I find the public reaction to the Miley Cyrus performance on the Video Music Awards Sunday night both, hopeful and fascinating. Hopeful because it seems we might finally be getting to a point where even the target audience for such acts is getting annoyed, and fascinating because Americans still don't seem to understand why this story lights us up.
In the past couple of days I have seen hundreds of negative reactions to Miley's writhing and grinding and a handful of of opposition postings on Facebook asking why we can't pay more attention to wholesome news, like President Obama's awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Ty Carter for heroism on the battlefield in Afghanistan. (For the record, we at KLIF in Dallas did talk about Sgt. Carter and his amazing story of bravery but it wasn't an easy story to stumble across. On the other hand, Miley's flesh colored bikini and giant rubber finger was absolutely everywhere.)
From where I sit, Americans have a pretty good handle on what matters in their personal lives and know when their families are under assault. Sgt. Carter is protecting us while Miley is violating our collective sense of decency.
Sgt. Carter stands for the best of all things in this country. He's the latest in a 250 year heritage of heroes we've learned to count on to protect our families and the freedoms we cherish. That's not to say he is taken for granted. He will tell you himself he was doing a job that was expected of him. And he knows we love him for it.
Miley is another matter. She, too, is the latest in a long string of Americans standing up for freedom but the freedom she has embraced is one that threatens our instinctive human modesty. Parents and grandparents see this sort of thing as an assault on the values they've accepted from their own ancestors and are trying to pass on to the next generation. Chief among those values are personal dignity and respect for others.
Sunday night Miley Cyrus tried to advance her career at the expense of little American girls everywhere, teaching them that their primary personal value lies below the waist and between their legs.
I know I sound like my own parents' parents when Elvis first shook his hips onstage in the fifties. My mom and dad had the same problem with the Beatles' outlandish shaking of their famous mop-tops. (It was just their heads, for heaven's sake!) The annoyance of parents is a social tradition. The problem is, as performers push that envelope to more blatant sexuality in order to outdo Gaga and Madonna, as we allow the margin between self respect and self abuse to be blurred, we are allowing one person's freedom of expression to set the tone of acceptability for an entire society.
These days we sometimes forget that freedom of speech includes the right to stand up and say, “Enough!”