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.

 

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.

  • Shedano

    2002 vma awards. Christina aguilera. And you think this is bad? People need to get a life.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    It is bad, though. Let us not lose out capacity for rightful, in-perspective, moral revulsion. At the same time, it only seems worse to some because of our pre-existing acceptance of “sacred virgin” icons, be it “twirling little girl princess” or “wholesome popular pop star” icons.

  • Shedano

    Rose McGowan. 1998. VMA awards. Look up that picture which was totally accepted and you think Miley is bad. At least Miley is actually wearing clothes. Miley Cyrus was poking fun at the sex imagery. People can’t even make jokes anymore without people like you going HELL bent on demoralizing EVERYTHING.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    Sounds like we would have more fundamental disagreements under this one (e.g., your religious opposition to “people like you”)! As a Biblical Christian I’m of course going to make observations about whether a particular behavior reflects the joy of the Creator and His good gifts, including sex. Furthermore, just a quick logical exercise (you don’t even need to believe the Bible to follow this one): what makes my criticism any more immoral? One could say I’m simply “poking fun” at evangelical critic sins. :-)

  • Shedano

    People like you doesn’t even refer to your religious standpoint, but fine let’s take that road.

    “Yes, Miley Cyrus’s nasty performance on Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards show was outrageous, an example of cultural decay and decadence” -your words dude which was obviously not poking fun, but insulting a twenty year old and an entire culture of people. Decay? The only thing decaying is your sense of behavior model doesn’t reflect on anything but religion.

    You didn’t even look up Rose McGowan, did you? That woman was completely naked in 1998. Girls are wearing two piece bathing suits with no problem on the beach, but as soon as someone sees a bra, they gasp in outrage which stems from outlandish and pitiful comments from “people like you” who are sometimes as Atheist as me or as pompous as you to think there are categories for immoralities based on a Religion or the focal point of rules.
    What’s immoral is basing your negative comments on such a thing and not realizing the emotional and mental impacts are more important than a belief system, ANY belief system. What is she doing? Nothing. She hurts no one especially since it is for only performances.
    You know what she dresses like in her normal every day life… big fat hoodie, leggings/skinny jeans and a regular shirt with a pair of tennies.
    Yet you degrade her for a performance that has largely been that way for YEARS before her. As Justin Timberlake said, “This is the VMA’s. What did you expect?”

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    In this piece I actually focus on different aspects of the news. You seem to want to use me as a stand-in for all Christian punditry on the issue ever (e.g., within the last week). I’m not sure you realize that several of your comparisons would draw rather eager Christian agreement. In my case, for example, you say that no one blinks an eye at bikinis on the beach. Well, I would; so would many others; but my point is that it wasn’t what she did that was so outrageous to many viewers. (We may agree here.) My unique point is that many viewers had bought into the wholesome-virgin-icon of th “Hannah Montana” franchise. My other point is that several of these pundits must stop acting as if only big corporations or other people “let this happen” to her — as if she isn’t an intelligent individual who wanted to do this, whether she was “just poking fun” or not. Those are the points of this feature. And as a Biblical Christian, I can’t look at any immorality — be it public or private, male or female — any other way.