Miley Cyrus and Exchanging Virgin Icons for Sex Icons

Back when Miley Cyrus was just a singer playing the role of a singer. Photo: Mike Schmid via Flickr (CC-SA 2.0).

What! Another formerly wholesome teen celebrity strips on television? Yes, Miley Cyrus’s nasty performance on Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards show was outrageous, an example of cultural decay and decadence, etc. But it’s not new.

Neither are the indignant replies we’ve been hearing from some.

Christian pastor Trevin Wax’s popular blog reaction invokes one image Christians often reference (it was even in the film Courageous): a sweet little girl twirling like a princess. Wax is thoughtful and caring, yet I can’t help wondering if others in their comments think little beyond, “What is happening to society? Protect your daughters!” (such as here), and the usual line (as in here), “How could the girl’s father let this happen?”

Yes, the VMA show was bad. But if Christians don’t say more I’m afraid our lament is less about sin corrupting God’s image than about the fact that women aren’t being virginal “icons” — either “sweet twirling princess” icons or “popular wholesome pop star” icons.

Before the Cyrus debacle I had no expectations of this celebrity du jour; she was already exchanging one pop-culture image for another. Now I wonder: How much did people, including Christians, accept the imaginary wholesome “Hannah Montana” virgin icon?

Maybe we should have been more discerning. After all, lyrics of many “Montana” songs, such as “Best of Both Worlds,” are only about fame and putting on shows. This is merely another celebration of pop-culture circular referencing — the song is only about the song, the show about the show. Don’t these teach consumers early to accept icons of Me-ism? If so, why are we surprised that this self-image-worship moves to the “adult” level?

It’s also absurd to imply that such corruption only happens to female celebrities. No, let’s not discount the feedback loop of our culture that serves to endorse and reinforce sin. But instead of only lambasting poor parenting (as this blogger does) or corporations for forcing female celebrities to sex it up, let’s try to honor these women — perhaps more than they honor themselves — as free agents. Guess what: They may have been raised rightly, not be desperate at all, and yet freely choose this sex-icon lifestyle.

And what about male celebrities such as Robin Thicke, Cyrus’s equally vulgar performance partner? Aren’t these men also choosing to practice sin — to worship images of themselves, to become sex icons, to “let this happen”? Does cultural outrage against female celebrities imply that men are less corruptible or with more excuses?

Men and women are created in the image of God. That’s the only Image we must care about.

Surely His people can uphold the distinct beauties of women without also pleading for “sacred virgin” icons in place of sex icons. And instead of saying “What happened to that sweet girl?” or “Where were the men in her life?”, we can diagnose the worst horror, that mankind has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man,” and the only culture-transforming solution: the image of Christ.


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About E. Stephen Burnett

E. Stephen Burnett is a journalist, aspiring novelist, and editor and webslinger at Speculative Faith. His mission: to explore and enjoy epic stories that reflect the truths and beauties of the first and greatest Epic Story, God’s Word. He also writes for a dynamic news franchise in Austin, Texas and delves into Christ-and-culture doctrine at Christ and Pop Culture. He also enjoys nonfiction, soundtrack music, and spending life with his wife, Lacy, in their Texas headquarters.