Sunday, December 22, 2013

From Miley et al. – with self-love

The NYT ran an article last week covering the Christmas pop concert at Madison Square Garden. The average age of the chaperoned audience was maybe 9, at most 11. Many had come to see Miley, and she did not disappoint. The NYT piece starts with this remarkable paragraph: “The intensity for Miley is real, read an audience member’s live tweet above the stage during the Z100 Jingle Ball on Friday night. Stone truth. Up to the moment of Miley Cyrus’s appearance, whenever her name was mentioned the massed screaming had something extra, a sound of acrid immediacy, released into the air of Madison Square Garden like the smell of burning wires.” Further on Ben Ratliff, the NYT pop critic, says “everything preceding her felt secondary”; and goes on to present a graphic depiction of the singer’s preposterous outfit and absurd “dancing” routine. In his view, despite the obligatory ironizing, there’s an obvious earnestness in Miley’s public provocations, “an almost boring will to transgress.” Mr Ratliff notes that her singing “became a pointed rejection of the rhythm of Jingle Ball, in which the upbeat mood must rule” – an attitude problem which was already apparent a few years back when the star was still 17, and couldn’t quite “access the deep joy" in another song.

If anyone thought the obvious – that the effort to market yet another transgressive young adult starlet appeared a bit lame, and unlikely to produce the next megastar – they miscalculated grossly, as I did. She pulled it off, defying such thinking “inside the box,” and is headed for a mega world tour with her new album. I know, perhaps we should not read too much into this chapter of cultural history – and particularly resist the temptation to jump to the obvious conclusion, as some thick British conservatives have done, that such shenenigans could herald the decline and fall of Western civilization. Somehow, I can’t help it. Such concerns, by the way, were shrugged off a few days earlier with reference to the now infamous selfie at the Soweto stadium. I am thinking, though, of the following – hopefully false – analogy. Imagine comparable scenes from the lively cultural and political scene in Rome, circa 408 AD. I can easily imagine the pundits of the day similarly scoffing: “Ha, ha – as if this could bring the end of Roman civilization…”

I was trying to figure out, by the way, whom the Danish prime minister reminded me of. The lack of embarrassment, even of an elementary sense of propriety (after the incident, she insisted before reporters that politicians, when they get together, were entitled to some “fun” – just like everybody else; and this was the latest in a string of insensitive remarks chronicled meticulously in the Danish press); plus the weakness for designer brands. And then it hit me – but, of course, the “Bling ring” girls, minus that kind of unnecessary transgression! Of course, Ms. Thorning-Schmidt always has rock-solid defense when she is branded by Danish journalists as a sometimes clueless narcissist – she is unfairly stereotyped as the pretty blonde; and a man in her place would have gotten off with much less flak (as Boris Johnson has done most of the time). To which the obvious retort would be: if you don’t want to be stereotyped as a pretty blonde, don’t act and speak as one on a regular basis. Be more like Michelle, who was the only one to show good judgment as she gave her husband that stern look at the stadium and, no doubt, scolded him later (though at other, more suitable occasions, she has proven herself quite capable of having fun).

Incidentally, there is much research indicating that the kind of keen emotional attunement Ms. Obama showed is key to sound political, not just matrimonial judgment. So, who knows, maybe she would have made a better president than her cool yet tortured life partner. The trouble is, people who do have such sensitivity and judgment would rarely have the burning, plus size ambition, to say nothing of the stamina needed to wither an American electoral campaign. This, I assume, should work for Hilary.

Ms. Thorning-Schmidt, by the way, proudly carries the banner of the Danish Social Democratic Party which, according to Wikipedia, was formed in 1871; formed its first national government in 1924; appointed the first female cabinet minister in the world that same year; stayed in power until 1942 and laid the foundations of the Danish welfare state during that period when the idea still seemed quaint. Which reminds me of an older article titled “What’s Left of the Left,” describing “Paul Krugman’s lonely crusade.” I assume it’s a rhetorical question. And what is left of the right? If the British PM is a good indicator, to say nothing of the blond buffoon who could one day replace him on Britain’s “conservative” horizon, approximately as much. Sometimes I am left thinking – what’s left of politics? And what does political science study, really?