Life isn’t fair. To you and me, primarily. So super unfair! We don’t get to be rich, attractive or famous – either because we’re not good enough, or we’re not born with the right genetics or into the right family. And as a result there exists a group of people above us, for whom life will bear all its best fruits, impart the greatest adventures, and display the true vastness of possibility that we could only begin to dream of. Life isn’t fair. We learn all this about the time we’re 13.
Of course, the entertainment industry thrives on us not processing this information maturely, even after we learn it. We still buy the magazines, we still leave the comments on YouTube, we still download the albums. We feed it, either by giving in to the minor thrills of living vicariously through beautiful millionaires, or indulging in our hatred of those we deem undeserving. We learn that when we’re 14, but again, nothing much really comes of learning it. We just know that such “revelations” about life’s unfairness are obvious and meant to be quietly internalized, like how politicians are corrupt or prejudice still exists. Who cares?
Yet a lot of people seem to care, more than usual, when a chosen one falls long and hard. Like a presidential assassination or a terrorist attack, we want to be there at the start, to know first-hand when it all began. And at tonight’s VMAs, for the many excited cubicle-dwellers across America on Monday morning, it appears to be the point when Miley Cyrus finally succumbs to the titanic pressure of a) having been Disney’s plaything for years, and b) being 20.
Little is really known about how controlling a family entertainment empire must be to clamp down on every quirk, fetish, spark of rage and dint of personality so that even our Dutch Calvinist grandmothers can nod in approval. We only know what we’ve learned from watching other meltdowns. People are human, they make mistakes, they need time to grow and suffer and bounce back – teenage girls even more so. When a corporation tells you to be a role model to girls just 5 years younger than you, just so they can make billions off of you, it must be disillusioning once you realize no one actually had your best interests in mind. Who are they to tell you what a role model was supposed to be? How could you ever live up to that image that 400 well-paid brand managers cobbled together, and would you want to? Where the hell do you go from here, now that you have breasts and ten more chipper pre-teens with perfect teeth are waiting in the wings to replace you?
Answer: You wear outrageous booty shorts, grind on a man whose brand is confident, rape-tacular sexuality, and try desperately to invert the travesty of sexualizing young girls by doing it all within a swarm of dancing teddy bears (which some called “pedobears,” at once inaccurate and actually perfect). You touch yourself, you expose yourself, you say This Is Me. You do it because, like so many young girls who watched Britney and Madonna make out at the VMAs so long ago, you got an idea in your head of what was bold, audacious and sexual, and by golly you’re going to earn your place in the pantheon. You’ve been instructed what the next dreadful step is by pop culture, same as a lot of us.
And all your perfectly-composed peers in the audience, who know better than to rage against the system, stare at you like a drug addict. They’ve been there with you in their minds, they know the grind and they know the pressure, but the industry either caught them when they were a little bit older, or their managers are just that good and yours just weren’t. Either way, you’re making your own choices! The only bad news is, they’re bad ones. That should have been okay. That should have been the kind of thing that wouldn’t show up on “your permanent record,” that would have been a mere speed-bump towards turning your grades around and getting a good letter of recommendation to Brown. But that’s a different life. In this one, Brian Firenzi blogs about you randomly, and your only consolation is you don’t know who he is and you’ll never read it.
Very few people can want or obtain this obscene level of fame without being a little fucked in the head, or at least they have stage moms who are fucked up enough for two heads. It’s the same reason we have the politicians we have: No one nice and brilliant and level-headed enough actually says “I’d like to rule this country with basically an iron fist.” Being famous is about being accepted for who you are in the form of art. Which is why, when we see someone like Miley collapse this way, it is to me a very human cry for acceptance, the kind of rebellious streak that teenage billionaires do since they never went to high school and didn’t get to do things like streak or spray paint a dick on the mascot statue.
It’s a sign that this person is real – they remind me of the problems I would have in their shoes, which makes it so interesting and sad that other rabble like myself could actually take delight in putting Miley down. Don’t you see? This is the first piece of evidence you’ve had that she’s just like you, HuffPo commenters. Are you really trying to put yourself above her when you know nothing about her, except this embarrassing scramble in the dark for identity that links you inextricably?
(In case this sounds like I could mount a similar defense for Justin Bieber, you should know that I really could come close to doing so with the same material. But the nature of expressing one’s sexuality in a pop forum is different and less severe when you’re a male star, and I imagine Justin’s identity problems stem from him kinda wanting to drop the act and be a teenaged dickhead for a while as opposed to confusedly trying to give the public 20 different things they might want. And that’s the kind of lame, weak choice no teenager should be allowed to make, rich and famous or not. Moving on.)
In truth, a display like Miley’s, which was vulgar, messy, and disastrous in the ways that so many of our Livejournals and high school musicals would have been if someone pumped millions of dollars into them, actually makes me wonder about the pre-teen stars who “made it through.” Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Natalie Portman…is it really a level head that kept them afloat during such a naturally tumultuous period in their lives? What made them so preternaturally gifted at dealing with fame that every junket and tour was like a dream come true? Is it possible that we could waterboard Timberlake for 20 minutes and he’d pop the bag off after with a wink and a smile? Is it wrong for me to insinuate that some superstars hung on to their young fame just because they were better sociopaths than their counterparts?
I mean, in the end, this is a metric ton of bullshit speculation that a hundred other word-count-slave bloggers are pounding out over iced americanos right this minute, wishing they could have gotten the assignment about Breaking Bad’s latest episode instead. What’s really fascinating to me is the public’s reaction, but I can’t put it in the unfavorable light I want to without talking a long, hand-wringing game about Cyrus. Point is, the kind of people who watch TMZ and will snark gleefully at the water cooler about this tomorrow morning are the kind of people who crave a rise-and-fall narrative that mirrors their own, but on a grander scale that makes their own problems seem minor in comparison. So when you walk past the employee break room tomorrow, don’t indulge that person. They’re clinging to a cycle that alternates between insulting and validating their shitty-but-private position in life. They’re hanging on to a time when they were young, but ignoring all the flaws and blemishes that came with it.
Plus, they’re talking about the fucking VMAs, dude. That stuff is for kids. We learned this when we were 16. Right?