America's Cultural Chasm

Mona Charen

10/8/2013 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen
Denouncing the dysfunction in Washington has become a cliche. For a change of pace, let's decry the putrefaction in American popular culture. (There are bright spots, but those will have to await another column.)

Miley Cyrus is America's id. She is all desire -- for fame, for attention, for money - without any mediating influences like conscience, character, prudence or taste. America celebrates her. She gets some criticism, but she can laugh it off, because she knows she's cool. Do you doubt her importance? She hosted Saturday Night Live this week -- the apotheosis of hip.

Reviewing her performance on SNL, USA Today declared that Cyrus had "steered clear of controversy". Seems low standards are contagious. Riffing about her VMA act, Cyrus boasted that she heard from "angry mothers" and "turned on fathers." Nice. During the show, she and the SNL cast performed an incredibly raunchy version of one of her songs (but I repeat myself) keyed to the government shutdown. Cyrus gyrated and faux-masturbated as Michele Bachmann, while Taram Killam was featured as a very gay, pierced, underwear-clad John Boehner who humped whatever was nearby.

Ah, nothing like good fun for Saturday Night Live and America's tongue-lolling sweetheart. We all need to loosen up, don't we? It's just a joke. SNL portrays Barack Obama in similar ways all the time, right?

The hippest show on TV illustrates the cultural chasm that separates liberals and conservatives. Liberals laugh as conservative politicians are depicted in porn-style videos. But if a rodeo clown dons an Obama mask, it's a month-long scandal. (The rodeo organizers apologized to Obama.)

Even if SNL were to turn the tables and lampoon Democrats in similar fashion, conservatives would be repelled by the vulgarity, not amused.

There's another scandal in this story. Saturday Night Live apparently got good ratings for Cyrus' appearance. Doubtless that's the only standard they honor. But let's consider what they are approving by having her host the show.

As I wrote after the VMA display, Cyrus is not just aping her sisters Madonna, Lady Gaga and Beyonce in attempting to use raunch as an attention magnet. Cyrus's unique contribution to our cultural sludge is to mainstream kiddie porn. Cyrus' status as a former Disney star and her use of teddy bear imagery in a lewd dance amounts to sanctioning child porn. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus explained: "I know what I'm doing. I know I'm shocking you. When I'm dressed in that teddy bear thing, I think that's funny. I was saying yesterday, I had this obsession about this character that's like an adult baby. Like if you see a baby do something like that it's so warped and weird, but there's something creepily hot about it. So when I'm in that teddy bear suit, I'm like a creepy, sexy baby."

Cyrus had said that her inspiration for her new music video "Wrecking Ball," in which she does her trademark naked licking and straddling while also excreting auto-tuned wails of some sort, was the Irish singer Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You."

O'Connor, a leftist of particular vehemence who once tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and refused to perform if the U.S. national anthem were played at one of her concerts, is nonetheless critical of Cyrus' gambit. She published an open letter to Cyrus warning that "I am extremely concerned ... that those around you have led you to believe ... that it is any way 'cool' to be naked and licking sledgehammers."

O'Connor continues, "None of the men ogling you give a s--- about you either. Many's the woman mistook lust for love. ... You ought to be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. ... We don't encourage our daughters to walk around naked because it makes them prey for animals. ... No one who cares about you could support your being pimped."

O'Connor's words were tough, but the message was one of support for Cyrus's dignity as a woman and an artist.

Cyrus responded on Twitter by reposting a series of pained messages O'Connor had tweeted while suffering a nervous breakdown several years ago and searching for a psychiatrist. With casual cruelty, Cyrus tweeted: "Before Amanda Bynes ... there was ..." She then offered that she had no time to respond to the open letter because she was preparing for her star turn on SNL.

That's the sort of person Saturday Night Live, the arbiter of American pop culture coolness, celebrates and honors.