Wednesday, 1 January 2014

I have this theory about Miley Cyrus...

I've been trying to figure this one out. For some reason Miss Cyrus has become the current icon of unbridled sexuality and wayward morality.
I say "for some reason" because, let's face it, her Disney-girl-gone-bad image is not exactly ground breaking. Britney's done it. Vanessa Hudgens, remember her? She's done it. And even Miley herself has been accused of "going bad" ever since her Hanna Montana days. So what's the big deal now?
Well I say it's all in the eyes.
We're so used to nudity and sexuality from young women in music that it's almost become a prerequisite to success. You've heard it a million times before, that these women are objectified by the media or that this culture treats them like sexual objects. But have you ever really wondered what that means?
I was watching Miss Representation, a documentary about the relationship between women and media, and they illustrated how the close up can be a powerful tool of objectification. By photographing someone's individual body parts there comes a separation of the person from the body. This encourages us to view and value them by their parts; their hips, their legs, their chest, their lips. And since hips don't have thoughts and lips don't have emotions, the human aspect of the subject is irrelevant, effectively dehumanizing the model.
This is the image we uaually see when women and sexuality are paired together, particularly in popular music. Rihanna's video for Pour It Up is a perfect example of this. We see her dancers almost exclusively from behind or in silhouette, rarely catching a gimps of their faces. Even Rihanna herself, while shot face on for most of the video, hides behind a pair of sunglasses making it impossible to look her in the eye and know what she's thinking or how she feels about this.
It's an image we're so familiar with there is even a sense of comfort that comes with it. It might be racy and raunchy but it's something we know how to process. And besides, it's easier to fantasize about someone when their emotions are taken out of the picture. You don't have to worry about being rejected or refused because this an abstract woman we're talking about, and you get to insert your fantasy where her personality has been omitted.
But Miley doesn't let us get so comfortable.
First shots of Stay by Rihanna
With all her nudity and blatant sexual gestures comes her unconstrained personality. In the video for Wrecking Ball she pairs an unflinchingly emotional song with her trademark explicit sexuality. This is not an unheard of combination. Rihanna did something similar with her music video for Stay. But the difference between the two can be summed up within the first few seconds of each video.
Each one creates an intense sense of intimacy through the use of close up shots. But while Rihanna's video starts by piecing her together through a series of tight close ups of her body, Miley's video begins with one long striking close up of her face. We're introduced to Rihanna through her body first, and the heart wrenching emotions seen on face come after. We're faced with
Miley's emotions right off the bat and they colour how we see the rest of the video.
First shot of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus
But what I find most interesting is the choice Miley gives us. Each time she appears naked on screen we see either her whole body in a wide shot or most of her body in a mid shot. And in each and every one we see her face.
By doing this she has made the choice yours. Do you look at her face or her body? The camera isn't directing your gaze this time. There's no more excuses. It's up to you.
She effectively makes us take ownership of the objectification we've become acclimatized to. And this is just plain uncomfortable. We weren't trained for this. A sexual woman in a music video is supposed to let us imagine up her personality, not tell us who she is. So how do we process this?
At first I wondered if this was just a one time thing. That maybe the emotional intensity of the song was what dictated the seer amount of eye contact that makes Wrecking Ball so unusual. But her latest video Adore You runs along the same lines. In a video made up entirely of shots of her rolling around a bed or bathtub, there's barely a single shot that doesn't include her face
So say what you want about Miley being too sexy or inappropriate. While everyone else draws focus to their bodies first,
she makes you look her in the face.

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