Many videos feature gratuitious, problematic objectification, but the video for Wrecking Ball is willing to be incongruous and senseless to do so.
The video opens. Miley is crying. This song is about pain and loss. It’s about giving your all and having it not be enough. There is no reason for her to be enticing anyone. She isn’t trying to win him back or move on with someone else; this is not sexy time, it is the fall. I can feel a quiet rage under her surface. We get shots of her holding the sledgehammer, and there is a promise of what is to come.
The music rises into the first chorus, angry, hurting. “I came in like a wrecking ball…” She’s holding the sledge above her head now, poised, strong, tattooed. Beneath a butch haircut and above a lithe body, her face has begun to set. There is stoicism, resolve, anger. She’s crossing some gender boundaries here, exhibiting masculine power in a feminine body. I’m reminded of Pink, I’m thinking how much the lesbians are eating this up, and I’m inhaling in anticipation because shit is about to get real. Her rage is about to erupt into the physical world. Her face will contort, her well-muscled body will flex and twist, and there will be a mighty blow from that hammer. Left to right across the screen, BAM! Rocks everywhere. It will be a dual metaphor, an expression of how hard she tried to reach past his walls, and a destructive manifestation of her present pain and fury.
Wait, ok, not yet. She’s doing like a runway thing with the hammer first. Ok, now she’s… is she going to fellate that hammer? “WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?” screams one part of my brain, while another sits up and starts paying attention. Maybe there is going to be a different kind of “mighty blow.” And that tradeoff right there, that’s what I find to be a particular problem. Throughout the rest of the video she is portrayed as passive, wounded, and sexually available. No rubble is too uncomfortable for her to make sexy pose on. The symbols of her power, the wrecking ball and the sledgehammer, become symbols of male power (read: cocks) between her thighs for her to submissively gyrate and pose with. She is not wielding power, she is riding on it, and not from the driver’s seat. Someone else is swinging that ball, she’s just an ornament making it sexier. (I’m reminded of mud-flap girl.) Suddenly our heroine is cast into the passive supporting role. She will take no actions. She is going to wait, like a properly distressed damsel, for someone else. But there’s no one else in the video, where is her hero? Why, it’s you, hetero male viewers. It’s you.
She does bring the hammer down once, and this shot fails utterly to convey strength. Maybe a big strong man in the audience would like to show her how to swing that thing properly? Or just do it for her? And maybe they tried, and Miley Cyrus actually can’t swing a sledge hammer (which I kinda doubt.) Could this not be overcome with prop hammers and walls? Could she not just get in the cab of the crane and appear to be piloting the wrecking ball? That is the theme of the song, yes? Hard hat, dirt-smudged face, and an angry pull of the lever? Look me in the eye and the tell me that a Pink version of this video would not have successfully portrayed her as a hurting but strong person with agency and humanity, and not as a pin-up girl in her underwear.
They did not accidentally fail to show her being strong. They were not trying. Her transformation into passive sexual object is entirely deliberate. They showed what they (she?) wanted to show, which was her passive, sexy body. This might have been a deliberate choice on Cyrus’ part, but that does little to improve the message. We are not viewing sexual agency.
The Wrecking Ball video starts out promising to show us a phoenix in the process of violent immolation, and transforms that into a montage of boyhood sexual fantasies about Miley’s body. I am disappoint.
In fact, I’m so mad that I’m going to go pose on some sharp rocks in my sexy underwear and wait for someone to do something about it.