published Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Harpe: Should shock value still be shocking us?

Corin Harpe
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    Corin Harpe writes a "My Life" column for the Life section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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While it seems that we have explored every possible stance related to this issue, I still am surprised at how shocked everyone was at Miley Cyrus’ Video Music Awards performance. Aren’t we used to celebrities doing shocking things to keep their name in the media?

In the world of fame — and lately I am starting to think this pertains to the world in general — no publicity is bad publicity. As long as your name is in the headlines, people are thinking about you, and their responses show that they care about you. Yes, by writing this article I am showing that I care about Miley Cyrus, and I do, because this issue fascinates me.

Over and over again we are shocked, but more accurately, wildly entertained by the antics that mostly women celebrities pull. We host talk shows and write stories about how concerned and upset we are over these misguided celebrities, but from the time Britney Spears appeared in her first music video, to her own shocking VMA performances — 2000’s striptease, 2002’s draping herself with an albino python, 2003’s onstage kiss with Madonna — to the time she shaved her head, she knew exactly what she was doing. Each of those actions were carefully calculated (yes, even the head shaving).

There are entire reality TV shows based on the shocking things women do, from the fights, to the gossip, to male drama, and yet we still bat an eye at scandalous performances. I do believe, however, that the Cyrus situation is a special case. The reason so many people reacted in disgust at her performance is because we have watched her grow up, and the children in our lives have grown up with her.

Unlike Spears, who started her adult career as a sex symbol, Cyrus was Disney’s innocent “Hannah Montana.” We became used to her wholesome character over the show’s five year-run. I remember a few years ago when she was lauded as one female star who stood apart from the selling-sex market. It is hard for people to adjust to what they thought was a child role model to someone quite the opposite.

It seems that many childhood actresses and singers jump into scandal as a way to prove their womanhood and get away from what they consider a limiting career as a child star. I think Cyrus is one of the first to completely and so definitely transform from an innocent persona to an in-your-face sex symbol. Because of the abruptness of her change, people are more shocked and offended than they might have been with a female star in the media eye for a long time. Still, the shock has certainly increased Cyrus’ exposure and fame.

Even though it could be defended as a form of self-expression, I find it disappointing that many actresses turn to exploitation to get attention. It further enhances societal prejudice that women are mere objects.

What I find more shocking than Cyrus’ behavior, however, is Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” the one that he and Cyrus performed together at the VMAs. Admittedly, there are many songs that are just as bad in portraying women, but this one completely denounces a woman’s choice in terms of relationships with men and their sexuality. At least Cyrus knew what she was doing and she chose to put on that VMA performance. The saddest part of her performance was her decision to promote the blatant misogyny found in “Blurred Lines.”

We will see what the future holds in terms of shock value. Information reaches us so quickly these days that 15 minutes of fame seems more like 15 seconds, and with social media anyone can become famous. Notoriety is becoming less of a commodity and, hopefully, we will also stop moving backward in terms of how women are portrayed.

Contact Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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