Miley Cyrus, the GOP and the Content Seesaw
We’ve been taken for a ride, apparently. Or all those who were up in arms as Miley Cyrus seemed to take a wrecking ball to her fading career — i.e., concerned parents and the media that helped voice their concerns — were taken for a ride.
I sat on the sidelines of the whole affair without comment when it began immediately after the VMA awards — I honestly couldn’t see what the fuss was about her twerking. I find videos on YouTube of pubescent gay boys twerking more disturbing. I thought she was badly styled, perhaps, but in great shape and in full command of her performance. Sure, the tongue thing was supremely vulgar (if hilariously unsexy), but it had a faint whiff of a branding gimmick. And it appears that’s just what it was.
The media woke up yesterday morning after Cyrus killed it on Saturday Night Live to realize that they had been duped by an elaborate publicity stunt. On SNL she was more in control of her performance than ever, energized by the success of her reboot to the extent those hair nubs sent off vibrations like the old RKO radio-tower logo. Over the course of her reboot, when she was rarely out of the public dialogue, Cyrus had even provoked the borderline-insane, Pope-picture-tearing Sinéad O’Connor, always a reliable source for bite-worthy, shouty-crackers outrage. Cyrus sparked the whole incident off by claiming that “Nothing Compares to You” was the inspiration behind “Wrecking Ball.” Really? Hmm. I have a hard time seeing the correlation, other than that the image of Cyrus riding a wrecking ball is symbolic of the way she rode O’Connor; when the Irish singer posted her concerned-celeb open letter, Cyrus leaped on that happy accident by retweeting O’Connor’s public pleas for emergency psychiatric help not too long ago, and sparked a Twitter war that left the older woman calling her lawyers.
Silly Sinéad. Perhaps if you’d read Donny Osmond’s op-ed piece in Time about Miley Cyrus back in 2008 you would have seen this coming:
Within three to five years, Miley will have to face adulthood. Fans grow up, and their youthful interests quickly dissolve. Her challenge will be overcoming the Hannah Montana stereotype. Miley’s fans are not thinking about the fact that she will grow up too. As she does, she’ll want to change her image, and that change will be met with adversity. It’s next to impossible to fight, embrace, use or love your image. Trust me. I’ve seen this all play out before; it’s the same ball game, just different players in a different time.
I doubt anyone in the media was really duped by Cyrus and her rebranding team. The media played the game with her by donning masks of disingenuousness, helping her fan the controversy with leading questions to concerned parents, commenting on how ungrateful she was to the motherly O’Connor, all the while grateful for the quality content Cyrus was providing, a cotton-candy distraction from the saturation of all that heavy, stressful political/war/economic stuff.
Then today came the real purpose of all this: Cyrus’ new album “Bangerz” was officially released. Her new image is perfected, topped off by a redeeming performance on SNL, her insane-cartoon wild-child rebranding successfully burned into the communal mind, hair nubs, nubile body, massive tongue and all. Even her goofy voice and southern accent have been given a boost by being integrated into the overall logo treatement. As Cyrus said on SNL, the very show on which O’Connor shredded a picture of the Pope, “Hannah Montana is dead.”
Yes, it seems like a game because that’s what the content wars are in the end: a give-and-take seesaw with one force pushing against the other, never completely balancing out, never ending.
When I think of that seesaw in a political context, I see the desperate attempts by the GOP to adjust the imbalance that is plunging them ever higher in the air. It just gets worse for them in the polls as the shutdown-meltdown threatens to tip over into yet another debt-ceiling crisis.
As I’ve written before, it’s common for people to have a hard time seeing that they are wrong about an issue, and they will often go to elaborate lengths to make themselves right, even at the cost of making themselves wronger. Religious folk are particularly susceptible to noodle-brained thinking, especially in this day and age, so they have no problem distorting reality and thinking it and the process of distortion completely normal and acceptable. However, when you are by all logical and empirical measures wrong, the strain of making yourself right can cause psychosis, and we’re seeing a lot of that right now.
It’s a lot of fun to watch the GOP’s shutdown-meltdown psychosis reach feverish pitches — sitting way up there on the seesaw while the Democrats, firmly weighted with legal and moral righteousness, cackle down below seems to be making Republicans hysterical with vertigo. This clip from Anderson Cooper 360 last night sums it up for me:
Maybe my suspicions are sharpened after the recent Miley Cyrus rebranding con, but I’m not buying that the GOP isn’t fully aware of the damage to the party, damage that is primarily directed at the fanatical Tea Party faction, and isn’t letting it happen to some degree in a cynical way that would not be unnatural for any successful political entity. Just as Cyrus played O’Connor’s wacko nature to her advantage, Michele Bachmann has been cast as a Pied Piper — insane eyes and teeth gleefully a-glitter — to lead other Tea Partiers into the mountain, where they will hopefully disappear for good. The hits the GOP will take come midterm elections next year will be for the good of the future of the party, a culling of the rabid from the herd, an eradication of the weeds choking the garden.
At the risk of sounding like a shouty-crackers conspiracy theorist myself, I just don’t buy the Obama-Boehner antagonism. And my reasoning is simple and not a little whacky itself: They’re both smokers. I see them standing on the White House lawn having a quick one between meetings, just like homicide detectives splitting up good-cop/bad-cop roles outside a witness interrogation room. Boehner says, “I gotta let this crazy shit happen, B. I’ll stand behind the lunatic fringe, pretend I support them. But in a couple of years these bozos will be out and we’ll get some balance back.” And Obama shrugs, “Go for it, John. I’m with you on this.”
Just as careers on the right are being destroyed by the current content wars, others on the left are being built. Elizabeth Warren’s speeches are tearing up the Internet. Where there was once talk about her running with Hillary Clinton in 2016, now there are murmurs of her making a run for the Oval Office herself. Take a look at this clip — Warren really lets lose at around the 4:00 mark:
Perhaps the most successful outcome of these content wars has been the rebranding of the GOP as terrorists holding the American people “hostage” with a “gun to our heads.” It’s been repeated so often, so successfully that it just keeps booting Republicans higher in the air on that seesaw. And there won’t be any coming down after this for a good long time. If ever they try a tactic like this again, the same hostage/gun-to-the-head metonym will be trotted out. And Americans really don’t like terrorist analogies, just as they are growing weary of guns. Democrats are using every opportunity to dump entire armories on the GOP, and it’s working.
But probably the most brilliant happy accident about the shutdown meltdown is it has completely distracted the media from what could have served the GOP far better than trying to hold the government hostage with an illogical gun to its head: So far, Obamacare is a flop! As a member of the disenfranchised 15% that is supposed to benefit from it, I’m saying no way — I’ll pay the penalty rather than sign up, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Take a look at Jon Stewart’s cringe-worthy grilling of Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Kennedy:
When Jon Stewart, of all people, pushes you, a well-meaning liberal, that far up in the air on the content seesaw, your goose is truly cooked. Or it should be. But the truth about Obamacare will likely fly under the radar for the time being. Will it be long enough for Obama and his team to iron out the kinks in the program? I’m not sure it will. Will the ACA catch on over the months and have at least a moderate success? Perhaps. My guess is the GOP is likely to use the inevitable difficulties with the ACA rollout to restore some balance to the seesaw, but not enough to save the Tea Party. In the meantime, Obama will be on the lookout for any happy accident that will weight the balance in favor of Democrats, and ensure the last two years of his presidency are relatively smooth and content-war free.