The Public Adolescent
Way too many column inches have already been given over to Miley Syrus’ recent MVA performance so I start by apologising for adding some more. Although it’s probably fair to say that the majority of commentators are expressing various degrees of dismay or criticism, I can’t help thinking most not quite hitting the point (sample article here).
I watched Miley’s performance with a sense of unease. Her performance wasn’t alluring, it wasn’t erotic, it wasn’t even sexy. The best description I could come up with was ‘sexualised’, in the inappropriate way of a child or young adolescent. Full of images of teddy bears it was not the stage set or performance of a seductive young woman. It was the images and sexualised flailings of a struggling adolescent.
Miley herself seems delighted with the furore she has caused, and of course getting people talking keeps her name in the headlines and money coming in the bank. But her MTV interview three days later only served to highlight her adolescent thinking, summed up in her comment: “They’re overthinking it. You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn’t even think about it ’cause that’s just me!” That’s just it: adolescents typically don’t think about it! They just do it! That interview has attracted its own set of online responses, such as those here and here which include links to the original performance and subsequent interview.
And of course it makes sense. Just because Miley is 20 years old it doesn’t mean that her emotional or social development matches her chronological age. We know that ‘normal childhood development’ can be delayed or disrupted for all sorts of reasons. We tend to think of physical, emotional or sexual abuse as the main causes, however, as Hannah Montana Miley was held in an enforced lengthened childhood, or image of childhood. The opportunity to be a rebellious teenager was withheld from her, even as she attained legal adulthood. Released from the identity of Hannah Montana she can now grow up and find her adult identity. She has to shake off the image of the child but is not yet mature enough to understand or carry the responsibility she has in her public role.
What Miley needs is for those around her to recognise that she still needs protection and support and not allow her to make such a fool of herself in public – even some of her raunchier peers looked uncomfortable watching her performance. Give her the space to grow up. Of course, as she is already technically an adult there are limitations to that, but someone in a position of responsibility really should have stepped in and said no to that MTV appearance.