By Kevin Howell
Recently at work, I came across a photo of Miley Cyrus from her performance on the Teen Choice Awards. It caught my eye because there was the 16-year-old “Hannah Montana” star straddling a pole as she sang and danced. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions because I didn’t see the show, but when a female is wearing short shorts, high-heel black leather boots, and dancing by a pole, she’s generally trying to make it rain — dollars, that is.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one disturbed by Cyrus’ striptease, as not-so-young-anymore Miley stirred up plenty of criticism for her performance. Some have started to compare her to Britney Spears, which usually isn’t a good thing. But perhaps that’s what Miley is going for.
“She already has this risqué image, so it really wasn’t much of a stretch,” Us Weekly magazine senior editor Ian Drew told New York Newsday. “That’s how Britney took off. She was the good girl gone bad, and it looks to be working for Miley as well.”
Of course, I get the argument that teen stars must shed their wholesome images in order to grow up and reach a broader fan base. We’ve seen it for years, even if we look at Miley’s fellow Disney alumnae Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Both built a following from innocent Disney TV and film roles then turned freaky quickly.
Ultimately, the core of the problem isn’t Miley, Britney, Lindsay, or whoever pioneered the “innocent-to-explicit” career path. The problem is a society that oversells sex. You’ve probably heard this argument before, but honestly, you can’t deny the truth of it. Look at it objectively: when companies have to use sex to advertise website domain registration (GoDaddy.com) and shampoo (Herbal Essence), we’re grossly over-sexed.
We can’t necessarily blamethe advertisers for our shallow obsession, because the tactic wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a market for it. They simply continue to feed the beast — society’s bottomless craving for anything sexual — even if it means itching to turn a teenybopper into a temptress.
I’m starting to see past the hype. I’ve cometo realize that anytime something is excessively promoted, it’s usually lacking at its core. For example, the movies with the biggest advertising budgets and superior special effects usually suck. All the flashiness on the outside tends to hide a weak storyline and poor character development. It’s the same thing with people. We put up personality facades to overcompensate for our insecurities. Guys who flaunt their masculinity and appear tough or hard tend to be insecure and self-conscious. Girls that dress like Lil’ Kim and show off all their “goods” usually lack self-esteem. In the same way, a society that saturates itself with sex is hiding an inner need that sex can’t satisfy. Dawn Eden, a freelance journalist and author of The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, discussed this in a 2007 interview with Relevant Magazine.
“I know from what I see in the pop culture, people know that sex is not satisfying because that’s why the popular culture promotes it so much,” Eden said. “If it were satisfying, it wouldn’t have to be on every advertising billboard and on the radio and in all the movies. People would just know, yeah, that’s what you do if you want to be satisfied. But the culture keeps promoting it because it knows that we really feel a lack with premarital sex; we really feel that something is missing.”
There’s a line in a hip-hop song “Satisfied”that says, “None of it satisfies, some of it gratifies…the fun under the sun is glamorized.” I believe that hook accurately depicts the entrapment of our culture. It offers us gratification — namely sex and the images, appeal, and acts that come with it — but can’t give us satisfaction.
We want hope. We want happiness. We want meaningful relationships. We want acceptance. We want love. These virtues aren’t sexy. They’re somewhat elusive and take patience to obtain. But they bring fulfillment to the true desire of our souls.
I was doing some Wikipedia research on young Miley and found out her birth name is Destiny Hope Cyrus. Her parents chose the name because they believed she was destined to accomplish great things. There’s no doubt she’s a beautiful, talented, and influential girl. My hope is that her career destiny is different from that of her predecessors.
The culture, music industry, Hollywood, and even fans may be anticipating a Miley more like the one who performed at the Teen Choice Awards. She has a choice. She can follow the culture, dress a little less, sex up the lyrics, and draw the attention of an older male audience. You know, the normal way. Or, she can be different. She can be an individual, be countercultural, and blaze a different path. Destiny can offer hope to the millions of little girls who idolize her.