SPINKS: Leave Miley alone
Our treatment of celebrities raises a serious ethical problem
This is not an academic or respectable way to start a column, but I just need to say it: Everyone needs to back the hell off. More specifically, the public and the mainstream media need to stifle their unrelenting and harsh criticism of celebrities. I will use Miley Cyrus and her recent controversies as my main case study, but my thesis applies more broadly. We need to stop treating celebrities as spectacles and start treating them with the human decency that they deserve.
Some may argue that celebrities “sign up for” this abuse in some way. The constant stream of criticism, objectification and judgment is seen as an acceptable byproduct of fame. We need to reflect on how ridiculous that assertion is, though. Nobody should expect emotional abuse. People never forfeit their right to be treated with some amount of respect. A person’s occupation does not determine how much kindness, empathy or understanding we should show them. The horror stories of talented musicians, actors and artists being pushed to the brink of sanity because of a heartless public are too numerous to reiterate here.
My argument is not that celebrities should get a free pass — they are not entitled to do whatever they want. Some criticisms are fair, especially when a celebrity’s behavior is objectively offensive or harmful. For example, accusing Miley Cyrus of appropriating black culture in her music video for “We Can’t Stop” is valid. She should perhaps be more thoughtful about what her behaviors mean in a larger cultural context, given her own racial and socioeconomic privilege. To play pretend about living the “hood life” or “being ratchet” for three-and-a-half minutes, when you get to go back to your comfortable life immediately afterwards, is offensive to those people who don’t have the same luxury.
That said, valid criticism can be contrasted with criticism about such things as Miley’s VMA performance or her nudity in the “Wrecking Ball” music video. Aside from the fact that such condemnations were steeped in sexism and a societal double standard, they also suggested that outside forces have a greater right to control Miley’s body than Miley herself. Where was the outrage over the part that Robin Thicke played in the VMA debacle? When a middle-aged father of three lets a 20-year old girl grind on him, how is it that we end up angry at the girl? When a woman makes an artistic, heartfelt, emotional music video in which she chooses to exercise her bodily autonomy and non-sexually expose herself, why do we feel affronted? And why do we feel we are entitled to assign her labels such as “slut” or “whore”? Why do we make the assumption that she has no self-respect? Extrapolating character traits from a single observance of behavior is foolish and presumptive. We should examine ourselves and the prejudices that a misogynistic society has ingrained in us, and we should realize that Miley is neither inferior nor superior to us. Either berating or worshipping celebrities disproportionately does them and us a disservice. They are just people, and we should think about the effect that hurtful words and biting articles would have on us if we were in their position.
The dangers of overexposure are, as I’ve said, blatantly clear. Amanda Bynes, while clearly suffering a mental collapse of some sort, surely behaved in ways that were problematic and at times illegal. For example, she was caught smoking marijuana in public and set fire to a driveway of one of her neighbors. I am not making excuses for her. But she said publicly that she was struggling with an eating disorder, she was repeatedly arrested for disorderly conduct and her Twitter was filled with incoherent and troubled tweets. The people that took to Twitter and tweeted insults and ridicules at her should feel absolutely ashamed of themselves. That is crossing a line. That is contributing to her anguish and her struggle, and feeling unashamed of it because of her celebrity status. The double standard is unfair, and it has the potential to contribute to a celebrity’s duress or even possibly suicide, as we’ve seen with Kurt Cobain, (almost) Paris Jackson and many others.
The responsibility level of pop culture consumers and the mainstream media needs to increase. Our current behavior is repugnant, indefensible and dangerous.
Ashley Spinks is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.