I remember watching MTV’s first Video Music Awards in 1984.  Holding up the tape recorder to the TV to record some of my favorite songs, waiting to see which of my favorite videos might win, watching the performances.  The show has certainly changed in the nearly 3 decades since then, as has MTV itself.  But, really, outside of the outward appearance, I’m pretty sure it was just as controversial then as it is now.  I think that people were as scandalized by Madonna rollling around the floor in a garter belt and wedding dress as they were by Miley Cyrus’ performance this past weekend.

Just in case you missed it, and have missed the media coverage, here you go (I can’t promise that no teddy bears were harmed in the making of this performance–nor can I promise that you will enjoy the performance–but at least you’ll know what people have been talking about.


People have been talking about her performance since it started on Sunday, and they haven’t really stopped.  Miley Cyrus has been called a disgrace–has been chastised for her performance–has been called all kinds of names–and has had her values called into question.

But here’s the thing–I’m not sure she did anything all that bad.  Don’t get me wrong, I did not enjoy the performance and those bears might give me nightmares for months to come–but other than offending my sense of taste, I’m not sure that her performance was anything other than a 20 year old girl trying to find her place.

Clearly, she is no longer Hannah Montanna.  And just like so many of us cast off the shells of our teenaged selves as we enter our 20’s, it’s evident that she wants to make a name for herself as an adult.  And, just like so many of us don’t make the best stylistic choices in forging the path towards adulthood neither, it would seem, does she.  Pushing boundaries, moving away from our childhood selves, experimenting with different looks and different actions and different personalities–these are a halmark of late adolesence.  Is it a wonder that this is what we’re seeing from the former child star? She just has the unfortunate task of doing this all in public.

And while, perhaps, misguided in execution, she seems to be trying to  embrace her own emerging sexuality.  While Robin Thicke’s song and its message are certainly problematic, Cyrus seems to be trying to make sense of that message in her own way and to own her own actions.  Instead of ignoring the fact that her younger self may have been sexualized by others, she esentially skins the pedobears and wears them.  This looks, to me, to be a young woman who is reclaiming her identity and owning her own actions and attempting to define her own self, including her sexuality.  And I’m not sure it’s all that bad to see a young person that comfortable in her own skin to be able to put herself out there like that.  And I’m not sure that if she were a young man, people would be so horrified.  But, in reality, we’re not entirely comfortable as a society with women being sexual beings.

Did I enjoy seeing it? Not particularly.  But how she chooses to present herself and how she chooses to behave isn’t really up to me.  I may not want to watch her twerk, but it’s up to me to turn the TV off.

And let’s remember a few things that might put this in context.  Rock stars and pop artists are hardly known for their reputation of being excellent role models.  Dancing has always had an element of sexuality.  She’s a performer who has never really known life outside of the spotlight.  Former child stars often have trouble negotiating the transition to adulthood (as do many non-stars).  This was not a program for children (it had a TV 14 rating, which states that parents are strongly cautioned).  This is a young woman who is at the cusp of late adolescence.  This is a young woman who will always be viewed, to many, as a teeny-bopper Disney star and is trying to move past that.

It is hard for us to see this and just accept it.   Her actions may not reflect our own values.  But, for many, the things that we tried at age 20 don’t reflect those values, either.

But at the same time, I’m not sure it’s fair to this young woman to judge her so harshly.  I’m not sure it’s right for us to call her names and insult her and accuse her of ruining the morals of children.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have opinions about her actions.  And that we can’t state our views of her performance.  But let’s remember: she is a person.  She was created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.  And she deserves respect.

We do not have to like her performance.  We do not have to like her outfit.  We do not have to like her dancing.  We do not have to like her music.  But that’s not confuse that with the need to accept her.  And accept that she’s still a child.  And that she’s going to make mistakes along the way just like all of us have done.

And let’s do our best to educate our own young people to respect themselves, to respect others, and to make good choices.

In honor of today’s actual #BlogElul topic, I’m #Change-ing things up a bit and doing yesterday’s topic, since I missed a couple of days over the weekend and change was on there twice.  I’ll get to the other topics I missed at some point.


About rabbiisa

I'm a Reform Rabbi with a passion for education! I'm also a pop culture fan, political junkie, and NY Times crossword puzzle addict. I am INTP, a proud member of Red Sox Nation, and a fan of the Oxford Comma.

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