The Trouble with Miley Cyrus

{edited to add another point}

Well the MTV Music Awards happened again, and sure enough a show designed to generate publicity has done so. This time it seems like every single person in America is talking about Miley Cyrus’ performance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across this meme on the news and on Facebook, and almost always its the same thing; Miley has tarnished her image. Miley was gross or disgusting. Miley is a slut.

This post is to accurately describe the problem with Miley Cyrus, and how to fix it.

If you had a problem with Miley Cyrus’ performance on MTV, here’s what you need to do. Get up from your computer, go to your nearest bathroom, stand in front of a mirror, and look at yourself. Behold, this is Miley Cyrus’ problem. Not her. You!

“But wait,” you say. Didn’t you see her dance? Don’t you now how inappropriate this is? On national TV?

Yes I saw the dance. No it was not inappropriate (at least in that context), and yes it was on TV. I know you think I’m crazy right now, so let me make this clear for you, hopefully in a language you will understand.

1) It’s a fucking Free Country. This is American, God Damn It. We stand for freedom. No one died. No crime was committed. Even if you think her act was vulgar and tasteless (both of which may well be true) she still has the freedom to do it. So fucking get over yourself.

And along those lines, no one put a gun to your head and made you watch her performance. So please don’t cry about something you volunteered to experience.

2) Standing in front of a camera and doing stupid shit is how Miley makes money. Seriously. She’s an actor. What do you think actors do? They do stupid shit to make money. So why was this “stupid” different from any of the other stupid things she’s done? It isn’t and it wasn’t.

3) But she tarnished her image. Oh boo-hoo. I can’t believe I have to says this because its so fucking obvious, but here goes: This is a girl who made her fame by playing a character who lied all the time about her “real” life. Think about it. You think young Miley Cyrus was all sweetness and light? Really? Cause she she made her fame playing a person who lied. Constantly. About her real life. How do you know it was an act? What do you really know about her? I can tell you, damn near nothing. I can promise you there is almost nothing about this girl that didn’t come from a press release or a court, and of the two I’d say the court is only slightly more reliable.

Whatever you may think about Miley I can guarantee you that you have no idea, none, if she was ever a moral person. The Miley Cyrus that makes the press is just as much an act as any other character she has portrayed. Perhaps even more so. If you think actors who portray nice people are themselves nice, then you must believe that Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) has special powers called the Force that he used to stir his coffee and shit, and Harrison Ford knows how to fly a spaceship. You don’t? Yeah, I don’t either. But I still think Carrie Fisher was a real princess.

And on that note… how long did you think she was going to carry on the goody-two-shoes act? Really? Did you think she was going to be playing the same sweet innocent girl at 60? She’s obviously ready to move on, has been for a while. Isn’t it time you moved on with her?

4) It was art. I know some of you may not know this, but art is designed to rock the boat, to poke holes in our collective culture, bringing light to the dark underbelly of our collective crap. And judging by the response to her performance Miley did an excellent job of rocking the boat. But what’s important here is not if it was art, it was, but what you should do about it.

What do you do with art you don’t like? Now that’s a good question. After all not everyone is going to like every piece of art. Some of it is bound to be too profane, too vulgar, or simply too boring. The obvious response would be to hate it, or despise it. both of which really do not work. Hating something that is designed to make you angry at it only means you’re following its script. That would be stupid. Instead, the way you treat art you don’t like is to ignore it. There’s nothing worse you can do to a piece of art designed to “shock” than to ignore it.

5) It was an act. I know this is going to surprise some of you, but Miley Cyrus gets paid to do shit like this. Its her job. and you know what, she is fucking good at her job, at least judging by her income. Damn, I wish I had half of her lifetime earnings, and she’s not even 21 yet.

Moreover, this was an act put together by a huge group of people. Costumers, hair dressers, professional choreographers, directors, producers, etc, etc. And yes, even the lowly publicists where involved. Did you know Miley Cyrus has a paid publicist to go over everything she does to control her image? Shocking, eh? Still think she was wrong?

Also, they practiced this show. Rehearsed it over and over. There was very little of Miley being “free and open” on that stage. She was doing what she was directed to do. You know, like an actor.

Mind you, even though Miley is paid to dance around on stage like a stripper, she may not do everything she is paid to do very well. She might be an especially bad dancer, say, or perhaps not always sing on key. So what? Neither one of these things are important to her performance, and slight imperfections are common on performance shows like this. Moreover, none of her fans really care. OMG! Its Miley! She’s pretty! Usually that is enough.

Which brings us to my last point….

6) She gets paid to be famous. There’s this word in the English language: Notorious. Miley Cyrus is notorious. This word notorious used to have a negative connotation to it. It carried a feeling of scandal, of dark smoky bars, and deeds better left unsaid. But guess what, that shit doesn’t apply to Miley Cyrus. Wanna know why? Well the long answer has to do with the loss of our shame-based culture, but the short answer is fame. Fame works. Fame causes people to notice, and fame has absolutely no moral component. Whether the person did something morally benevolent, or heinous, fame doesn’t care. It only cares if you notice. If you say anything.

Wanna know what this means? Every time you post something on Facebook about how terrible Miley Cyrus is, you increase her fame. Every time you talk about Miley to your family or you co-workers, you increase her fame. And when you increase Miley Cyrus’s fame, you increase her net worth, you increase her standing in pop culture, you make more money for her. So yeah, your every complaint equals pennies in her bank account.

So please, complain all you want about what a tramp she is, because I’m pretty sure she’s sitting at home, looking over the internet, and smiling. Maybe she’s rubbing her hands and cackling gleefully. I don’t know.

Which is why I say the problem with Miley, isn’t with Miley. Its with you. If you don’t like her behavior, then for God’s sake be smart enough not to pay her. Otherwise you come close to looking like a fool, and that girl whom you think a stupid slut has just put one over on your tired self-rightous ass.

Me, I think Miley is adult enough to make her own decisions (and pay the consequences), is a young woman (which means she’s going to make some mistakes about her sexuality), and is a fucking genius when it comes to manipulating the media.  My hope is that the rest of us catch up to her.

Dead Crow/Fight Club

Passed a dead crow today on the way into work. It was just a lump in the road, a dark lump, brownish grey with a splattering of darker feathers on top. The bottom of a crow’s feathers are not very black, more of a dark gray. It was sitting in the road at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, a little lump in the road about the size of a salad plate right at the intersection of the two crosswalks. The man in a suit who had been talking to the bus driver the whole way down Fairfax, stepped on the crow in his fancy leather shoes before I could warn him. I don’t think he even noticed.

I was reading Fight Club on the way into work today, and it shows.

On Raising Wolves

When I meet people I often tell them I was raised by wolves. I do this as a way to excuse my sometimes pointed comments. This sentence is delivered like a joke, and often get a laugh. Usually the laugh is followed by a look of recognition, as the other meaning starts to sink in. I was raised by wolves.

I was thinking of this as I was listening to my son play with a friend this morning. The friend stayed the night, which was a first for our son. Teri and I were both a bit nervous, needlessly so as it turned out. His friend is easy to deal with, good at grasping his own needs (for a 12 year-old), and gracious with adults. The friend is also smart and verbally gifted, like out boy. Listening to them play, really more like riffing on each other, is an interesting peek into that strange time of growth called pre-adolescense.

As I listen to them casually trade verbal barbs so pointed and sharp that they would considered terribly rude if spoken among strangers, I am reminded of tiger cubs playing. Each swat and bite a cute and playful treat, yet at the same time this  behavior will eventually lead into something terrible. Fully grown tigers bite and swat with lethal force. Once they hit a certain age, there is absolutely nothing cute or charming in them.

The same can be said, of course, for wolves and their cubs.

Teri and I, because we are adults and mindful of the pain our words can inflict, are forever warning Trevor. “Find a nicer tone, son.” “These are your friends, be nicer to them.” or “Do you think you could have said that is a nicer way?” We say these things because we know from painful experience how amazing sharp and deadly harsh words from an adult can be. But Trevor is not an adult. He lives in a different world.

In middle school tough words are an art form, and being quick with a quip is a valuable skill. This is his world. There is where he lives. Boys and girls at this age are verbally vicious, yet at the same time their words are usually completely ineffective. Stand on a corner as middle school kids get out of school and you’ll hear insult after insult, sometimes repetitively, sometimes with whole groups of kids ganging up on one another. But the funny thing is all these harsh words seem to have little effect. Kids will gleefully insult each other, and then turn around and talk about their favorite video game, exactly as if nothing untoward was said. Its as if middle school kids survive by having a thicker skin than adults. Or perhaps, like the bites of young tiger cubs, the verbal skills which as an adult will prove to be lethal, are  playful and largely ineffective because they are still so young.

And that is what he is. So young, yet at times so adult. One day his words are going to carry far more weight. Like that tiger cub’s bite, they will mysteriously transform from playful to lethal. I don’t envy him this transition. It was not a easy path for me, nor was it for Teri. But its also a part of growing up.

I wonder if tiger cubs have a similar experience, if they wake up one day and say to themselves, “Holy shit. I just bit a hole in my sister’s face! How’d that happen?”

I know Trevor will eventually have this experience. I can only hope that when he does his behavior will be easier to monitor because he’s learned at an earlier age to be more compassionate for his friends, and more mindful of his words. Then again, if he doesn’t, he can always retort, “I’m sorry, I was raised by wolves.”

The irony is, from his lips it will be just as true.

On Death and Mourning

Death comes to your home like an unannounced guest and always stays long after you’re ready for it to go.

I came up with this idea many years ago. Perhaps its even a quote from somebody else. I don’t know, but it captures the feeling I have in dealing with loss and mourning.

In my head, death is always personified as a she, not an it. This is not, at least I hope, some latent misogyny, rather a reflection of how much Santa Muerte has infected my mind and my writing. I think we need a patron saint for death. Like love, death is a valuable thing to our culture and society. It changes things in ways that is difficult to understand up until you go through it. Its a bit like sex in that regard. There are some things in which words do not do justice to the experience.

One thing I can say for sure, as a man I didn’t fully understand manhood up until the point we buried my father and my father-in-law. After they died, every major decision I’ve made feels like performing a dangerous routine without a safety net. I have this sense of, “Oh shit. I could really fuck this up, and I don’t have anyone to call for backup.” It is both terrifying, and in some weird way, freeing.  I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but at the same time I know deep in my bones that it is necessary. As necessary as breathing.

The Value of an English Major

A friend of mine on face book posted this opinion piece from the NY Times Sunday Review on the loss of the English major in education. Below is my response.

I guess I’m more pragmatic about the topic. I’ve always thought writing well, and reading well, should carry its own reward, and I believe it does, regardless of ones avocation. If this is true, then I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see previous business majors sheepishly come back to school willing to do the hard work of learning to write, even if it is based on the desire to give themselves a leg up on the competition.

There is a corollary to this point, which is also important; that is if writing well and reading well are not a virtue, then they should go the way of the buggy whip. I also believe this to be true. Seriously, if you can write like a pro, and still cannot explain the value of writing to our culture at large, either you’ve over estimated your wiring skills or its value.

As I alluded to above, I think the “real” reason we’re seeing a drop in English majors is because learning to write is hard work. Most people would rather take an easier path, and they will up until they discover that easy and fast doesn’t always equate with best. Some day these skimmers of “internet facts” these believers in a Cliffs Notes education will come across an enemy who has taken the time to read “The Prince”, or pretty much anything of Shakespeare, and will happily eviscerate those poor souls (with words alone, one hopes) who thought skimming a good replacement for deep thought. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, bitch, and I keep mine sharp.

I’ve always thought the proper reason for an English degree–although I guess it applies to the whole of the humanities–was for someone who still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up. This is not intended to be a slight, even today at the tender age of 50 I am not sure of what I want to be when I grow up. There is a genuine need for people to learn in university the skills they will use to discover themselves and the world.

Doctor for Death

I had a dream last night in which I was a doctor and was hired as a specialist to help people smoothly transition towards their death. Sort of a death therapist with a heavy background in medicine and the effects of various medications on a dyeing person.

Obviously this is not what I do in real life, but it was a fascinating idea all the same.

There must be a point in which the complexity of medical care, especially for the elderly, becomes too difficult for the patient to comprehend. Heck, we’re already at this point, so much so that the standard rule for our family is to not let anyone be in the hospital without another adult in the room Add in other complications associated with end of life issues, and the complex becomes chaotic. Now add in the various emotional responses of all the family members, and the financial implications if a large estate is involved, and you get a rich heady stew. Rich enough to last several television seasons worth of solutions, for instance.

Success

I dreamed about my father last night, something I have not done since he passed almost four years back. In the dream he was talking to me, telling me that some obscure thing I had invested in would pay off really well. Later in the dream this proved to be true. Since I don’t do much in the way of investing in the real world I assume the dream, the investment, and the succeess are all metaphor.

For all that he grew up a cowboy, my father was ever the banker, and worried about money and its intendant security more than anything else. He never really grasped why I am self-employed. The idea was almost abhorrent to him. For years whenever we would talk he would ask if I had gotten a job yet. Never mind that I was making more money freelancing than he ever did, it was the insecurity of my position which worried him. The irony is of course that his “secure” job never proved to be any more secure than mine, but that is the nature of people and parents. At least I can say is that he spoke out of the concern of a parents, and I cannot honestly say that  this concern was always misplaced. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart.

It wasn’t until after he passed, at his funeral in fact, that his wife (my step mother) appreoached me to say, “You’re father wanted you to know he was very proud of you.”  Kind words. I would like to say it would have meant more coming from his lips, but that was not his way. Perhaps I am biased, but I seemed to recall hearing more of my father’s concerns than I did his praise. My sisters had this experience as well so if I am biased, at least it is a shared one.

So when my father spoke to me last night in my dream, his words were pretty much like always. He was telling me, not really talking with me. He used the same tone he used when asking, “Are you sure your client’s are going to pay you?” Anything I might say in response didn’t really matter, and would likely be ignored. He would simply bring up the subject in our next conversation exactly as if we had never spoken of it before. In short, he was stating something completely obvious, and with his voice of authority. Mind you, I do this myself sometimes, the manners of the father are often passed to the son. So much so that a friend of mine often jokes, “Eric Tolladay, Master of the Obvious, Curator of the Plainly Seen.” I can only hope that my pronouncements from on high of “the obvious” are not as painful as his were to me. Doubtless this is not always the case. Lucky for me most people are willing to overlook this annoying habit of mine. Those that cannot, well I can’t say that I blame them.

But I find it odd that my father would be speaking as he was in my dream. He was so very concrete, speaking in metaphor was not his way. I can only hope it is a sign I am doing well. I suspect this investment metaphor refers to my writing. I certainly hope so as it is an investment. Especially as a time when I really should be more mindful of filling my spare time with paid work. The vagrancies of freelance work means I often stumble into stretches of no work. I try to fill that time with writing, when I can afford to do so, but it is costly in terms of money not earned. Lucky for me, Teri does not mind this investment, or is kind enough to bite her tongue when I do. Since I’m not heavily invested (be it time or money) in anything else, other than my family and our home, I can only assume this obscure hobby of mine will eventually come with a paycheck.

The funny thing is Teri is forever dreaming about friends and family who have passed. It one of the things I truly respect about her. For her such dreams are a way of letting go, saying goodbye. They don’t always start well, but they end with a sense of balance and closure. I’ve not had dreams like this, at least until last night. Do you supposed some of her is rubbing off on me? God I hope so.

Rite of Change

Something struck me this morning as I was listening to a story on Igor Stravinsky on NPR. This year, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of his ballet Rite of Spring; a piece of music so muscular, so intense, that the first time it was played it caused a riot.

Nowadays this kind of idea is difficult to fathom. Its had to imagine a musician today, be they popular or off in their own little corner, who could cause such a reaction. Can you imagine a riot caused by a Justin Beiber concert? I can’t. The only thing that comes close to my mind is either the Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan show or when Bob Dylan went electric and pissed off all his fans.

You might recall “Rite of Spring” from the Disney movie Fantasia. Its the famous piece with the T.Rex killing the Stegosaurus.  The music, however, is more memorable than that scene. Much more. If you listen to it with a musician’s ear you’ll find it full of mixed meter, rather bizarre and almost frightful chording, and is just plain intense. A big orchestra playing a very big sound. In person, the darn thing can blow your ears off. No wonder people rioted.

Now the thing that struck me this morning was not the intensity of the music — I’ve known that for a while, ever since I won tickets to a Hollywood Bowl concert of the Rite, and went with my buddy Clark Souter. Listening to the piece in that context, shorn of the animation, and shorn of any other mean sing, allowed me to really listen to it. All I could think was “Fuck me! This is big!” What really struck me was the time in which it came out. 1913 sounds like a long time ago, but in terms of orchestral music, it is really near the end of a very long era. 1913 is well over 100 years after Beethoven’s famous da-da-da-dumm of the Symphony #5 was written in 1804, and just short of 90 years after his 9th Symphony was written in 1824. Its 190 years after Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” hit the scene, 54 years after Liszt suggested his New German School, and about 100 years after Schubert. In short, it came out well into the end of what we generally consider “Classical Music” and even the end of the Romantic Era of classical music. And yet, this very, very, late, late-comer to the classical music scene, this 30 year-old punk kid wrote a piece of music so intense, so awesome, that it freaked people out.  It caused riots in the streets of Paris. It started a whole new movement in classical music called Modernism. It changed things.

As a writer, working along the long thin edges of the form of art we call the Novel, I am heartened by this. Stravinsky teaches us there is still room for radical change within a medium that appears to be lethargic. Not that I’m interesting in tinkering with the modern forms of the novel, I find the post-modern stuff to be a lot of crap if done for the sole purpose of shock. I don’t think Stravinsky intended to shock as much as I think he intended to stretch his limits, to push his own internal boundaries. Something he was want to do his whole long life. Hell, the man was writing interesting pieces well into the 1960s.

What the “Rite” teaches me is that somewhere out there is a novel yet to be written that is so intense it will cause a riot. Just the idea that this novel might be out there, somewhere, is enough for me. It doesn’t have to be mine, it just has to have  the possibility of existence. Like holding a lottery ticket that will not be drawn for a few days, it gives one room to dream. Dream great big muscular dreams. And I like that feeling.

Now its time to lift some word weights, and get my scrawny writing muscles into shape.

9/11 Eleven Years On

Our flag is going up today because we love our country. But I have to say I don’t like this day. I didn’t like it 11 years ago when it scared the hell out of me, and I don’t like it any more today. In some ways it scares me even more now.

 

11 year ago we took a collective kick to the teeth. We learned that being American doesn’t make you magically less vulnerable to the plans of evil men. We learned that for all the cool things we are and do, we are still at the end of the day just as human as everyone else. We collectively bleed, we can be collectively hurt.

 

The best thing that came out of this experience was our neighbors. They all came out the night we lit candles on the curb, and we talked. We needed to talk. We needed to share. It was too much. Things were too important. Me made friendships that night that continue on to this day. It made the block we live on “our” block. It made our house more of a home. It gave us a sense of belonging. This is a priceless gift, as I see the effects on those who do not have this. So thank you 9/11, thank you America for that.

 

But born on that day was another thing, a more sinister thing. An ugliness born of the desire to somehow get back to where we were before that day. I understand the longing for innocence lost. I understand the need to feel safe, and as a father I certainly understand the need to protect our children from the world. But there is no protection that comes at the end of a fist. There is no protection — even for the country with the greatest military on the Earth — that cannot be overcome by evil men if given enough time and money. We cannot will away the scars of 9/11, and unlike Pearl Harbor we cannot conquer the country that gave us them.

 

So we are stuck. Stuck feeling vulnerable. Stuck feeling insecure. Stuck feeling like there is nothing we can do.

 

Except we are NOT stuck. This feeling, this giant collective insecurity, can ALSO be a good thing. It can teach us what it is like to live pretty much anywhere else in the world. We can empathize with people from Somalia, Cambodia, Columbia, and China, because everyone else ALSO has this feeling. This is a good thing, a collective thing. A knowledge that even though we can be hurt we can also work together to not let our children all over the Earth be hurt like this again. Oh I don’t know if it is possible to keep every child on the Earth safe from feeling this way, but I think that’s a damn fine goal to have. I mean if we’re going to think of ourselves as exceptional, why not be exceptional for something worth being exceptional about?

 

This is the lesson I learned from 9/11. This is the lesson I learned the night my neighbors came over and we shared our collective grief, and in that sharing forged friendships that pushed back the darkness. Just a little mind you, but still pushed it back.

 

Terrorists can manipulate your massive and awesome military, heck they are trained to do this. Terrorist can make you feel insecure, and vulnerable. But the one thing they cannot do is take aware your friendships. Terrorist thrive on your terror and your fear, but they have no response to love, they don’t have a clue what to do about caring when they are expecting bombs.

 

So on this 9/11, I say we be exceptionally caring, exceptionally loving, and exceptionally dangerous to those who want us afraid. What better way is there to fuck with those sons of bitches than to respond to their evil with loving and care?

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

After leaving public office, an elected official will agree not to work with any private or government body which has, or will have, any transactions with their previous elected position, for a period of 8 years.

 

I just wanted it here as a matter of record. Enjoy.