Miley Madness and society’s irreversible moral decline
Of the many challenging aspects of parenting, one of the greatest is the pressure to restrict or ban your kids from watching or listening to entertainers who push the boundaries of decency. The seamier parts of popular culture are so pervasive that it often seems impossible to shield your children from what the classification people like to call “adult concepts”.
Consider the program Masterchef. It’s terrific family entertainment - fun, civilised, educational. Masterchef has Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” as its theme song. After watching it a few times the kids love this catchy tune and ask you to download it from iTunes. Next thing you know you’re playing it in the car and your five-year-old son is singing along with the offensively incomprehensible line “And you PMS like a bitch that I know.” Terrific stuff.
Should you step in and play the censor, you risk drawing their attention to something they either don’t understand, or hadn’t even noticed anyway. And if you go fully down the path of banning them from a certain performer, you also risk turning that person into such a mysteriously illicit figure that your kids are much more interested in them than they were in the first place.
My otherwise excellent relationship with my parents will remain forever tarnished by their decision to ban me from attending the Kiss concert at the Adelaide Oval in 1980, despite the fact that I was a member of the Kiss Army and had saved up my lawn-mowing money to buy the albums Destroyer and Double Platinum. I argued at the time that it was just music, that I wasn’t going to start breathing fire or coughing up blood like Gene Simmons did, that it was just fun and their songs were awesome. Equally, a subsequent teenage obsession with Nick Cave’s drug-addled punk band The Birthday Party did not turn me into a self-harming heroin addict. Yet they were the subject of a brief ban too.
Anyway, armed with these possibly defeatist rationalisations I found myself sitting in row Y, seats 7 and 8, at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Wednesday night with my eight-year-old daughter to watch Miley Cyrus on her Gypsy Heart tour. The sold-out concert was 80 per cent made up of girls aged seven to 13, like the Big Day Out for tweenies, with the remainder of the crowd being mums and dads.
Our path to the Miley Cyrus concert came via The Disney Channel. Cyrus, daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus (he of Achy Breaky Heart fame), established herself as a superstar in her earlier and more saccharine incarnation as Hannah Montana. For the past two years the Disney program of the same name has been on high rotation at our place, as have Hannah Montana tunes such as Butterfly Fly Away and The Climb, which are pleasant and listenable.
Cyrus, 18, is currently in the same place many former child stars have been, in that she is trying to kill off her G-rated image with a new look and show which could described by way of understatement as “edgy”. This was evidenced by her arrival on stage in leather hot pants with a zip down the front and a sort of suspender and boot ensemble, and a bustier. Hmmm. Maybe I should have done some more research before buying the tickets.
Cyrus has also changed her set list and doesn’t sing songs like Butterfly Fly Away anymore. Signalling the burial of Hannah Montana, she performed a medley of teenage rebellion anthems including Cherry Bomb by the deeply troubled all-girl band The Runaways, and I Love Rock and Roll (made famous by Joan Jett), and then embarked on her much-maligned cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, which I didn’t mind as it gave an old gen X-er like me something to sing along to.
In her on-stage banter Cyrus didn’t use any bad words or display any kind of narky teen attitude. There was lots of love for Adelaide – “you guys are the greatest” – and plenty of empowering platitudes about how we all need to love ourselves and follow our dreams.
With an adult tendency towards over-thinking things, you can find yourself reflecting on how the invocation to love yourself and follow your dream sits with getting around in leather hotpants. In her review of the concert on the way back to the car, my daughter had a more laidback take on things.
“She could probably have worn more clothes. You wouldn’t wear those sort of clothes until you were her age. But you probably wouldn’t wear them anyway, or not in public. In real life she doesn’t wear those clothes, in the photos of her in the Miley magazine, whenever she goes out of the house she always wears lots of layers. You would only wear those clothes if you are a rock star putting on a show.”
This assessment wasn’t a world away from my unsuccessful defence of Kiss some 32 years ago. I might be a softer touch than my folks were. But I am still not convinced that what I witnessed on Wednesday was proof of a civilisation in irreversible moral decline, rather something which even an eight-year-old can identify as harmless fun - albeit fun which is worth having a semi-serious discussion about on the way back to the car.
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