These are the headlines concerning Miley Cyrus’s recently released music video “Wrecking Ball.” Daily News goes for the literal description:
“Miley cries, swings around completely naked in ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video.”
The Guardian makes an advisory:
“Miley Cyrus’s new Wrecking Ball video says young women should be sexually available.”
And of course, FoxNews calls it “sex-crazed,” then investigates the director’s “lurid past.” Most newspapers have settled for the you-thought-she-changed-but-guess-what-she’s-still-crazy approach. But all of them are missing the point! And it’s breaking my heart.
This video is not raunchy. It is not sex-crazed. It does not mean that Miley Cyrus is sexually available. If you pay attention instead of just looking at the snapshots, it is the farthest thing from sexy or erotic.
Yes, she is naked. Yes, she is licking a sledgehammer. Yes, she is riding a huge swinging ball, but the sexual innuendos are not suggestive or inviting, and those who believe so are using the wrong key to decode Miley’s messages.
The imagery in this video is dark, sharp and violent: a square room constructed with concrete blocks, shades of black, grey, and white, a sledgehammer in her hand. The wrecking ball smashes the walls, leaving piles of rubble and ash. It is in this dangerous environment that Miley is naked and exposed, either clothed in skimpy white undergarments or literally nude. Her sexual movements represent her vain effort; her nakedness is vulnerability.
This is in sharp contrast to the idea recently popularized by the “Blurred Lines” music video that a naked woman is powerful and in control. The Femme Fatale trope has for years been making female sexuality out to be some kind of superpower that can control a man and make him do things while he is under her suggestive spell. We have almost forgotten that naked also means exposed and more vulnerable in the face of rejection or abuse.
Miley’s song confesses how she used sex appeal to “break down [someone’s] walls” and shatter their defenses. She had “never hit so hard in love.” It was a home-run. She brought her A-game. But instead of being “let in,” as she had hoped, she was wrecked.
“All I wanted was to break your walls/all you ever did was wreck me.”
She tried to use her sexuality as a weapon but the tactic failed. And even amidst the rubble of her fallen walls and her broken heart, she still kisses and caresses the sledgehammer both in memory of, and in an empty attempt to get the love she desires. As one commenter on YouTube wrote: “she still loves the pain.” She is broken and hurting. In trying to strip his defenses with her sexuality, her own defenses were shattered.
“I never meant to start a war/I just wanted you to let me in/and instead of using force/I guess I should have let you in.”
I found this video deeply moving, and not just because a tear rolls down Miley’s cheek in the opening shot. The theme of being “wrecked” by love is a universal one. We can all relate to that in some way. But this video makes the song particularly relevant in our current media environment, where girls and women are every day encouraged to make themselves beautiful and sexy to get the love they want.
The environment we have created for women to find and give love is a dangerous one. We have made it all about sex, instead of emotions or authenticity. For years, the media have been telling women that sex appeal is our only power, the only weapon we have to get what we want. But sex is not a tool or a weapon, as Miley has discovered, and if you try to use it that way, it will backfire on you.
The newspapers have it all wrong. Miley’s video is not telling young women to be sexually available. It is a warning for young women about the dangers of using your sexuality as a weapon—a “wrecking ball.” Instead, she advises us to let each other in.
Now watch the video again and weep.