Oh, Miley!

As long-time Culturebot readers will know, I have an ongoing fascination with the evolution of the Teen age Girl In Popular Culture, beginning with Valley Girl in the early 80’s, through Clueless in the 90’s to Britney and, now, Miley Cyrus. One day I guess I’ll go to grad school and write a thesis. Or maybe get some funding from somebody to do an experimental theater piece about the changing representations of femininity and power as exemplified by Teen Girls in American Popular Culture. But probably not.

I don’t have cable – I just stick the cable in the back of my TV and see what I get – I can always rely on C-Span, NY1, The Food Network and Bravo, but the other come in and out. The other day I was just going through the channels (Wow! I got SPIKETV! When did that happen?) when I somehow managed to get Disney Kids, where I saw the Jonas Brothers. Not terribly interesting. A bunch of neutered mama’s boys, but I can see why teen girls would like them. And I can hope that at least one of them will go bad or come out as queer. But in the meantime….

I also so this Miley Cyrus video:

And was kind of stunned and I’m not sure why. It wasn’t the music – I had never really heard Miley’s music (the ownership thereof being somewhat in question) but I wasn’t surprised that it was bland, inoffensive, catch-y mall rock, kind of like Alanis Morrisette Lite. Which is funny because Alanis Morrisette was kind of like, oh, Sleater-Kinney Lite. I guess. Back then I was listening to 7 Year Bitch, L7, Mudwimmin and stuff like that, when it came to “chicks who rock”. Even Liz Phair was more authentic. So I’m just going to take the whole authenticity thing off the table.

I think it was the video itself – this parade of actual teen girls getting truly and authentically worked up about their ex-boyfriends. And, knowing full well that this was completely manufactured, that Miley Cyrus is completely manufactured, that all of this has been carefully crafted and market-tested to appeal to its target demographic, I was amazed out how hear-felt and real it seemed. I later found out that the video was directed by Brett Ratner, which added to the corporate-processed veneer of the whole thing. Yet still, here is a generation of Juliets and we should never underestimate the power of the teenage girl or her emotions. Certainly by design and certainly through product testing, the industry has realized that Teen Girls respond to other Teen Girls who understand the turmoil that they are going through. And thus the video unashamedly, unambiguously, unironically and without condescension, validates those emotions. “Miley is like you,” it says, and here are some other girls like you – and here follows a parade of artfully quirky and “authentic” young girls lip-syncing, crying, playing, dancing, being “themselves” and I have to say my inner 14-year-old-girl responded. Oh my god, Miley, you like, totally get me!

I haven’t really done a lot of research on Miley and her YouTube following, I haven’t given a lot of extended thought to how this relates to empowerment or any of the big issues. But this video was made for teenage girls, which is different than Britney’s whose videos seemed to be made for guys. Is it moving forward or moving back? It is just fluff, but there’s something to it. In strange counterpoint, Saturday night I was exhausted and flipping through the tv stations while I did some paperwork. I stopped when I came to SNL which was broadcasting a “best of” or something and there was Janis Ian looking very young and very nervous, heartbreakingly vulnerable and absolutely earnest as she stood up for every awkward teenage girl and sang At Seventeen:

I am not ready to theorize on whether we’ve made progress or not. I just place them in juxtaposition and allow you to draw your own conclusions. Or comment.


Read more about Miley and the video for “7 Things” on the L.A. Times “Extended Play” blog by Todd Martens.

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