can appreciate it for its symbolism. I’ll go with the latter, even if I think the video’s representation of “destructive love” is a little on-the-nose.

Yes, the video is suggestive. And yes, it’s problematic that it was directed by Terry Richardson, who is, as The Times’ Scott Collins writes, “a controversial figure in the fashion world who's been repeatedly accused of exploiting kids and inappropriately touching models.”

Still, as long as Cyrus is in control of her body and how she uses it, then more power to her. Of all the problematic celebrities out there, Cyrus is hardly someone to worry about. (At least at this point in time.) We might even consider giving her kudos.

After the VMAs, The Times’ Robin Abcarian saw an empowered woman in Cyrus and defended her performance with Robin Thicke, writing that Cyrus “used him as a prop, bending over and backing into him.” Abcarian continued:

When it comes to sexual exploitation, it’s performers like Thicke who have something to answer for.

In Thicke’s creepy “Blurred Lines” video, he and two other male singers, Pharrell Williams and T.I., wear snappy suits while bare-breasted young women in nothing but thongs dance around them and vamp like strippers. It’s disturbing to see the juxtaposition of the naked women with the fully dressed men. Especially since they’re used as ornaments. […]

You might hate Cyrus’ songs or disapprove of her using the stage as a glorified strip club.

But at least she was nobody’s ornament.

So, is Miley Cyrus more important than Syria, as user interest seems to suggest? Of course not. But discussing the direction of women in our culture, and what it means to be empowered, shouldn’t be dismissed as nonsense just because it’s a former Disney star who sparked the conversation.

ALSO:

America's Cup: Huge egos, fast boats

John Kerry's me-and-my-big-mouth solution on Syria 

Jenny McCarthy on 'The View': Trust doctors, not stars, on vaccines

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier and Google+

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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