Who is pimping Miley Cyrus’s talent?

English: Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Mile...

English: Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley Cyrus perform at the “Kids Inaugural: We Are the Future” concert at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Miley Cyrus’s “talent” display compel us to ask; “Who profits from what she “sells?” She is the one on the stage so she believes she is in charge, but who benefits the most from her “work”? All artists display their talent?[1] through their performance. To understand who profits the most we need to understand what talent was displayed. She has shown us her nubile body. Her dance routine suggested her physical capability. In turn, they both remind us of her potent sexual availability. Like Mr. Jagger or Mr. Presley who used sexually suggestive moves to display male sexual energy, Ms Cyrus’s display reminds us of the power Eros. An alternative view is that her display was a rite of passage into celebrity adulthood.

As a passage into celebrity adulthood, Ms Cyrus’ display could be considered a PG-13 a celebrity sex tape. The sex tape has become a rite of passage to achieve celebrity status. It is intended strategy to start a celebrity career (Kim Kardashian is the exception that proves the appeal) or resurrect one. What the participant often has is no alternative because they lack a demonstrable talent beyond their “talent” (Farrah Abraham). The overt sexually explicit display appears to be a depressingly necessary method that women, rather than men, use to inform the world that their “talent” is now available.[2] The sex tape or its equivalent becomes a sexual debutant ball. In less than 60 years, the entertainment industry’s rite of passage has gone from Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy pictorial to hard-core pornographic video. Such a change suggests that our appetites have coarsened to such a degree that only sexually explicit public displays can attract our attention.

The performance reminds us that at its core, the entertainment industry is a flesh trade. The industry sells flesh on the stage and screen, but talent, always in demand, is rarely rewarded. Flesh and not voice or performance becomes the currency because the visual image dominates the public appetites and the entertainment industry caters to it accordingly. The industry is at pains to display an acceptable image, but its public face only confirms saying that hypocrisy is the homage that vice has to pay to virtue. The acceptable face only hides the direct continuum to “adult entertainment industry” (the porn industry) that connects implicitly to the professional services such as escorts or party services. At its most extreme, the flesh trade includes prostitution and sex trafficking, which represent the end point. One finds that the trajectory never goes from the lowest point, prostitution, to the pinnacle, Hollywood stardom. Instead, the trajectory of the flesh trade is towards greater exploitation to satisfy the public’s appetite.[3] Against this background, we can see why Ms O’Connor warned Ms Cyrus against her decision to focus on her “talent”. Once whetted, the public’s appetite requires increasingly extreme displays to attract the same or increased attention. The only way to resist such a trajectory is for a fully clothed Ms. Cyrus to display her true talent, but then she would be forced to confront the unspoken fear-her talent is not worthy of such attention. Is her greatest talent is her ability to display her “talent”?

In time, Ms. Cyrus may come to realize her image has trapped her in the same way that porn actors are trapped by their image. They cannot escape the industry because they lack the talent to earn the same money outside the industry. If her fans expect to be entertained in this way, and perhaps we are entertained because her “twerking” entertains even as it titillates, she has become trapped. However, what remains though is “Who profits?” Is it her father? He was quick to say he loved her unconditionally. Is it her fiancé? He soon had second thoughts about the engagement. Who could compete with the attention provided by such exposure. Is it Ms. Cyrus who profits? She has certainly gained a lot of publicity. Publicity, even bad publicity is still publicity, is the oxygen of celebrity. The event and later displays have certainly publicized her “talent” but we do not know who has profited the most.

The question has an obvious if unacceptable answer. We, the audience, profit directly from her display. We consume this “entertainment” and demand more. The public always wants to cast itself as a benign consumer but we are in control and we want our appetite to be satisfied. Our appetites have turned the human person into a commodity. We, the audience profit from Ms Cyrus’s “talent” and we should look at ourselves before we condemn her. She has no alternative but to produce what the market demands. We have become the entertainment industry’s pimps. We are pimping Miley Cyrus’s talent.

[1] The post is based on the exchange between Sinead O’Connor and Miley Cyrus over Ms Cyrus’ performance at the American Music Awards Ceremony. Ms. O’Connor wrote and open letter to Ms Cyrus and a second and third letter on her Facebook page she warned, amongst other things, that the music industry was “pimping her and her talent.” The site for the second letter perhaps explains the issue without a conscious thought with the irony. Ms O’Connor was concerned with the people Ms. Cyrus had around her. when she warned Miley against surrounding herself with vampires and

[2] We have to be note that artists have engaged in similar practices albeit on lesser stages and to relatively smaller audience. One only need to consider videos by Nicky Minaj, Rhianna and Jesse J that use similar techniques to draw attention to their “talent”. Is this the price of fame or celebrity stardom? If so, is it a price worth paying? It would appear the public believe it is a price worth paying.  I wonder if Edith Piaf would have to publish a sex tape or a music video to draw attention to her talent. A further question to research is why the sex tapes are based on the woman as the star even if the male who participates is well known. For example, the sex tape of Pamela Anderson, then Lee, is associated more with her than with Tommy Lee. For an interesting unintentionally ironic lament about the pornification of pop and everything see Rashid Jones’ article in Glamour.

[3] The flesh trade will always remain. What is different now is how mainstream and public it has become. One hesitates to say that it has become acceptable. At the same time, we have to consider that as our politics become immoderate our entertainments reflect that change.  Perhaps the relationship is that as our entertainments have changed so have our politics.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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