Miley Cyrus, Syria and the Head of Saint John the Baptist

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.

Syria: Just enough of a strike not to be mocked
The Hierarchy Privilege
“Bomb Syria, even if it’s illegal”
The convincing evidence
Intel has no smoking gun gun.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mindy Goorchenko

    A powerful connection and beautiful post. The humility of St. John the Baptist, who prayed for less of himself and more of Christ, contrasted with Herod’s unwillingness to “lose face,” seems to be the perpetual war we all must wage with ourselves.

  • Lorraine

    News media seem to either blot out pictures when they deem it necessary or give you a warning of what you are about to see. The news coverage I watched covering “the performance” was disgusting to watch and to listen to….talk about adding insult to injury. I think about adults and youths who are constantly exposed unwillingly in our culture to obscenities that make lasting impressions on one’s soul. News sometimes needs to be reported in a way that reflects a sense of respect for all involved without distorting the facts.
    I like the things you write about, Elizabeth, but there are times I disagree with some things you post. I personally don’t like the picture you posted to make a point. Your point is well taken without the picture displayed. That is “my take” on this particular point.
    I like what you said in your closing reflection. I couldn’t have said that any better.

  • Manny

    I found the Salome twerking (now there was a new term I learned yesterday) Herod is a pretty funny characterization. But I have to say I found your wording on this a bit off: “so much of it is meant to distract.” No question we’re in a downward sprial culturally, but “meant to distract” implies a conspiracy. Meant by whom? The Obama administration since that’s what your analogy implies? I am certainly one that thinks the Obama administration is an epic failure (economically, foreign policy, shoving a healthcare system down our throats, religious freedom reductions, repeated lies, etc.) but I cannot see how it could be possibly coordinating Miley Cyrus’ performance or losing their heads over it to bomb Syria.

  • Ron Turner

    Look at the bright side, Anchoress.
    At least God didn’t get booed this time.

  • RelapsedCatholic

    If your teenager is listening to such crappy music that anything on the VMA’s appeals to them you have already failed as a parent. I wouldn’t turn the VMA’s on for my daughter if I was Helen Keller’s father.

  • obpoet

    Perhaps the fact that all is spiraling so fast, so quickly in the wrong direction, will hasten a resetting of the course. Time will tell.

  • alexandrag

    Lovely essay. Thanks.

  • Peggy Bowes

    I too thought of Miley Cyrus when I read Heather King’s eloquent reflection in Magnificat. I said a Rosary for her yesterday (and for Robin Thicke– can he really be the son of the Growing Pains dad??!!!).

  • achybreakymummy

    The media is “censored,” since the NOBAMA Administration is DICTATING the entire country… he will NOT be satisfied being the narcissist he is until HE and SHE Dictate the WORLD!!! He has no FAITH orientation whatsoever . . . unless it is directly linked to the m brotherhood!!! Think for one second what Jeremiah WRONG spewed… now take into consideration his half brother Malik Obama, both of this “fathers,” bio and step, and NEVER forget, who it was his bio Mother married!!!! Rather damning EVIDENCE, don’t cha think?
    Miley Cyrus is the cruel REALITY of the “Hollywood Lifestyle,” which of course… carries the burden of virtually NO PARENTING, however she will fall prey, EXACTLY as her silly, non-talented Daddy Dearest did… washed up at a really YOUNG age, and better remembered as the “One hit Wonder,” which hopefully “will” be her role as Hanna Montana!! At the least, she was a wee bit more tolerable, as Hanna…
    Birds of a FEATHER, Billy Ray, and Miley Ray… shake it all down with one HUGE FLOP!!! Fact is indeed FACT, regardless of political party!!!

  • thorsthurst

    achy breaky daughter… like daddy like daughter!! One hit wonders, both of them are beyond “WELL DONE!!”

  • ladybird

    Excellent piece. Her relationship with her father is at the heart of the matter. He has prostituted her to the world. Act crazy honey and they will throw the money at you! So, here is another excellent article that may help address the male side of the equation: How to Talk With Your Sons About Robin
    If you have ears, you’ve heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve had any amount of spare

  • Jim

    Miss Scalia, you could have done without the pornographic image.

  • LisaB

    Great essay.

    Obama could save face by taking the to-bomb or not-to-bomb decision to Congress – let the people through their elected representatives decide. The decision to bomb would most likely be voted down which would then give Obama a twofer – another reason to blame Congress and show how he’s sooooo supportive of Democracy, yadda, yadda. Though, he’s been such an imperial ruler that he probably thinks going to Congress is the greater embarrassment for him. I pray for the people of Syria and our troops, both are at the mercy of shallow, weak tyrant and I don’t mean Assad.

  • K. C. Sunbeam

    I sort of agree that we could have done without the inappropriate image, and certainly we could do without the antics on TV. But what’s a billion times worse is the tsunami of hardcore pornography pouring through the Internet; even 10-year olds can access it.
    Our government is corrupt in allowing that stuff to be legal. It is headed towards becoming completely pagan. Perhaps decent Christians should band together, break off from the government, and form their own country. Or overthrow the government.
    For more of my opinionated viewpoints, please see my website:

  • I.C.

    “I, Foam Hand.”

  • Michael J. Cummings

    Why are you writing about this incident?

    Miley Cyrus is immature, stupid, and silly. Writing about her only gives her what she most wants–publicity.

    Your use of the term “hunger-gamesque” puts you in the same category as Miss Cyrus: You want to impress people.

    Miss Scalia, write about meaningful topics and don’t try to flaunt your vocabulary.

  • MeanLizzie

    Aw, I never let anyone tell me what to write about. And I’m sorry if you don’t like my vocabulary. Don’t read it if it hurts you.

  • Robert

    Why waste your time watching MTV, it is an occasion of sin for sure if not sinful, yet along writing about it and posting this picture. Disgraceful. You would be better off writng about purity or spending a little more time in prayer.

  • MeanLizzie

    Well, actually, I DON’T watch tv and only saw this because it was all over the news sites. But you’re quite right, we’re all be better off spending a little more time in prayer.

  • Melody

    Am I the only one who thinks “twerk” is a seriously stupid word that sounds like something an epileptic cricket would do?