This is my first post from the home front. I guess I ran out of things to talk about (read: think about) half way through my time in Haiti, and by the time I reemerged stateside, my life didn’t seem very interesting or noteworthy.
But something happened, apparently on TV last night, and on my Facebook newsfeed today, that made me want to get back to writing this blog.
That thing was, of course, the now-infamous Miley Cyrus twerking.
Now, as most of you are probably aware, Miley Cyrus twerked last night on the VMAs.
I’m not sure.
I didn’t watch it.
And, except for this one piece from the Onion, I didn’t read any of the stories about it. (Side note: if you look up a story from the Onion on Google, it now says “(satire)” next to it, probably to ensure that that time when some congressman in Louisiana thought the Abortionplex was real doesn’t happen again).
I’m not sure what the context was. I’m not sure whether she did or did not twerk, or why, or how well. I’m not sure what twerking actually is, but I imagine it would hurt. I didn’t watch the VMAs, and I don’t even know what VMA stands for.
When I saw the obscene quantity of twerk-related content flooding my Facebook page, I felt a familiar sense of being, once again, out of the loop. Like that time this summer, when… that one team in Florida won… sports. You get the idea.
It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the story so far: The VMAs are one of those things lots of people watch, like sports, and Miley Cyrus (that girl from Hannah Montana) got on stage and twerked, which is a dance thing that, like most dance things, white people just shouldn’t do.
And then everybody freaked out about it.
I was fully prepared to have an Aaron Sorkin-esque anyeurism over the amount of attention this not-even-remotely-news-story was receiving on Teh interw3bz, particularly on Teh n3wz, until I started paying closer attention to the articles people were posting about it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I actually read any of these articles, but I did read the titles of several of them. And in so doing, I noticed something kind of cool.
Most of these weren’t announcements of the twerking. A few of them were .gifs of Miley twerking in front of famous paintings and similar lists from Buzzfeed, but the vast majority of them were something else. They were real articles using Miley Cyrus’ twerking to talk about real things.
They were about the slut-shaming and anti-feminist backlash against Miley for the twerking. They were about the ethics and politics of white women standing “in solidarity” with black women, and with appropriating elements of traditionally black culture. Or, perhaps most poignantly, they were commentary on how ridiculous it is that this story has been getting so much attention in the news, and ridiculing the shameful way this country’s mainstream news media has spent the last several years utterly failing to do their jobs. They had turned this utterly stupid non-story into the catalyst for important conversations.
For example, a friend of mine posted this blog of Miley Cyrus twerking on things we should actually care about.
I still don’t really care about Miley Cyrus, but I do care about what this says about the news and the way we are receiving it.
1) The first of these observations isn’t new: The news has devolved from actual reporting into mindless ratings-grubbing entertainment, at once appealing to and further lowering the lowest common denominator of American culture.
2) Even though the news no longer reports the news, and this is the kicker, we’re now using the Not The News to have the same important conversations as a society that we used to have about The News.
The questions of racism, sexism, cultural appropriation, shaky claims of “solidarity,” media bias and priorities that we ought to have had over Oscar Grant and Sean Bell and Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin, DOMA, the abortion debate, rape culture, and all news coverage of the 2010 and 2012 elections (to name a few), we have still found a way to have. But now, Miley Cyrus is twerking on them.
In sum, the news to society chain has evolved thus:
- Actual reporting of actual news => informed debate of issues that matter
- Sensationalized “reporting” of bullshit entertainment => Stupid people doing stupid things.
- Sensationalized bullshit => (admittedly less informed) debate of issues that matter anyway
This is weirdly heartening. The lack of good news has bred a less informed and more idiotic populace*, but that populace has chewed enough on this fodder for brainlessness and is ready to go back to giving a shit about things that matter.
* For proof that bad reporting has made us pretty stupid: The people of the great state of Louisiana elected to public office a man who thought an Onion article about the “Abortionplex” was real.
Maybe I’m just trying to polish a shit, but I’m impressed that, even in the face of some of the worst, most cringeworthy and shameful news this country has ever seen in recent years, the world (or at least my newsfeed) has found a way to turn the twerking into the stuff of important, enlightening social debate.
I think it is disheartening that my newsfeed saw less interested debate when Prism was uncovered or Manning was sentenced or the Zimmerman verdict came in, but while those topics are considerably more important, they’re decidedly less fun. Furthermore, I’m impressed that people have taken the twerking story and made it something to have a real conversation about. It’s perhaps even more impressive that we’re talking about important issues when this is our news.
I think the conversations I’ve seen begin in the last 24 hours are conversations we need to be having. If we need Miley twerking to set them off, I’ll take it.