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In a society where you can buy string bikinis for babies, where there are children wearing clothing that say “wink wink” or “juicy” across the butt and popular shows like the psychological train wreck Toddlers and Tiaras and the salacious teen series Gossip Girls, and when people like your mom are taking classes at pole dancing gyms, is it really that shocking for an almost 21-year-old Miley Cyrus to hit the stage at the VMA Awards half-dressed, saucily rubbing herself up against singer Robin Thicke?

As I told one friend who seemed surprised by the stripper antics, the actual moves of Miley were not anything you wouldn’t see at a hot club full of dancing 20-somethings—well, you know, minus the feely foam finger. While the performance was certainly odd and jarring, moving from dancing with oversized, dancing teddy bears in a fuzzy bear unitard to stripping down to a flesh-colored PVC bikini, twerking and grinding against singer Robin Thicke, wagging her foam finger provocatively and sticking out her tongue, it wasn’t entirely out of place with anything Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry or, say, Madonna (with and without Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera) wouldn’t or haven’t ever done—hey, even Prince has performed on MTV in a leopard one-piece with his derriere exposed. Spears and Aguilera would have us thinking that overtly sexual behavior is actually necessary for breaking the barrier from child bubble gum pop princess to adult STAR. Some could say Cyrus was just putting her own quirky spin on reenacting the 36-year-old Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, which has plenty of bare skin in it without Miley Cyrus.

Publicity Stunt, Parody or Just Poor Choices?

Conversations have flooded the ‘Net about whether the performance was sexually and/or racially exploitative. Is Cyrus conforming to fit into an overly sexualized industry, or is she consciously pushing the envelope just to shock people, with the thinking that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Is she genuinely drawn to and inspired by hip hop and rap culture, or is she just parodying and, as one Jezebel writer puts it, ratcheting the culture and accessorizing with black people?

Parents in particular are saying the former Hannah Montana star is setting a bad example for her younger fans, while one Twitter user had this to say in response:

Singer/songwriter Jon Lajoie added to the social commentary with his song, Miley, You’re a Good Girl, which covers the contradictions and double standards in pop culture, where pop culture embraces sexual objectification and half-naked, overly sexual women, but when Miley Cyrus, the girl we’ve built up as a wholesome Disney princess, grows up to fill the adult pop star role, there’s a huge uproar. People are singling Cyrus out to question her ethics, morals and sanity, as if there are no other young, female performers out there doing the exact same thing.

Today's Children Have Seen It All Before

Two years ago, I saw Katy Perry for free on her California Dreams Tour—a friend of the guy I was dating loved her, so we all were going. I wasn’t completely prepared for the pre-teen manic fandom surrounding Katy Perry, for the 11-year-old girls Weeble Wobbling to get from the parking garage to the arena in their misguided miniskirts and ridiculously high heels, or for the high-pitched squeals, tireless dancing and off-key sing-a-longs every time Perry busted out one of her radio hits.

I felt like a dinosaur, watching the crowd below from my box seats until I caught the more mature and subversive messages spread through the Alice in Wonderland Goes Gothic videos that showed in between songs. And then something even more disturbing than a grown woman dancing around in candy-striped dresses and rainbow wigs happened—Katy Perry, wearing a bustier and faux peacock feathers, broke into her male genitalia laced song, “Peacock.” I watched in horror as teens and tweens, some as young as 8 or 9, mimicked her suggestive dance, including hand gestures that simulated sexual behavior. Though I’m not a mother yet myself, my first instinct was to jump down and herd all those children out of the audience to go grab some ice cream at a roller skating rink. But these girls were lapping up Perry’s performance like a lollipop. I don’t know if their parents were clueless about what these girls were listening to and watching, or if they simple didn’t care—I couldn’t decide which was more troubling.

While I found her VMA performance over the top, I neither condemn nor defend Cyrus over it—I think she’s simply a cog in a pretty messed-up machine. Yet it certainly raises very interesting questions about the current wave in culture today. One can’t help but wonder about how boredom with the norm bleeds into other aspects of our lives—sensationalism seems to be the key to capturing the average Joe or Jane’s attention. If so, Cyrus seems to be playing the game just right!

If you haven’t caught it yet and want to see for yourself, watch Miley Cyrus’s performance in “We Can’t Stop/Blurred Lines/Give in 2 U (Medley)”.

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