“What is happening?” That’s what the Smith family was thinking as Miley Cyrus lewdly paraded around in a leotard with a teddy bear face. Many of us, including our posses of stuffed animals, probably felt violated after her VMA performance. Even if you were aware that Cyrus promised a ‘crazier’ show than 2003’s VMA kiss between Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Madonna, you couldn’t have anticipate this (right, Billy Ray?). Before stripping down to nude-colored panties, Cyrus had already stuck her tongue out more frequently than Jordan would have in a 40 minute game, slapped one of her dancer’s ass, and repeatedly gyrated while grabbing her crotch–all while supported by a group of giant teddy bears.
True to her words, Miley’s performance was something beyond Madonna’s. This was a raunchy spectacle. In a weird blurring of childhood imagery and adult sexuality, Miley Cyrus made teddy bears feel dirty. But where Madonna has seemed calculated in her antics, It’s hard to know what Cyrus is thinking. Was she telling us “I’m no longer a Disney star!?” (We got that when you solicited nude pictures on social media.) When she was thrusting and grabbing her crotch, was she demanding sexual empowerment or cashing in on sexual exploitation? Hard to say.
Most people don’t have to witness our awkward transformative years into adulthood. It’s the one luxury teenage celebrities can’t afford. From Britney Spears to Amanda Bynes, we watch as these childhood stars cope with identity issues. Some of us snicker at the Lohans and Ryders, gossip about the Barrymores and Aguileras, but most of us sit idly as these stars “fade to black” (to quote Amy Winehouse).
After watching this Cyrus performance, I can only wonder: what is our role as onlookers to these stars’ unraveling? Should we support their antics, or see them as cries for help. And if we understand it as the latter, should we pry them away from the public eye as they work through their issues?