It has been a year since Miley Cyrus’ (aka “Hannah Montana”) infamous dance with Robin Thicke on MTV’s Video Music Awards ceremony. A rich, privileged white girl publicly announced her entrance into the adult world by dancing on a stage with giant teddy-bears; she then stripped to her underwear to gyrate with her African-American dance troupe. The implicit racism might have been unintentional, but it was not subtle.
For a few moments the crude, unattractive and highly sexualised imagery might have made the strongest American patriot wonder about the merits of strict Sharia law. Unfortunately, most of the criticism has fallen on the head of poor Miss Cyrus; but it’s arguable that she had no option but to produce a shocking performance to survive as an artist. After Britney and Christina Aguilera’s infamous performance with Madonna in 2003, MTV prescribed a media narrative for young female artists who wish to be taken more seriously. To show maturity, they must perform to gratify lewd male desires.
Much of the criticism in the secular press has been hypocritical. Robin Thicke performed with Miss Cyrus, yet escaped most of the criticism. Madonna and Lady Gaga have callously used sexual imagery to attain fame and both have been applauded for it. Artists deliberately outrage the defenders of “family values” to achieve the status of a rebel. So let us put the language of family values aside, and assess MTV as Christians. The failures are obvious. The Scriptures assume that sex is a gift to be enjoyed. Indeed, Song of Solomon preaches the benefits of indulgent intimacy. But that gift belongs to a marriage; so it is to be enjoyed in private. It is also a gift that can create new life; so it is to be treated with respect.
Of course, it is important to keep things in perspective. God also gave us many other gifts to enjoy, like food and friendship. Sex is not to be worshipped; indeed, we might be tempted to compare the performances of Robin Thicke and Lady Gaga with pagan celebrations of sexuality. But even the ancient pagans would look at MTV with contempt. Ancient Near Eastern rituals aimed at communion with the gods. The ancients were acutely aware of their own finitude; they sought to control the chaotic world without, and the unruly heart within, by harnessing the personal forces who controlled nature. That is to say, they sensed some transcendent purpose in their world and wanted to live in harmony with it.
Our culture is poorer than the pagan’s of old. In the West, sex has no meaning than the meaning we give to it; it has no ultimate value. We have idolatry but not spirituality; sensuality, but not purpose. In the world of MTV, sex is simply a sensation that can be used to sell products. Music, message and voice are worth nothing if the package does not look desirable. Indeed, Miss Cyrus herself becomes little more than a product.
When the cultural elite suspect that the universe is nothing more than matter society tends towards materialism. Then our value can be quantified in terms of financial output and our happiness measured in consumption. The problem is that happiness requires more than pleasant sensations. Real happiness can only be achieved with the sense that our life has been worthwhile; that we have some eternal value. Joy can only be encountered in the presence of selfless love. MTV gives us shows about nothing; a reminder that secularism has no values to offer and has no goods worth buying.