We can’t stop: What Miley Cyrus Tells Us About the Church and Culture
Written by Denee Menghini. Media added by Noah Henry.
Lately, if you haven’t been hearing about or talking about Miley Cyrus, you must live under a rock. It has been over a month since Miley’s infamous Video Music Awards performance, and still she is one of the most talked-about celebrities anywhere. Followed up by a news making music video for “Wrecking Ball,” Miley is challenging the boundaries of popular culture in a big way.
The challenge Miley presents, though, may tell us more about the American church than it does about youth culture. Since the fateful Sunday when Miley twerked onto televisions across the country, faithful followers of Jesus have had lots to say about the star. The trouble is that, once again, the church seems to fade into the background noise about Miley and has been unable to find a prophetic voice on the topic. Perhaps by using the Miley situation we can identify some flaws in the churches pattern of engaging culture and pursuing redemption.
We consume: Early on in the career of Miley Cyrus, the church praised the young actress for being a positive role model for young girls. In 2008, at the peak of her Hannah Montana success, Miley went as far as to profess her love for Jesus in an episode of her Youtube show. Christians loved the squeaky clean image of Miley and helped make Hannah Montana one of the most popular children’s shows on television. We tuned in to watch the show with our children, but we also bought CD’s, clothing, accessories, and toys all related to the show.
Even in the years immediately following the end of Hannah Montana, Miley maintained a family friendly image and even released an inspirational ballad we could all love. “The Climb,” the lead single from the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack, was undoubtedly performed at countless youth group talent shows. Miley was no longer a person, but instead a product available for purchase and a piece of the cultural landscape.
We condemn: Over time Miley made several questionable decisions while in the focus of the public eye, and began to move away from her reputation as a family-friendly celebrity. Not much was said, though, until August 25 of this year when Miley’s Video Music Awards performance caused a massive uproar. You are probably familiar with the performance, but the recap goes like this: Miley delivers one of the stranger performances in recent history, which included giant teddy bears, lots of Miley’s tongue, and some serious twerking with R&B singer Robin Thicke.
The impact of the performance was felt almost immediately. The initial wave of reaction from Christians included lots of disgust and a healthy dose of treating Miley as a pathetic lost little girl. Many well meaning Christians took to their blogs in an attempt to restore the Internet’s moral compass and provide “hope” in the mist of all this depravity.
Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” video quickly followed the VMA spectacle and raised more of a ruckus as she swung around on a wrecking ball in the nude. Christians again cranked up their internet filters and lamented the loss of a positive role model for their young daughters. The younger generation of churchgoers did not respond any better, but instead let out a resounding “Ew!” and moved on. The product we loved so much a few years ago, now tarnished and full of inappropriate images, words, and themes.
We cover up: What happened next was almost comical in its absurdity. This video of two clean-cut young Jesus lovers singing a revised version of “We Can’t Stop,” hit the internet. The kids appeared to have good intentions in changing lyrics from, “Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere,” to “Bread crumbs and study Bibles everywhere.” Nevertheless, the video actually just shows the church doing what it always does, sprinkling some Jesus powder on the parts of culture that make us uncomfortable.
The Miley Cyrus saga is just the most recent in a list of pop culture phenomenon, which the church is at large unequipped to deal with. This pattern of consuming, condemning, and covering up is one full of potential danger and possesses little to no transformational power. Once again the church has responded to popular culture as though they are superior to immorality playing out on television, when the reality is that as humans we all wear the same filth of sin.