Miley Cyrus stole the headlines from Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards for her shocking performance of “We Can’t Stop.” She emerged on stage with tongue out from a giant robotic teddy bear and danced in a graphic and sexually suggestive manner. At the end of her routine she stripped down to a flesh colored bikini and began an even racier duet with Robin Thicke that left many in the audience visibly uncomfortable.
It was the most talked about performance after the VMAs, even outpacing N’SYNC’s brief reunion with 4.5 million Twitter mentions.
But was it really “shocking”? This is the MTV Video Music Awards after all. At the inaugural show in 1984 Madonna writhed around in a wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin” and in 2003 at the same event had a three way kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Nothing in Cyrus’ routine from the twerking to the sexual-positions-as-dance-moves, to the shameless song lyrics departed from our new cultural norms.
Miley’s performance grabbed headlines and tweets not because she grabbed certain body parts but because of the narrative behind it. That narrative is one of corruption. Miley Cyrus was once Hannah Montana, a popular Disney character who lived as a normal teen by day and a pop star by night. Her image was wholesome, family-friendly. Millions of fans bought her merchandise and copied her example. In a USA Today article from 2008 she was asked if she planned on being a good role model for her fans and said:
Yeah. That was the plan from the beginning. That’s kind of the point of everything that I do. I always try to bring in just being a good role model and setting high standards for yourself.
On Sunday, this same Miley emerged on stage from a giant teddy bear, surrounded by dancing teddy bears, and wearing a teddy bear outfit. One of the most compelling images of innocence is a child clutching a teddy bear. This symbol of childhood innocence was injected with hyper-sexualized dancing and Miley’s popular song, “We Can’t Stop,” which describes the singer at a party where everyone is taking ecstasy, getting drunk, dancing like strippers and looking for a casual hookup. Next came Robin Thicke singing his song “Blurred Lines” about his desire for a good girl he can treat like a sexual animal while Miley provided backup vocals and complimentary body gyrations.
This theme of corruption – of Hannah Montana and of our daughters in general – may be why the crowd looked ill at ease with the performance. It may also be why much of the huge Twitter response was negative and why fellow artist Josh Gracin tweeted:
Thanks Miley Cyrus… Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she can no longer follow your career.
Rather than hide from the corruption it was embraced with imagery and songs to provoke a reaction – a different kind of shock than we have gotten from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Kim.
In the corruption of Miley Cyrus we see the corruption of our children. The cute princess clutching her teddy bear as she is tucked into bed at night becomes a casual hookup at a college party, an indecent picture texted to the junior class, an object tailored to please others. The adorable little hero who wants to fight the bad guys becomes a frat boy who can’t recall every sexual conquest, a porn addict immersed in fantasy, a freshmen compromising his values to win acceptance. The sexual revolution reduced individual persons made in the image of God into bodies frantically chasing objects that will satisfy their appetites. It’s what happened to Hannah Montana and it is what’s happening not just to our children but to us as a whole.
By the grace of God, many still see this corruption as a bad thing, as revealed in the reactions to the VMA performance. Yet, there may come a time when nearly all of our culture openly embraces the corruption caused by sin. In Romans 1:28-31, Paul describes the progress of humankind from the innocence of Eden to the full corruption of sin:
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The gospel tells us we are all corrupted because of sin. Psalm 53:3 says, “…together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Yet Jesus took our corruption upon himself so we could be innocent and pure again. In Jesus Christ, God “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4).
There may come a time when we no longer see the corruption caused by our sin. When the culture is so blind that God has no choice but to give it up to what ought not to be done. The fact that we can still see our corruption and mourn is a sign that God’s grace is at work. We are all, like Hannah Montana, corrupted, but we don’t have to stay that way. The only answer for all of us sons and daughters of this world is the good news that what was corrupted by our sin can be made pure and whole again by Jesus.