OK, I know I am getting to this a couple of days (OK a whole week) late but I have been mulling the brouhaha last week between teen pop idol Miley Cyrus and former star Sinead O’Connor in my head. Much has been made of Ms. Cyrus’s performance a little over a month ago at the VMA’s and of her video for the song Wrecking Ball. Much has also been made of Ms. O’Connor’s response. Some have lauded her as a voice of wisdom while others have blasted her for being a champion of slut shaming rape culture. I have my opinions on Sinead’s words but you know what, I’m not going to share them.
I am not going to share my opinion not because I agree or disagree with her but because her opinion carries no more weight than that of any other person. Do not mistake me, this is not about casting aspersions on either of these women. Sinead is allowed her opinion and has the right to share it. Indeed, Miley invited it when she cited the once polemic artist as an influence. I may have chosen to write a self-proclaimed protegé personally but I see no problem in her doing what she did, it was more or less solicited advice.
No my problem lies with our culture. We hang on the words of celebrities as though their fame lends credence to their claims well beyond the scope of their talents, training, or understanding. Which is not to say in this instance the celebrity in question does not understand what she is talking about. Anyone following Ms. O’Connor over the years knows she has been neck-deep in discussions of feminism. I may or may not agree with her (and if you don’t know from my previous writing I suggest you check out my rape culture, male privilege and slut shaming tags) but she at least has some knowledge here, though maybe not as much as she thinks. Too many of us listen to people who know absolutely nothing about what they are talking about.
For instance: I love George Clooney to bits. He is a great actor, a good director and just plain hawt. I also agree with many of his stances on the issues, though not every one. Our agreement however is incidental. George has no particular training in policy. I am going to read Paul Krugman, Angela Davis, or Cornell West (or even George Will, though I often disagree with him) on these issues. I will trust my judgement, a judgement informed by actual study of political science and economics before I trust any film or music star. Likewise I am going to trust people like Amanda Marcotte, a writer who lives and breathes modern feminism, before I trust the opinion of a musician whose love of stirring the pot is well documented.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fact that your favorite star is of a like mind on an issue. Similarly it is OK to be fascinated with their lives. You should not forget, however, that your experiences have value as well. The problem, really, is not so much that you are raising them up, it is that you are lowering yourself, at least relatively speaking. You are saying you need the opinion of someone famous to lend veracity to your own and that is just not true. If you have a view on Ms. Cyrus’s performance, do not lean on Ms. O’Connor’s approval of your stance. It is an appeal to improper authority and it cheapens your stance. Long ago we abdicated our personal authority to a cult of personality, a situation exacerbated by an increasingly ubiquitous media, but we can reclaim it. In a world where we can communicate our ideas instantly around the world, to do less than that is a disservice to ourselves and each other.
- Miley Cyrus vs. Sinead O’Connor, 2013′s Most Inevitable Mashup, Isn’t So Bad (animalnewyork.com)
- Gloria Steinem Stumps For Team Sinéad In Miley Cyrus Feud (refinery29.com)
- Miley Cyrus: does the music business exploit women? | The panel (theguardian.com)
- Here is Miley’s classy response to Sinead O’Connor’s heartfelt letter (NSFW) (deathandtaxesmag.com)