Who Decides Which Behaviors Are ‘Sleazy’ And Which Are Normal?

Miley Cyrus’ ‘sleazy and disgusting behaviour’ makes her unfit as a role model, according to the Culture and Media Institute, a right-wing watchdog group. While this particular attack was prompted by suggestive pictures obtained by TMZ showing Miley posing with a cake in the shape of a penis, the group’s web site has also called her out for ‘bumping and grinding’ with an ‘openly gay’ man in one of her videos. CMI claims that actions like this ‘normalize’ sexual behavior in young girls, and that the former Hannah Montana star is an ‘unfit’ role model.

A question: Can we define ‘sleazy and disgusting behavior’? I would submit that CMI might be more properly use the term to refer to TMZ’s invasion of Ms. Cyrus’ privacy.  Or will they also call her out about her tooth-brushing behavior?

What CMI calls ‘the Miley Cyrus Effect’ is more properly referred to as a form of  ‘the bystander effect’. This term refers to a situation where people do not help victims in a social situation.  The Kitty Genovese murder of 1964 is the classic example; Genovese was murdered behind a large apartment building in New York City over a period of two hours.  Bystanders did nothing – no intervention, no calls to the police. Researchers John Darley and Bibb Latane coined the term in 1968;  further research and studies have shown that help offered is often contingent on the bystander’s perception of the worth (or lack of worth) of the victim. Jodi Foster’s movie The Accused is an example of this; the drunk girl in the bar is not worthy of help.

While Miley Cyrus is not in an emergency situation here, CMI condemns her for sexual behavior. Because she has been photographed dancing and posing in an erotic fashion, she is not worthy of kind thoughts or actions. Because she is obviously ‘just a ho’, it has become appropriate to attack her character in public. She is far from the only Hollywood star or starlet to indulge in this kind of behavior, and she is far from the only woman on this planet to be judged by the clothing she wears. Naama Margolis, the 8-year old girl from Bet Shemesh,  who was spit upon for wearing ‘immodest clothing’ comes to mind here.

According to The Huffington Post, Cyrus has spoken publically about body image issues, something that worries every parent of a preadolescent daughter. In addition, she is a public proponent of gay marriage, going so far as to investigate and pillory Urban Outfitters’ CEO Richard Hayne when he financially supported Rick Santorum. Having the courage of one’s convictions? Speaking out about public servants who denigrate segments of American society?  These are actually character traits that every parent should want to instill in children.

So what is Miley Cyrus actually guilty of? CMI’s ad hominum attack on her calls to mind the public outcry over the Dixie Chicks, who spoke out against George Bush and were lambasted for daring to do so. In both cases, the real ‘sin’ is that of a woman who refuses to be quiet, mind her elders, and adopt the artificial morality of a small, but vocal, group of religious fanatics.  The “Miley Cyrus Effect’ is, in reality, another attempted blow from the hard-core Right’s ‘War on Women’. These are people who frame the old ‘madonna or whore’ dilemma as a moral charge against gender equality.

Now who’s being ‘sleazy and disgusting’?


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