Seeing Madonna in all her glory, at what appeared to be the height of her career, was an absolute shock. It had dabbled in listening to some of her biggest hits here and there, but I could never have imagined the extent of her personality, attitude, or overall persona while she was a star. In a second, it was like seeing everything that made Miley Cyrus who she is today.
Equally shocking was seeing the seriousness with which Madonna carried herself in all of her ridiculous statements and actions. Despite being 33 at the time Truth and Dare was released, Madonna acted both more childish and more superior than those around her. She would be a brat when her million employees and family members weren’t around to wax, massage, stretch, feed or adjust her on command. While I wondered whether this was supposed to be showing her as a master of her own destiny or just simply portraying vile diva behavior, the other unbelievably side of her personality would come out. She would talk about how her back up dancers and singers, mostly black, were like her ‘children’, and the film would show her in relation to these ‘children’ seeing their real parents as they went from city to city on tour or even enabled them to get reconnected with their parents. However, these ‘children’ were fully grown adults, and Madonna seemed in no way capable of being anybody’s benevolent mother.
And, of course, having grown up in my generation, despite never having been a Hannah Montana fan, there were the undeniable resemblances to Miley Cyrus that I just could not escape. From her ultra dark eyebrows to the bleach blonde hair and the graphic stage performances, it was like understanding Miley’s performance persona anew, creating even more flimsiness and lack of originality in an artist for whom I do not care. Especially equal and relevant between the two is how they utilized black culture for their careers. Bellhooks talks about the danger and harm entwined with Madonna’s fetishization of blackness, and how “white folks who do not see black pain never really understand the complexity of black pleasure. And it si no wonder then that when they attempt to imitate the joy in living which they see as the ‘essence’ fo soul and blackness, their cultural productions may have an air of sham and falseness that may titillate and even more white audiences yet leave many black folks cold” (158). Like Madonna, Miley decided to appropriate black culture when she shed her Disney image, twerking all over the stage with her backup dancers, wearing heavy gold chains and associating herself musically with artists like Snoop Lion and Lil’ Wayne. Miley tried to seem ‘tough’ and ‘ghetto’. and although she did receive a lot of criticism, she also received a new horde of teenaged fans as the former little white suburban girls who had worshipped Hannah Montana became teenagers absorbed in pop culture and how America fetishizes black culture while simultaneously oppressing black people. Bellhooks mentions how black women did not like Madonna, and today, I wonder how black women view Miley Cyrus? Or how black women viewed Taylor Swift’s shake it off video, as another ‘good’ white girl removed herself from the skill and sensuality it took to twerk? Because over and over again, I only hear white women commenting, and I was ashamed in myself and society that I had never heard the comments of a black women on any of these artists.
It is also interesting that Miley, like Madonna, like Marilyn Monroe and many others, came from a ‘white trash’ background which we’ve discussed in relation to black culture before. Although Miley possibly was known as being the daughter of a former famous country one-hit wonder, her association with country still left her in what had been known as a lower rung of society, and Madonna and Marilyn themselves came from poorer, abusive, ‘white trash’ homes. Bellhooks discusses the artifice of Madonna’s personality, it also applies to Miley today. “Like many black women who have stood outside the culture’s fascination with the blonde beauty and who have only been able to reach it through imitation and artifice, Madonna often recalls that she was working-class white girl who saw herself as ugly, as outside the mainstream beauty standard” (159). Does it make sense their personalities are so constructed, since they needed to distance themselves from their trashy background? “An indeed what some of us like about her is the way she deconstructs the myth of ‘natural’ white girl beauty by exposing the extent to which it can be and is usually artificially constructed and maintained. She mocks the conventional racist defined beauty ideal even as she rigorously strives to embody it” (159). Even if it does make sense, why is it that their construction must include themselves in relation to blackness? Are those the only dichotomies they know? Doesn’t it do very little to distance themselves in the first place, leading instead to a full circle of their personas? These are questions to which I have no answer, but keep going around in my head nonetheless.