Twerk Ethics

[The following is blurry, but perhaps that is for the best. It is the only full version of the performance at issue currently available on YouTube, and it may not be there for long. Watch at your own risk.]

To listen to the horrified reaction to Miley Cyrus’s relatively obscene performance at the nationally televised MTV Music Video awards (not so long ago, Miley was that cute tween Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel) , one would think that rock and pop stars intentionally crossing the established lines of symbolic pubic sexual decorum was unprecedented. The furious and shocked condemnations seemed to emanate from some parallel culture, like the alternate universe that implicitly exists on CBS’s updated Sherlock Holmes drama “Elementary” (Sherlock is a precariously recovering alcoholic and drug addict; Dr. Watson is a former Charlie’s Angel) where nobody ever heard of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Basil Rathbone or the dancing men cipher, because Arthur Conan Doyle never invented the character. ( The British updated Sherlock, uncreatively titled “Sherlock,” is so far superior to “Elementary” —which isn’t bad–that  it’s unsettling.) Have Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, Sally Rand, Elvis, the Stones, Jim Morrison,, Madonna and Christina Aguilera been erased from the past by some music-hating cyborg from a dystrophy future where everyone sings like Matt Munro?

Gross simulated sexual display on television prime time has unethical elements, to be sure. It’s uncivil, to begin with, intentionally placing socially objectionable content before a lot of viewers who don’t want to see it. That’s a breach of respect, but a minor one in this context. Janet Jackson flashed a breast during the Superbowl half-time show, after all: the argument that this was a family event that shouldn’t have been unexpectedly transformed into a peep show was grounded in fact. This week, however, I heard earnest mothers protesting that their delicate pre-teens were watching the MTV awards and had the innocence cruelly seared out of them by the unexpected and horrifying sight of Miley twerking ( simulating sex while dancing—a brand new addition to the Oxford dictionary) on Robin Thicke, dressed as Beetlejuice. Those mothers, not to be excessively cruel myself, are idiots.

What did they expect to see? This is a live show populated by competing shameless self-promoting narcissists who know that the performer who says or does the most outrageous thing will win the publicity game, and be a topic of debate for days or even weeks. Miley won, that’s all. If a child saw something age-inappropriate, the parents can only blame themselves.  This was roughly the equivalent of letting your kid watch “The Walking Dead” and complaining to AMC that the show’s violence is excessive for children. Ethics breach #1 is by any parent who allowed a child to watch this show while wanting to protect the child’s exposure to sexually provocative material. Irresponsible, incompetent, and stupid. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Annette Funicello

AnnetteAnnette died yesterday after a long, painful decline triggered by the onset of Multiple Sclerosis 25 years ago. To understand why she was an Ethics Hero, one need only read the New York Times obituary, which captures her essence well. One is an Ethics Hero if one goes through life caring about others, being loyal, responsible and fair, never inflating one’s own value and worth above those you live and work with, and having integrity.

If you can do all this while being a celebrity, TV star, teen idol, recording star,  movie star and adolescent lust object, you are more than an Ethics Hero. You are a miracle. That was Annette. Continue reading