A great deal has been written this week about 20 year-old Miley Cyrus and her maniacally over-the-top performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. As Mark Shea points out, as the world stands on the brink of something dire and deadly the public seeks only bread and circuses, which the bottom-line-obsessed press serves up with such alacrity that satire cannot surmount it.
The headlines are grim, but they’re bare blips within our awareness. Who wants to read about constitutional ethics, war drums, diplomatic failures and international hand-wringing when we can gape at, and then spend days hyperventilating over, a depressingly disoriented young woman twerking a middle-aged man before the cheering multitudes.
That poor Miss Cyrus is suffering from a case of disorientation is a guess I am hazarding after watching her performance, during which she demonstrated a case of diminished proprioception — an inability to perceive where she was, in space, which caused her to upend herself repeatedly, head-to-ground and bottom-to-sky — as well as an unfamiliarity with the proper placement of the tongue, which is within one’s mouth.
Seriously, the so-called dancing may have been vulgar but the incessant appearance of Cyrus’ waggling blue tongue was what I found both fascinating and completely repellent. Within the boring, Hunger-Gameseque fiasco that showcased a pop-music scene melodically played-out and utterly exhausted with its BDSM images (even as it keeps flogging us with them) Cyrus’ tongue was the thing that creeped me out. Gene Simmons’ long and over-exposed licker unfurled itself with a sense of irony; we all got the joke. Cyrus’ tongue made me wonder if there was an exorcist in the house, and it made me feel disinclined to condemn her, because she seems so very much in need of prayer — of deliverance of some sort, and right-orientation.
In today’s liturgies, we recall the Passion of Saint John the Baptist. Our gospel reading presents his beheading, ordered reluctantly by a king who made a rash and public promise to a young girl whose first-century twerks had moved him and his crowd of guests. Having lost his head in the excitement of an illusory performance, the King had no choice but to take John’s head, too, in order to save face.
In this month’s issue of Magnificat Magazine, Heather King writes of this day: “Then, as now, people were butchered for a trifle; an obscene dance, the whim of a call girl.” And — as it turns out — the need for a man in power to prove himself by reluctantly ordering a drastic, irreversible action.
The story just seems to speak to our times, doesn’t it? A young, poorly-educated girl worth, it is said, approximately $150 Million dollars, performs lewdly before a crowd of elites and the world loses its head over it, unable or unwilling to look away or to stop discussing it. Men in power, meanwhile, speak rash words and then hope they may be blurred and re-interpreted, or re-ordered.
All of that should offer us some reassurance that there is nothing new under the sun, that as it is, it ever was, and so what seems like an unprecedented time of disorder in the world is pretty much standard-operating-procedure for the human animals.
But do we feel reassured? So little of what is before us is authentic; so much of it is only meant to distract and disorient. So many pundits and educators and politicians know what is true, and right and real, but — like Herod to Salome, before the crowd — they have lost their heads and made firm pronouncements, and now they must follow through, regardless of what is lost, regardless of how dark the world becomes, for the sake of human pride.
In Dogma and Preaching, here is what Pope Benedict XVI wrote about today:
The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. John even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for metanoia…in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist. Only when we act in this manner does another — and doubtless the greatest — saying of the Baptist reveal its full significance: “he must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). We will know God to the extend that we are set free from ourselves.
After reading that this morning (again, thanks to Magnificat), I envisioned Saint John sitting in prison, in the darkness, learning where God might be found, even there. Although he was respected by the King, his fate was nevertheless sealed by a human need to save face, and the unknowing actions of a privileged young girl. So I asked him to pray for the sake of a privileged young girl in need, and for the rest of the world, which is too often held hostage to mediocre men and women who have spoken rashly and feel compelled to deliver, to yes, save face amid the disorder.