Friday, October 11, 2013

Miley Cyrus as Postmodern Icon and Symbol of Late Millenial and iGeneration Culture: Towards A Theory of Popular Culture Under Late-Stage Capitalism (A Work In Progress)

Understanding What Miley Represents: Deconstructing A Decentered Culture

Miley Cyrus as a cultural symbol stands for nothing, substantiates nothing and ultimately means nothing. In this manner, she is the most representative of any pop star yet created and nurtured by late stage capitalist American culture.  

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She has no defining qualities: (as with some of the most successful pop-stars) her capricious looks and stated beliefs change with marketing ploys, new albums and commercial campaigns, but she even lacks some of the traditional physical qualities that have been focal selling points for more recent female pop stars (think Britney Spears, Katy Perry etc. who often rely on their physical attributes and socialized feminine appearance). Hence, Cyrus's need to so strangely and emphatically create some sort of a public image and extreme but empty representation of herself. If Michael Jackson was the transitional high modernist to post-modernist realization of a pop celebrity, then Cyrus is its complete fruition and apotheosis. She is our culture’s Destiny.

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Un-tethered to any of the modernist values that moralized and justified a belief system based on once fixed rules, or reacting in direct relation to or against such a moral belief system (a la punk rock and generally, counter culture), she represents the first generation raised entirely in the age of the internet. The constancy previously represented/broadcast by such institutions as the church, the state and even the traditional, grounded world of the corporation has had little to no effect on the Millenials. Yes they are vaguely aware of much of it, and they may even purport to have religion or a codified and constant center. 

What spiritual or constant self could one have, when pushed and pulled at every angle by advertisements for products, belief systems and even outward appearances to try on? If identity in a late-stage capitalist post-modern dominated society is shaped, purchased and created through owning and displaying products, what “self” can there be? The decentered self testing the spacial qualities of its world rather than the metaphysical ones is what we’re left with.

Cyrus is the decentered and ever shifting celebrity self (without a self), raised by corporate trends, Hollywood handlers, and agents, and steeped and encouraged in her narcissism, self-absorption and fame. Her behavior has always been cultured and developed behind the scenes in a lab, always with the public eye in mind. Every move is coordinated and cross-checked for the marketplace. 

She’s the fruition of the post-modern progression of popular culture that values nothing other than instant gratification, brought on by capitalist ideology. To say she’s nihilist or apathetic misses the point. Pop culture itself is not equivalent to nihilism or apathy; it holds few things sacred, outside of its own referentiallity, self importance, self perpetuation, money/ownership and the aforementioned impulse to gratify. In a sense then, these are the new values. Our popular culture, driven by corporate supply and artificially altered public demand, firmly believes in these as its core qualities. Those that do not own enough or the right things, are described as “poor”;this is in an economic sense of course, but also implies poor in spirit,potential, and of course poor in social standing. To own things is to exist and represents active participation in late-stage capitalism, which is the only way imaginable for those raised within it. 

Transposing and Defining the “I” for the iGeneration

The Millennials lack self because the antiquated notion of a fixed self ceases to exist in the ultimate gestations of post-modern culture. The creation of, perpetuation of, and ultimate belief in a progression of the concept of self, begun in and around the age of Enlightenment, has now reached its own mirrored-apex in the era of the Millenials and popularly in Miley Cyrus.

The Enlightenment first conceived of and publicized the self, as it “sang of [it]self and celebrat[ed] [it]self.” It created laws to protect and perpetuate the notion of the self (See the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and the French Revolution etc.). In part, this was because the individual self as entity is essential to ownership of personal and private property which had only recently been borne and fully propagated. The Romantics waxed poetic about the multitudes held within the soul, or the core and fixed representation of being, the entity which possesses, profits, creates and owns. In other words, the entity that is necessary to take part in the capitalist marketplace.

On this same trajectory, Modernism was the next realization of the self, the next step on the evolutionary ladder. The self became a distorted and often hazy proposition, a twisted and distorted refraction of the centered-self dreamed of by Enlightenment era philosophers and thinkers, but was still based on a center of gravity, a “winding wheel” to rap oneself around, a comparison point/mile marker with which to judge the permutations of the different selves of the world. Modernist and high-modernist art often focused on the fragmentation of the self as related to forms of expression, mental illness and the impressionistic qualities of the self and the surrounding world.  

In the post-modern era we've seen the end of self, or at least the dissipation of the traditional concept of self. Personal identity is not a fixed proposition or singular belief that comes from an inner being or soul, it's an ever-shifting amalgam of images, socialized concepts, products and other ephemera. Self is now created and distributed for the masses, as a social product that is transmitted electronically.

Come See the Wheels of the Machine Twerk On: "If a body catch a body coming through the iPhone..."

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“We Can’t Stop, We Won’t Stop” then, is the indirect mantra of the helpless and self-lacking (not to be confused with “selfless”) Millenial culture as it comes of age and takes possession of its own being. It comes in the language of the addict, mixed with the belief system of the capitalist. A mélange of apathy and a pastiche of empty meaning.

In traditional terms, the “coming of age” represented when one took responsibility (nee “ownership,” conceptually related to owning property) for one’s actions, and conceived of a future for the self. But once again, as in the creation of the concept of the self by the Enlightenment and its relation to property ownership, the realization and expression of the self is done in the terms of capitalism, that being one predicated on purchasing and owning property. Because Millennials have been socialized to own more and at a younger age by corporate advertisers and society at large, their grabs at self-actualization only seem more feeble and meaningless. If one already owns property at a young age, then a transition from adolescence to adulthood represents nothing more than ownership/control of one’s immediate flesh and blood, or perhaps gaining more property.

However, one with no self cannot take responsibility for its own actions. It can only take ownership of products, items and in the case of the adolescent, one’s own body. Hence the emphasis on the body as a representation of freedom in young women: what previously had been controlled and directed by the family, the rules/laws of society (for the under-age), and the hegemony of men, now comes into its own in a rite of spring. To fetishize (display and celebrate) one’s own body and act in accordance to one’s own sexuality for late millennial and iGeneration  women is virtually all that is left of the expression of the self. Much of western society teaches and raises women as sex objects, early on ones that are controlled and directed by others, so it only makes sense that the act of having sex or even the open display of sexual qualities for the first time is a statement of selfhood and control. 

The common Millienial and iGeneration women, those who Miley Cyrus is selling products to and in theory representative of, do not believe in feminism. The language and focus of feminism, under its post-structural third wave have become abstruse and disconnected from the lion’s share of the middle-class female populace at large. All that remains is the primal and base cry of the more extreme and reactionary wing of the second-wave feminists as it relates to sexual control/selfhood and reproductive rights: the right to choose to have sex, and in be in power of one’s own sovereign body. With no real form of self-expression outside of owning products, both young men and young women will opt for sex and the physical body as the closest thing to expressing and defining a now distant concept of “selfhood” and being.

“We Can’t Stop, We Won’t Stop” is the rallying cry of a now warped and empty transition to adulthood inside late-stage capitalism. “It’s our party” as in we own and control this scenario. We are members of the capitalist marketplace, if only because we can schlep our body around in ever stranger ways, which then creates a very base concept of self: the self is my physical body and what I choose to do with it.

In the face of a baby boomer controlled culture that has worshiped and capitalized on youth in order to sell products, we see the progeny is the shallow but self-absorbed iGeneration. Their entire lives they’ve been coddled and given whatever they want, so that the only thing that hasn’t been given to them, can’t be taken away and can’t be fully controlled is their own body. 
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Sadly, Miley Cyrus is our child: collectively the culture’s. We’ve raised, nurtured and encouraged her to be what she is today. We watched her grow on Hannah Montana as a fictional pop-star with multiple personalities, then morph into a real one. She is a product with no actual being to speak of, and her public persona represents nothing in particular. Her wild gesticulations and tongue wagging, are nothing more than an inert replica of the modernist culture that challenged the status quo and the prevailing rules and conservancies of religion, government and the family which held actual meaning in a not-too-distant past world still based on the concept of a centered reality. (Those pangs of guilt towards our freak-child easily confused as a phantom ringtone and then brushed aside.) Our decentered culture represents nothing in particular or of note outside of an affirmation of capitalism and the dissolution of the self, and Miley is its final embodiment.

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