It seems Miley Cyrus has been dominating the news feeds of every social media site since her infamous VMAs performance two weeks ago. While I agree that that outfit definitely stripped (excuse the pun) her of any lingering Hannah Montana qualities, it seems to me that the majority of the public is missing the real issue surrounding Miley’s recent 180 degree flip to the other side of stardom.
Miley was not the only performer prancing around just shy of naked at the VMA’s.
Lady Gaga’s outfit (if you can call it that) is actually worse than Miley’s, although I think we can all agree that the mother monster did more squats than Miley to prepare…
The point is that, after the general shock of seeing your old teen idol’s almost-naked body parts sets in, you should still be left with a bad taste in your mouth. And that’s because Miley’s making moolah off of commodifying a culture that she never belonged to in the first place.
“Ratchet culture” first came into our pop culture vernacular in late-90s hip hop music. Starting in the neighborhoods of working-class African Americans, it was a word with negative connotations used to describe women with a lack of “home training,” or common sense. Recently, as writer John Ortved states, black women have come to reclaim the term to essentially reduce the harshness of the insult. However, this reclaiming of the word works to further stereotype the women associated with it. As Michaela Angela Davis tells Ortved, “We’re only seen through this narrow sliver, and right now that sliver is ratchet. We don’t get to be quirky and fun and live in Willamsburg. Wolves don’t fall in love with us.”
Other culture critics notice Miley’s commodification of ratchet culture, too. Bené Viera describes her as “accessorizing her videos with blacks.” Responding to allegations that Miley told her producers she wanted something that “feels black,” Viera quips, “Yes, because something that ‘feels black’ can be worn for commodification and taken off when it no longer benefits her.”
Miley’s “makeover” misappropriates ratchet culture, and Smilers (what she calls her fans) are jumping on the bandwagon. Twerking videos are popping up all over Instagram, Vine and elsewhere. As Viera calls them, “culture vultures” are turning this ratchet culture into the “latest trend;” a collective identity in which young white girls get to use their privilege to imitate a culture without any real repercussions, while those who actually live this culture are ridiculed and insulted.
Just to be clear, I actually am not a Miley-hater. I simply disapprove of her “new” persona, because I think it is insulting to a majority of Americans. Her song Wrecking Ball is worth a listen, if you can ignore the awkward naked, swinging-on-a-ball parts.