I love Wrecking Ball but hate the video (by Lance Wisely)

Below is a guest post from Lance Wisely, an alumnus of my online philosophy classes, reprinted with permission from his blog Heretic With A Heart.

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.

Lance Wisely

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • rebeccagavin

    Very good point,Lance.

  • Pofarmer

    I like the song too. In the song she goes in to break down his walls(which requires emotional nakedness( and winds up getting broken herself) so I think the naked on the wrecking ball metaphor works. The licking the hammer? Yeah, and the hammer swing was weak.


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