Let’s Get Crazy!

Earlier this year I wrote about Miley Cyrus, whom I called “a weird, capering kind of celebrity monster,” chiefly because she was and may indeed still be all of those things. But then again maybe I wrote too soon, because apparently she has had some sort of eleventh-hour change of heart and now “her nipple-flashing self is behind her.”

If true, this is an unalloyed good as far as American pop culture is concerned. For some time now Miley has been a gross and noxious presence on the pop culture scene, and her leaving that life behind can only be a good thing insofar as for years she has made our cultural discourse lower and baser and less pleasant. We “social conservatives” take a lot of crap for our “socially conservative” opinions regarding both popular media and lifestyle habits, but in the end very few people will deny that Miley Cyrus’s modus operandi over the last half-decade or so—a drug-fueled, sexually chaotic mess of perverted social and professional conduct—is an objectively terrible way to both live one’s life and inspire others to live theirs. If she’s calming down, that is a good thing. Nobody doubts this.

Oh, wait, of course someone does. At the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich laments Miley’s “creepy return to wholesomeness:”

Cyrus’s arc—she was a fairly innocent kid who enjoyed a wild period in her early twenties, and, now that she’s about to become someone’s wife, she’s settling down, finding a new way to be (or act) virtuous—is culturally ingrained. Everyone seems to agree that this is an acceptable path forward. And that’s what’s so troubling about it. It’s not so much that Cyrus has changed (or that she has, at least, changed tack strategically; both are so ordinary as to be banal), it’s that this is what everybody thinks a grownup woman looks like: pretty, tamed, straight, still, white…

Performing adulthood becomes dangerous when the performance is so limiting…For young women, this is a narrow path forward: become less selfish and wayward only by embracing antiquated notions of femininity and propriety. Is there not some functional middle ground to occupy? Cyrus’s about-face is so sharp, it obliterates any chance for a more subtle and multitudinous understanding of personal progress. It’s hard not to pine for that wagging tongue.

It is easy enough, I guess, to write about “a more subtle and multitudinous understanding of personal progress” when you’re not coming from a five-year coke-, peyote- and ecstasy-soaked post-adolescent binge. But most people who have been there, and been lucky enough to escape with their lives and their health, are happy enough to move on without attempting to occupy a “functional middle ground.” There is, in fact, nothing at all wrong with being a grownup (or, in the insufferable rhetoric of Millennialism, “performing adulthood”) where “being a grownup” looks like “not taking a bunch of drugs and leading a fashionably trashy and dirty lifestyle.” When your entire persona revolves around a kind of moneyed white trash deportment, you should want to grow up and stop being a dipshit.

Miley is right to want to move on from all of this (if that is indeed what she’s doing). Petrusich is lamenting the loss of something utterly not worth lamenting. It is worth pointing out that Petrusich herself appears to come from a place of idyllic stability and propriety—a two-parent household with both parents holding down good jobs—a lifestyle, in other words, that is rarely possible if your “multitudinous understanding” of proper behavior involves the kind of crap Miley Cyrus was into. It is mildly pathetic to witness a grown woman lamenting another grown woman’s having left behind a life of debauched meaninglessness. It’s actually a good thing to grow up and “settle down.” Would that our silly and self-indulgent culture understood that more often.

2 comments

  1. Donn

    May I suggest a possible bottom line? Ms. Petrusich’s “revisionist” screed got her published in the once-prestigious New Yorker, and all the fame and fortune among the “anointed” that accompanies that. After all, in our growing rabble-rouser industry, where anyone can throw in their two cents (adjusted for inflation), someone has to question and speak out about anything and everything, even the most mundane developments of our time. Why not make a name and a few bucks in the process? Human flourishing in our society and the common good be damned.

  2. David

    I’m not a particular fan of Ms. Cyrus. As an entertainer I neither like nor dislike her although I have been aware of her since her pseudo-mouseketeer phase. I know enough about her to appreciate her period of teen rebellion seems to have been largely a reaction to the hypocrisy she saw around her in Nashville where so many people espoused one set of values while living another. Perhaps she has grown to the stage where she realizes that the merit of a set of values has little to do with the quality of the cheerleaders for those values & are best considered in the context of how you as an individual truly want to live your life. People tend to wear masks when encountering the world because they are concerned that their “true” selves may be in some way unacceptable.

    If I may attempt to put myself in the shoes of Ms. Petrusich, the legitimate basis for her disappointment may be the understanding that conservatism & creativity have very little to do with each other. For an entertainer, becoming conservative often signals an end to their “creative phase” & the entering of their nostalgia tours or Las Vegas phase. There are always exceptions but they are the exception not the rule. I want to clarify that my use of “conservative” & “liberal” in this context has little to do with politics as these days both major political party’s seem to intertwine their labels in strange ways with the original meanings of the labels. Artists are often excessive in their “liberalism” because it is part of their function to help society explore new ideas & new mythologies with which we describe ourselves. I would even argue that the artist is the most important person in any civilization because without the artist we do not know who we, as a society, are. Our myth-makers define who we are.

    To state what should be obvious, the advancement of society occurs through a tension between liberal & conservative urges. Too much liberalism leads to excessive destruction while too much conservatism leads to excessive stagnation. Any cursory investigation of history should render this self-evident. The question becomes how to strike the right balance. The proper function of politics is to encourage the discussion that leads each society to find its balance which, of course, can shift over time.

    As entertainers go, I was always very fond of John Hartford (I know, none of you kids probably have a clue who he is unless you are die hard bluegrass fans). He wrote a variety of interesting songs covering a range of topics and has been credited with spinning off several genres of music because he accomplished that delightful goal of being exactly who he was rather than copying other folks. He wrote a particularly apt song for Daniel’s blog entry today; Trying to Do Something to Get Your Attention. If you actually take the time to listen to the whole thing you should be aware that at the time of it being published the song dueling banjos was very popular.

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