I know, I know, we’re all sick of talking about Miley Cyrus. Regardless of the obvious cultural appropriation and insensitivity she displayed at the VMA’s with her twerk debacle, the debate on whether or not her overt sexuality is empowering (or degrading) continues.
Today, she released her new video for her song “Wrecking Ball.” In the song, she describes the heartbreak and loss that can come with truly falling in love with someone who might not reciprocate the feeling: “Don’t you ever say I just walked away/ I will always want you." In the video, Cyrus performs the following: she weeps epic tears, simulates oral sex on a sledgehammer, rides a wrecking ball in the nude, breaks walls with said wrecking ball and sledgehammer, and lies on the floor amongst the rubble.
Of course, there is a public (an mostly unjustified) outrage against her sexuality: The Guardian’s Michael Hann, for example, suggests it might deem her an unworthy role model for young women. He writes, “As a parent, I can't help but be glad that my daughter's favourite records of the moment include Same Trailer Different Park and [Taylor] Swift's last album, Red.” Is Hann's way of thinking about Cyrus’ new video a form of slut-shaming? I think so, and that's not okay.
Hann also commented, "Exposing yourself so completely makes your flaws all the more apparent.” It is unacceptable to attack Cyrus’ nudity purely because it is erotic and while Hann's comment wasn't necessarily meant to shame, it gravely upsets me.
Much of the anger over Cyrus’ recent behavior is over her shedding her cutesy, little Disney star image. But sexuality is natural and Hann does recognize that, “Part of the journey into adolescence consists of casting aside childhood,” he explains. Sexuality is natural and beautiful, people!
But the more concerning aspect of the video is the way Cyrus seems less of an active sexual agent than a passive sex object. As Hann notes, director Terry Richardson is not known for portraying women as more than “a blow-up sex doll.” Although there are moments, like those when Cyrus gyrates on the wrecking ball or smashes things, where her body does seem active, even empowered. But the entire time she stares into the camera as if to say, “this is all for your pleasure.” It’s beautiful to find someone whom you “always want,” someone you want to pleasure physically, but her sorrow and tears, her laying amongst smashed rubble on the ground singing, “all you ever did was wreck me/ Yeah you wreck me,” don’t suggest undying love as much as they do complete submission. And that isn’t empowering; it’s the opposite.
The objectification in this video is most symptomatic of the way women are treated in music videos ("Blurred Lines," anyone?). Miley herself isn't at fault here; Terry Richardson and others in the industry are famous for treating women badly. The public's outrage at Miley isn't properly placed in this case.
I will say some things for Miley’s video. Her voice is incredible, and her performance is powerful. The set, oddly, reminds me of Francesca Woodman’s feminist house photographs. In Woodman’s self-portraits, the domestic realm gets warped, simultaneously entrapping and enthralling the artist. Miley, in her video, does something similar: in an allusion to her failed engagement to Liam Hemsworth, she literally destroys the “female sphere,” the walls of the domestic realm. Without the distraction of the shock value of her suggestive body language and without Richardson’s turning her into a sex object, the image of the nude woman moving within and navigating a misshapen home space could be quite moving and progressive.
Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
What do you think about Cyrus’ most recent video? Watch below, and let us know in the comments!
Images via New York Dailey News and Telegraph/George and Betty Woodman
Video via YouTube