Cultural Commentator

She Can’t Stop, But Maybe She Should: Is Miley Cyrus Racist?

Cultural Commentator

She Can’t Stop, But Maybe She Should: Is Miley Cyrus Racist?

Ain't nothin' but a G thang, eh Miley?
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Miley Cyrus has been getting plenty of flack lately—sometimes from me—for a host of what many consider to be racially insensitive comments and actions since her somewhat recent makeover and related attempt to convince the public that she’s not Hannah Montana anymore. Memo: it’s working. Her much talked-about VMA performance last night, a rendition of “We Can’t Stop” that segued into a “Blurred Lines” duet with with Robin Thicke, is further fanning the flames of controversy, with one side (Vulture writer Jody Rosen) calling it a “minstrel show”, and the other (Mediaite’s insufferable Noah Rothman) insisting that it was harmless and all in a day’s twerk.

Rosen, whose piece I found thoughtful and unsensational if not a bit dry, laid out the context from which he was operating: Miley’s previous comments about hood music, claiming that others wanted to typecast her as a “white Nicki Minaj” and that she must have been Lil’ Kim in a past life. Despite these examples, which don’t even include her verbatim desire to “sound black,” that she is “not ratchet,” or her dismissive tweet embedded below, Rothman bases his entire takedown of Rosen’s piece on the false premise that it was merely Miley’s dancing that made people uncomfortable, while also claiming that it didn’t make anyone uncomfortable. At least he didn’t add “…bitch” at the end of it.

 

Rothman is of the opinion that Rosen is overthinking Miley’s fanciful, energetic performance, an argument he begins by equating what he writes off as a mere complaint about twerking to the decadent state of institutional academia in today’s world. Let me know if you’re still awake by the end of his opening hypothesis, itself a clear use of semantics to avoid addressing the crux of Rosen’s actual argument and its context. “Here is a theory,” Rothman begins. “The linguistic and rhetorical devices that serve as passwords granting access into the modern academic speakeasy are employed more ostentatiously as the institution of social scholarship loses stature. Institutions of all stripes are held in increasingly low regard by the majority of Americans, but the decline of the general prestige of academia is especially lamentable.” LOLWAT?

Rothman then proceeds to shout “GET OFF MY LAWN, CULTURAL SENSITIVITY!” although his own words were, of course, more convoluted: “Rosen’s is a virtuous opinion if only because it is derived from years of acculturation into the insular worldview of the university, which often admonishes those who default to the simplest explanation to explain the world around them.” I’d venture a guess that any issue becomes simple when you’re denying its existence completely; perhaps in Rothman’s mind, and even Cyrus’, ignorance is the antidote to Rosen’s ‘overthinking’.

Is Miley Cyrus racist? No more or less than the rest of the utterly dreadful, soulless and mind-muddling fodder of the VMAs, but that didn’t make it any sadder to have to see Lil Kim hand Macklemore the award for “Best Hip Hop Video” after Miley was done stiffly twerking all the way to the bank. Talk about two pitch-perfect examples of pop artists capitalizing off of historically marginalized demographics to make easy money. If Macklemore really wanted to make a splash in support of gay rights, he should have invited Le1f onstage (if not just to finally demonstrate that “Thrift Shop” is essentially “Wut” with a massive discount). And Miley should probably avoid patently denying accusations that were likely not, um, made (the white Nicki Minaj? Ratchet? Huh?) and let her musical influences come through naturally without tokenizing black culture for financial gain.

Brooklyn rapper Big Baby Ghandi said it best: