Of Miley Cyrus, Miss World and crossing red lines
Miley Cyrus performs at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Maybe it was the heat and humidity last week or maybe it was Miley Cyrus doing her astonishingly awful performance of “We Can’t Stop” on the MTV Video Music Awards with almost no clothes on but with plenty of teddy bears ... but something is getting under my skin.
Let me lay a few cards on the table. I’m not a conservative, not a member of the Republican Party, nor a member of the Moral Majority, the Tea Party, or the Christian right. In fact, I have worked and lived my life toward the opposite end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, I have to affirm that there are some of those “red lines” in areas other than weapons of mass destruction. Here are a few examples:
Miss Cyrus’ lack of singing and dancing talent is one thing, and I suppose she’s not totally responsible for that — she’s doing the best she can. However, she is responsible for her morality. The sexually explicit dance moves and provocative costume (or lack thereof) together with the pre-teen imagery of cuddly dancing teddy bears and a pre-pubescent hairdo is something that crosses a red line.
Doing an act of that sort in a club on the lower East Side of Manhattan is one thing — however, Cyrus was strutting her stuff on MTV across the planet. MTV Networks International reaches well over a billion people in 164 countries. By the way, there are only 185-195 countries in the world, depending on one’s method of counting. MTV’s broadcasts are lumped together (it’s called “bundled”) with standard programming such as CNN, the History Channel, the Weather Channel, local channels, etc. I think MTV crossed a red line.
It’s a very sure bet that Miley’s exhibition has made its way into many cultures and countries that find this sort of thing highly, highly offensive. Whether we like it or not, MTV is viewed as a “representative” of Western culture around the world. And that is an accurate view. In a somewhat similar vein, the Miss World Pageant is viewed around the world as a “representative” of Western culture. That’s a fact.
The Miss World Pageant is the oldest international beauty pageant and was founded by Eric Morley in England in 1951 as a promotional tool for his company’s dance halls. The company was named Mecca. That’s right: “Mecca.”
Mecca Leisure Ltd was a British company that specialized in running social clubs, gambling, dance halls, etc. Needless to say, the name Mecca was an offensive play on the most sacred religious site of Islam, a religion that disapproves of drinking, gambling and dancing. The company’s famous dance hall in Blackpool was named Mecca. That crossed a red line.
Now in 2013, ever a paragon of tact and diplomacy (not), the Miss World Pageant has decided to hold its contest in Indonesia. Most Westerners may not know this, but Indonesia holds the world’s largest Muslim population — more than 205 million and roughly 90 percent of Indonesia’s citizens are Muslim (as per Pew Research Forum).
The choice of the pageant’s 2013 location did not happen by accident. The company knows full well that, like the old company name Mecca, this event at this location is an affront to Islam and will garner lots of press. This is certainly crossing a red line.
Needless to say, anti Miss World Pageant demonstrations in Indonesia are almost a daily occurrence — just Google it for yourself. Heck, I’m not Muslim, but I don’t approve of the Miss World event either, nor of the people and company behind it. I’d demonstrate, too. Yet we in the West seem content to encourage the abuse of our conception of freedom of speech in international venues.
Freedom of speech does not include the shouting of “fire” in a crowded theater, or the shouting of racist and/or sexist slurs. Also, for most people on the planet freedom of speech does not include the objectification of women as sex objects presented in highly public venues. When the West thrusts these activities as entertainment onto the worldwide public, how can we be naively surprised that so many people in the world are calling the West evil? Honestly — there’s naïve and then there’s stupid. It’s time to wake up.
Mass marketing this sort of so-called entertainment across the whole planet does nothing to foster world peace, understanding, and respect. In fact, it does the opposite. Yeah, let’s talk about red lines.
John Nassivera of Dorset is a professor and a Life Fellow of Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He has received the Vermont Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award.