The internet has been abuzz this week after Miley Cyrus’s raunchy performance at the Video Music Awards, but I’m honestly confused by all the hoopla. Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” VMA dance was not much different than the video version of it, which to date has over 160 million YouTube hits. To be clear, I found both the video and the live performance to be shockingly disgusting. However, it seems kind of illogical that people were so surprised when a song that they made the number two hit of the summer was performed as disturbingly on stage as it was on film.
In truth, the video is probably even more troubling than the live performance as it contains scenes like a woman cutting off her fingers and bubblegum pink “blood” spilling out of them. (Yes, that was actually in it.) The first time I saw the video (without realizing what it was about!) I was extremely upset by the images, but also by the lyrics. When explaining the video to the press, Miley told them, “I’ve grown up.”
Well, what does “growing up” mean according to this song?
It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
Doing whatever we want
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop
And we won’t stop
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
We run things, Things don’t run we
We don’t take nothing from nobody
The theme seems to be “Because I’m no longer a kid, you can’t stop me.” And that is what adulthood is about, isn’t it? Not having to listen to mom and dad anymore? Being the one in charge? Dressing how you want? Seeing who you want? Saying what you want? Being able to do drugs and move your body however you want because you’re an adult, darn it!
The irony in defining maturity as being able to do whatever you please is that it’s the immature kids who we find screaming that it’s their toy and they can “do what they want.” Or telling their moms and dads, “You’re not the boss of me!” When considered in that light, Miley’s hyper-sexualized, know-no-boundaries song sounds a bit like a spoiled little child having a fit about how she wants what she wants!
We’ve come to believe that coming of age is that point in life where no one can prevent you from doing what you feel like. That having power is equivalent to exercising it. But our Sages saw things differently. “Who is truly strong?” they ask, “he who controls his desires.” The Jewish definition of maturity is the ability to choose not to follow every last whim and impulse, even though you have the freedom to do so. It’s about deciding, within the widest range of theoretically possible choices, to stop after one drink, to hold your tongue, or—even better—to choose to do good, to put someone else first, to commit yourself to a spouse, even though that will limit your freedom to do whatever you want in the future.
Everyone’s cracking down on Miley about the message she’s sending kids, but I believe this problem is much bigger than Miley. Instead of our youth rushing to grow up in order to have the freedom to live out every one of their desires, we need to encourage them to aspire to true maturity: self-control. If only we could turn that idea into a viral hit!
By Allison Josephs, Jew in the City