The Feminist Media Reader #17 - Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and information over anger

by - Saturday, September 05, 2015

What a week it's been for the media. In the midst of the refugee crisis, something as frivolous as the MTV Video Music Awards seems stupid and ridiculous, but nonetheless, this is the Feminist Media Reader and I still wanted to go ahead and post my thoughts.

This year's VMA's feminist message was warped to begin with, with the majority of awards going to Taylor Swift for a video that celebrates feminism in it's video but is ultimately a song about a scrap with another girl. Still, it's one of the biggest pop cultural events of the year and so I wasn't alone when I settled myself down on the sofa, cracked out the popcorn and prepared myself for a slew of dubious dresses, mimed performances and a whole lot of cut-to-Kardashians. What I wasn't prepared for was my mild dislike for Miley Cyrus to descend into full-grown despair.

For reasons I've never really been able to put my finger on, I've never been keen on Miley. She's like that girl you went to school with who pisses about in lessons and updates her MySpace page about how 'totes random' she is even half of her anecdotes are entirely fabricated. She's given the world some incredible pop singles (Wreckin' Ball and We Can't Stop) but has always pulled away before showing any real vulnerability or sense of personality, opting instead for childish cries of attention that counteract her supposed intentions to portray a more grown-up side of herself. A walking emoticon, her whole shtick is one of carelessness - or is it? She's hellbent on everybody knowing that she's smokes pot and that she doesn't give a f**k about anything, and has made some positive steps forward for the LGBTQ community by being upfront about her sexuality. She's clearly not an unintelligent lady or businesswoman. But for someone so intent on being subversive, she really isn't saying much about the most deeply intrenched issues in the industry.

On Monday night I watched a car crash of an awards ceremony, and this was long before Nicki Minaj showed up. Crude jokes without any base in humour, tossing her culturally appropriated dreadlocks while gleefully mocking The Weeknd for having similar hair - smugly acknowledgly that while his hairstyle was something of a necessity, hers was something she could toss aside at the end of the night when something cooler came along. From her use of black backing dancers as props to her tiresome 'I can't be a racist because I love 'hood' music' rhetoric, she has been picking and choosing the elements of black culture to adopt the same way you or I might choose what to have for dinner, and her comments of late appeared to be the last straw. Heck, even her very latest decision to release her album over night without any warning was pillaged from a black artist (hiya Beyonce).

For those living under a rock, I'll give you a brief synopsis. Nicki Minaj called out the VMA's for showing positive bias to skinny white female artists, Taylor Swift got a bit annoyed before realising it wasn't about her and swiftly (no pun intended) apologising, and then, during promo for the VMA's themselves, Miley was asked what she made of Nicki's comments:

"If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it... If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself...What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind...I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world." - NY TIMES

In one interview with the NY Times, Miley Cyrus did exactly what the media has been doing to black musicians for years - she smugly painted her as the 'angry black girl', leaving herself to be the pure and innocent. Considering her privileged upbringing, I would go as far as to suggest that Nicki Minaj might not need a lecture on the best way to discuss race from Miley Cyrus. It seems that Cyrus doesn't actually know what's going on in the world - black artists are sidelined daily. Miley should know this - she's been caught out herself for fetishing black bodies and sexualising them as a 'wild' and 'exotic', lapping up the plaudits for herself. Both in Hollywood and MTVland, the industry loves black culture but not black people - where Katy Perry can wear grillz and lounge 'sexily' in a cloud and Taylor Swift can make music videos with twerking black girls and white ballerinas, but Nicki Minaj in a thong singing about her own body empowerment is dangerous to our children and society.When Janet Jackson was blacklisted by MTV for the accidental nip slip of the superbowl, but Miley Cyrus can let hers go on a live broadcast because she's kooky like that.  Of course Nicki made this argument about herself - she's the one being attacked time after time, and as one of the biggest black female artists in the industry right now, she is perfectly placed to use her platform to force a mirror in front of the executives who are influencing the nations consumer habits.

And so this argument came to a head - as Nicki collected her award for Anaconda at the VMA's (one has to cynically wonder if this a last-ditch attempt on MTV's part to reclaim some PC-ness), she thanked her fans and her pastor before rounding on Miley with the words ''And now back to this b**** that had a lot to say to me in the press. What's good?''

The line was delivered playfully, although admittedly, calling someone a bitch suggests they probably aren't that happy with you. But the way the media has responded is entirely representative of the way the media treats black women. Before the show had finished transmission articles were flying out portraying Nicki as violent, aggressive and spoiling for a fight while Miley cowered in the corner, despite only saying a grand total of 18 words (from a distance) towards Miley on the night.

Minaj's decision to have the discussion on live TV and stand up for herself is a direct response to how women are expected to behave - quiet, reserved, lacking in confrontation. I don't believe rudeness is always the answer, but I think it's about time black women began to stand up for themselves and their right to discuss the way they view their position in the world. Watching Nicki use the phrase 'what's good?', a traditional Jamaican way of expressing confrontation and seeing Miley's face so blank in response says it all - she can wear as many dreads and use the word 'mammy' as much as she likes, but she isn't anywhere near as clued up on black culture as she thinks she is.

There's space for everyone in the music industry. Yes, even Miley Cyrus - this isn't about pitting white artists against black ones. But what we do need is space for thoughtfulness, sensible and open conversation. We need to stop diminishing the struggles of others in interviews, or talking with authority about issues we know nothing about. In that very same interview with the New York Times, Miley Cyrus went on to admit that she barely listens to chart music and doesn't own a TV - why speak so strongly about an issue you know nothing about? Ignorance breeds ignorance. The sad matter of this all is that it's the men who are benefitting from this spat between women - the men who are running our TV networks, our magazines and our social networks. I finish this post with a word from a voice more important than mine in this matter - Nicki Minaj.

For impeccable further reading far more eloquent than I could achieve, check out articles here and here.

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