Miley Cyrus Wrecks Your Idea of Herself

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So, I recently watched Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” video, and I gotta say … I know everyone’s still pissed about her VMA performance, and I have some feelings about that too, but this video on its own is actually really fucking good.

People have been saying it’s disturbing or cheap or trashy, and I disagree. Women wear skimpy clothing and dance provocatively in videos for male artists all the time. Every day, we see women in the media used as props to make the men around them look better. A woman’s beauty and sexuality are used as a marketing tool for cars, beer, web hosting, you name it. What people can’t stand is that in this video, Miley absolutely works her stuff in way that benefits herself instead of someone else. She’s getting naked to sing a song and sell some records. She’s making money. Yes, it’s shameless. It should be. If a man had *ahem* assets like that, you bet he’d be working it to sell some records. Why shouldn’t Miley?

I’m not saying I agree with everything the girl does. I think her VMA performance (along with her video for “We Can’t Stop”) was a disaster because it treated black women’s bodies as a joke. I wasn’t fond of the dancing with Robin Thicke because his whole damn song is about date rape. And I don’t approve of twerking not because it’s too sexual but because the mere thought of doing it makes my back hurt. Yeah, so what, I’m old.

Anyway, I’m not some die-hard Miley defender. I’m not really a fan of her music. I think she needs more sane adults in her life. But as for her music videos, I think the strong reactions people have to her are more indicative of our own hangups than something wrong with her. If it freaks you out that much to see a woman acting sexy without a man around, maybe you’ve got some shit to work through. If you’re afraid she’s sending the wrong message to young women, maybe think about what message you’d like your daughter to receive and then have an honest conversation about that. And of course, if you simply don’t like what you’re seeing, you have options. You could go make something better.

 

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against the cult of authenticity

I recently mentioned how it bugs me when people use words like “authenticity” to talk about how they do business. After stating this publicly, I haven’t been able to stop noticing every time someone says that damned word. And while I certainly prefer authentic interactions over false ones — you know like when you’re having beers with friends and some girl acts like she’s your friend because she wants to sleep with some dude you’re friends with? I hate that shit. But on the other hand, authenticity is not something you can just conjure up and hand out like free samples.

Or rather, it is, which is exactly what makes the overuse of that word so disturbing.

I used to know a lady who had been in a cult in the 60s. By the time I met her (around 2004), she was long out of the cult and sometimes talked to me about her experience.

She described the cult’s method of gaining money and members, a practice she called “donating” and “giving contact.” The cult members would go out on the streets and “donate” to others by “giving contact.” This terminology may seem a little off to you, as it did to me. One day, I asked her, “What do you mean when you say you were donating? I thought you were asking people for money.”

Yes, she explained, they were asking people for money, but it wasn’t like panhandling. They were giving people contact, human contact, eye contact, in other words, validation. They donated their energy to others by looking them in the eyes, smiling, and making them feel good. They never said, “I’m in a cult and we need money.” They introduced themselves as members of a church, maybe mentioned a vow of poverty and the fact that the money would be donated to church’s mission (i.e. a couple charity projects but mostly their leaders’ mansion). Because people appreciated their authenticity, they often gave money, free services, material support or even became members.

What those cult members did was manipulative, but it was authentic — at least if you asked them at the time they would’ve said it was. They were being themselves and connecting with other people. It’s easy to do, and people crave that connection. When you give them that connection, they open up to you. You can use that greedily or you can handle it compassionately.

I get it. When social media gurus say you should “be authentic,” they’re telling you to be real, be sincere, and connect. But let’s be honest: most of us are not authentic on the internet. We are hyper aware of ourselves as brands, brand ambassadors, entrepreneurs or some variant thereof. Even if we think of ourselves as regular old human beings, we still present the best possible version of ourselves on the internet. And why not? We choose the best clothes we can, the best hairstyle, the most clever conversation topics available to us for in-person interactions. On the internet, it’s just easier to edit.

The point is, I don’t trust people who put too much currency into authenticity. Being sincere, making eye contact, and connecting with people is incredibly powerful and valuable. It should also be the standard, a way of life, not a selling tactic. It’s a basic trait of mature human beings, not just a way to get them to give you money — whether you’re a cult leader or an entrepreneur … two thing which I’m learning have a surprising number of similarities.

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