Was Miley’s “Tribal” Performance At The Much Music Awards Offensive?
Miley performed her new song “Can’t Be Tamed” at the MuchMusic Awards in Toronto this weekend, but not everyone is happy with the performance. Some blogs say the tiki torches, her backup dancers’ tribal-looking face paint, and the part where she looks like she’s being dragged on a stick (say, like a wild boar?) is offensive to aboriginal cultures. In “Can’t Be Tamed” — in case you’re not a huge, loser-ish fan of the song like I am — Miley sings lyrics like “I can’t be tamed, don’t change me, if you try to hold me back I might explode.” Mary Elizabeth Williams, a blogger for Salon’s Broadsheet, described the choreography thusly:
“There were bare feet. Torches. And lots of savage hair flipping. Her multiracial troupe tried to lock her up, to prod her with spears, even carry her off like a missionary on a spit.”
Indeed, Miley’s dancers and the set design all look “un-tamed,” “wild,” and “exotic.” It’s not difficult to see how it could be perceived as an offensive characterization of tribal people who actually look — or live — like that, considering how throughout the world’s history, colonizing nations have seen fit to “tame” indigenous peoples.
Not that Miley thinks about that stuff: the kid probably just thinks she’s being “edgy.” So perhaps we should just write it off as a choreographer’s creativity. But let’s not forget that Miley does not have an awesome record of cultural sensitivity towards other races. Remember that time a photograph of her slanting her eyes, apparently trying to look Asian, was leaked? After watching this performance, I’m guessing her handlers don’t care much for cultural sensitivity, either. As Amelia wrote at the time of Miley’s mock-Asian eyes incident, “racism and sexism and homophobia are not so dead — or dead at all —that offensive jokes are anything other than offensive.”
I personally do not like when political correctness dictates art. But I also think there’s a million ways to be creative without being offensive/racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., so I typically roll my eyes at the people who get so defensive about their right to be jerks. And anyway, considering how Miley’s performance reminds me of Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 You” choreography at the MTV Video Music Awards a few years ago (more face paint, set done up like a jungle, a tiger onstage, Brit danced around with a giant snake on her shoulders), I mostly just think she’s being lazy:
Here’s hoping as Miley grows up and breaks free from Daddy Cyrus and her handlers, she’ll acquire some originality — and some cultural sensitivity.