Culture

Regarding Miley: It ain’t no secret there is a longstanding archetype of good girls gone bad

There are no good girls gone wrong – just bad girls found out.”  ― Mae West

 In seventh grade, I used to hang out with a group of six girls and four boys. We would have slumber parties and do school projects together. We were a bit nerdy. Ok, maybe a lot. We had geeky jokes but yet tried to be somewhat fashionable as we were a cute group. One day a teacher called us “pollitos” which literally translates to little chicks. However, the cultural meaning was that we were good little girls, especially in a sea of troubled girls in our South Bronx school. Soon after being given publicly that label we became bad “pollitos”. On a school trip to Central Park, we purposefully got lost arriving back to the bus two hours late. We thought we were so cool yet everyone, even the die-hard truly bad girls, were angry at us for keeping them waiting.  Yikes, that stunned us. We received a reprimand and were reminded of our supposed “pollito” status. We then went on to have a mixed-gender slumber party where we drank till our friend puked out the twentieth-floor window. Apologies to whoever got hit with the vomit down below. Our parents were notified and we went on as usual for we were just having an episode. We weren’t truly bad girls.  We then went on to have a picnic in Van Cortlandt Park were we had wine coolers and malt liquor. Can I just say screw bad girl status that was just gross!

 

My “pollito” group soon disbanded as we went our merry way to high school in the city or to boarding school far, far away. Where some of us continued our bad “pollito” antics. There was a night where a bathroom stall came crashing down just as we were going through dorm-parent check-in. I won’t go into any further details on that one. Point is, we were a group of good girls that wanted to be bad. We didn’t like the little” pollito” label.  We were not alone in that sentiment. There is only so much of a good girl label someone can take.  It comes as no surprise that Miley Cyrus is acting up and out.

 

First off, the magazine Entertainment Weekly posted a whole week before the Video Music Awards (VMA) show a photo of Miley Cyrus in some leather outfit with a tag line that said “expect wildness from Miley Cyrus”. The script, the cultural American script that is, calls for a Miley Cyrus to be outrageous.  There was no way around that.  We have seen it long before her; even long before Lady Gaga donned a meat outfit and Madonna and Britney kissed on stage. It is well known that child actors (and sometimes actors in general) oftentimes, try their damnedest to shed their sugary, “pollito” status. This is not just particular to celebrities, although their good image shedding process occurs in the public eye (often calculatedly so).

 

Pop and literary culture and history is rife with good girls gone bad. In American superhero mythology we have Catwoman. The original and most widely known Catwoman, Selina Kyle, first appears in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) in which she is known as The Cat.  She was an innocent sweet, mousy woman. Then she turned bad (although the good in her was still buried deep within). She went from good girl to alluring, mysterious, and dark.  In 1947, Author Ann Petry wrote a novella called In Darkness and Confusion that looks at the causes and nature, through a fictional character, of the Harlem Riot of 1943. The protagonist is going through a period of major confusion and darkness and part of that confusion lies in the fact that his daughter Annie May went from being such a nice girl to being so rebellious. Oh, the poor dad.

 

Speaking of which, in the White House, we have seen milder versions of good girls gone bad. For instance the Bush daughters were caught with fake identification cards and other such shenanigans. It was all seen as mild teenage rebellion that was somewhat expected. However, poor Chelsea Clinton was not afforded the luxury of turning slightly bad as her father was the ultimate good boy turned bad.

 

The good girl turned bad doesn’t always happen, or rather isn’t always witnessed, in the present moment. Florence Henderson, the actress who played the mother on the Brady Bunch came out as a bad girl. She wanted the world to know she had been bad while playing wholesome Carol Brady, mother of six.  Florence Henderson admitted she cheated on her husband, had adult relationships with her on-screen children and she got crabs from then New York City Mayor, John Lindsay.  Talk about a triple threat.  How about sweet Marcia Brady, or as we all like to say “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” The actress, who played Marcia, Maureen McCormick, was an admitted cocaine addict while filming the Brady Bunch and eventually traded sex for cocaine.  Need I remind you that the Brady Bunch was an early ’70s show?  Just recently I found out that the author of one of my favorite childhood novels, Louisa May Alcott, was known for being a bit of a raunchy bad girl herself. Even domestic home diva, although formerly incarcerated, Martha Stewart publicly put out there that she has had a threesome in the past. Everyone is getting in on the good girl gone bad act, even if it is decades later.

 

Back to present day events. How can we even claim to be shocked by the video music awards, when we are inundated with images of young women who have become famous because of a sex video? We got stuck with non-stop coverage of Paris Hilton for a better part of a decade because of the sex video “One Night in Paris.” We are still stuck with Kardashian mania in part because of Kim’s sex tape with Reggie White, which he is still trying to milk in his latest music output.  Note that I am not too sure that Paris and Kim were ever perceived as good girls. Childhood development narratives would tend to note that there is a simmering trajectory from good girl to bad girl and perhaps back to good girl. For some in the celebrity world, that trajectory may not be linear but concurrent. Paris and Kim may have been simultaneously living out the good girl and bad girl scripts.

 

This good girl gone bad image is not necessarily just particular to girls in Hollywood. In the celebrity world, men too often have to shed a good boy image in order to not be typecast. Way back when, past teen good-boy heartthrob David Cassidy posed nude for Rolling Stone asserting his masculinity and badness.  Honestly, I am not too sure that lead to different type of acting roles. Not all men in Hollywood go that route.  Some male celebrities take the Johnny Depp route and just go for weird roles to the point that there are no longer interesting.

 

Let us go back to the good girl. Miley had portrayed a young somewhat innocent starlet named Hannah Montana. She then stopped acting. She then chopped off her hair (a la Britney but not quite as crazy), started posing as a street-wise woman hanging out with rappers, and started losing more and more of her clothes. She has been on a path towards bad girlness. Thus, Miley was expected to be outrageous at the VMAs. Her twerking dance moves were a long time coming.  We cannot pretend otherwise. It is just another role that she is playing into. We, as a society, willed her that way. Her outrageousness is partly society’s doing. She is partly by-product of our need to steer women into certain roles and keep certain archetypes going.  I do note “partly” because she is a willful young woman who knows what she is doing and playing into. Mae West noted many decades ago that “I wrote the story myself. It’s about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it.” Miley wants to be in control of her image and she has been. She wants to veer her biopic into the longstanding cultural script of a good girl gone bad. We get that. Consequently, she is not so shocking. Or she shouldn’t be. Instead she is just one big ball (or finger) of tackiness that just looks pathetically posed and inauthentic. And as we all know, you can be fake as long as it is authentic. She has failed at that. Hope that she gets that. Not that she may care much.

 

6 replies »

  1. I think your last point on authenticity really nails it. I missed the awards but read about Miley’s shenanigans in articles that contrasted her with Lady Gaga’s new stylish persona.

    That reminded me of an interview I heard (might have been on PBS) with Lady Gaga several years ago, in which she spoke as a savvy business woman managing a lucrative enterprise that centered on her stage presentation. No one, least of all she, was pretending it had any necessary connection to her values, personality, beliefs. In this sense, Miley’s biggest mistake was bad stage direction and choreography.

    I’m almost quoting directly from a book which has influenced me greatly – “Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality” by Neal Gabler, who quotes historian, Daniel Boorstin in his introduction: “reality itself had been converted into stagecraft.”

    The point Gabler makes again and again is that “authenticity” becomes pretty tenuous when we look to media to school us in how to react, feel, and express what we feel. “We know how to brood,” says Gabler, “because we have seen Rebel Without a Cause.”

    The youthful rebellion you describe, as well as my own – in the 8th grade, sick of being “the good boy,” I set out on a campaign one semester to earn “unsatisfactory” marks in conduct in every class, and almost succeeded – were authentic impulses, however ineptly handled. The shadow was given its due.

    Reactions to the Miley story reminds me of reactions to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during a superbowl halftime show. When it came out that the bare boob was planned, with a breakaway panel on her leather jacket, people lost interest. My reaction was, “What a twit.” What’s unfortunate about Miley is that legions of her young fans and followers have probably not begun the increasingly difficult effort to mine what is “authentic” from the funhouse mirrors of images that are the face of 21st century America.

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    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love that lady gaga point you bring up. I need to find that clip. Yes, mileys big problem for me besides being inauthentic was just bad stage direction. Who choreographed Mileys piece? Even Paula abduls dance with MC skat Kat decades ago was better staged 😉

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      • There’s a very interesting commentary by Camille Paglia in this week’s Time Magazine (sept 9), contrastingting the sensation caused by the young Madonna with Miley’s flop. Two main points:

        1) “Madonna’s provocations were smolderingly sexy because she had a good Catholic girl’s keen sense of transgression. Subversion requires limits to violate.”
        2) “Madonna was a trained modern dancer” who had studied classic film vamps, from Marlene Dietrich through Cabaret.

        Paglia notes that you can’t get there through watching youtube videos and sums her argument up by saying, “Pop is suffering from the same malady as the art world, which is stuck on the tired old rubric that shock automatically contains value.”

        Good editorial.

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