Sarah DayOur guest blog this week is by London-based writer Sarah Day who considers the explicit, or exploited, image of popster Miley Cyrus.

We need to talk about Miley. We need to watch videos of nearly naked Miley gyrating against a man dressed as a humbug, wistfully comparing her to Innocent Disney Miley. We need to read five – count them, five – open letters from Sinead O’Connor, warning her of the dangers of becoming a prostitute to the music industry. We need to worry about whether Miley is empowered, liberated, or the puppet of an industry that’s blurring the lines between entertainment and pornography. We need to find a way to explain Miley to young girls who remember her as a teenager with long blonde hair and an innocent smile.

If you’ve managed to avoid the Miley storm so far, it began in August at the VMAs, an arena famous for its shock tactics, where she gave a performance which has been variously described as ‘raunchy’ and ‘a train wreck.’ If you haven’t seen it, it’s hard to describe, but involves a latex two piece, a giant foam finger, and a lot of bending over.

The performance holds the dubious title of most tweeted about event in history – 360,000 per minute at its height. Which might sound meaningless, were it not for the increasing significance of social media in global events, from the Arab spring to the Japanese earthquake. There have been thousands of ‘news’ articles, think pieces, analyses and commentaries, all of them opportunities to publish more pictures of naked Miley, whilst agonising over the age old questions the entertainment industry has always posed – is it entertainment, or exploitation? Are Sinead O’Connor’s letters, in which she advises Miley that ‘you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped,’ genuine, heartfelt advice, or slut shaming? Either way, we can’t stop talking about it.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting there were two people on stage at the VMAs. The other was Robin Thicke, whose ‘Blurred Lines’ has been the hit of the year. The track’s video features Thicke and his two male collaborators, fully clothed, surrounded by naked models who dance awkwardly around them, crawl about on all fours, have their hair pulled and sometimes stick their feet in his face. The lyrics feature allusions to rape, and what he describes as “the blurred lines between a good girl and a bad girl…even very good girls all have little bad sides to them.”

Compare that to Miley’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ video, where she swings about, solo, on said wrecking ball like some sort of nudist construction worker, whilst bemoaning a bad break up. I know which one I find more disturbing.

Where are all the think pieces about Robin Thicke? Where is the hand wringing over what values young boys are learning from him? The warnings to youngsters, male or female, that if a man nearly twice your age dressed as a humbug gyrates against you singing ‘I know you want it’, you are not obliged to strip to your flesh coloured undies and bend over

Where is the heartfelt, slightly condescending letter from, I don’t know, Tom Jones, warning Robin that if he continues to sell himself as a stripy clad rape apologist it might have a detrimental effect on his career in the long run?

Here’s what Thicke has to say about the criticism he’s received:

‘We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, “We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.” People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before.”’

That interview came out months ago. We’ve been too busy agonising over Miley Cyrus’ nudity to pay it much attention.

There’s a reason no one has warned Thicke it might damage his career: it won’t. There are even new stories to confirm that, for anyone who might still be worried. Headlines like ‘Miley’s dance won’t damage Robin Thicke’. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I watched that clip from the VMAs, hands over my eyes, I wasn’t worrying about the damage it might do to him.

Slate’s John Dickerson has called Cyrus’ career a sign of ‘moral, spiritual and creative exhaustion.’ Well, I’m exhausted too. It’s exhausting to have to constantly debate the role of women in the entertainment industry. Constantly hear calls for female stars to act more modestly, be more appropriate. When will men be asked to do the same? When The University of Auckland’s Law Revue made a parody ‘Defined Lines’ video, featuring fully clothed women dancing around men in their underwear, it was swiftly, though thankfully temporarily, banned for being ‘inappropriate’.

Critics of Miley Cyrus are keen to remind us that she’s only twenty. She’ll grow out of it eventually.

Robin Thicke is thirty six. When will he grow out of it?

Sarah Day is a London-based writer and Earth Sciences communicator for the Geological Society. She can be found on twitter @geowriter

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