Skip to main content

If Miley Cyrus outrages you, don't watch

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Special to CNN
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since. Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since.
HIDE CAPTION
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christopher Ferguson: Miley Cyrus' performance seemed calculated to spark controversy
  • He says the act succeeded in drawing attention and provoking objections from watchdog group
  • Was it in poor taste? Ferguson says yes, but it's not the end of civilization
  • Ferguson: There's little reason to think these performances cause lasting harm

Editor's note: Christopher J. Ferguson is chair of the psychology department at Stetson University. He is the author of the novel "Suicide Kings."

(CNN) -- On Sunday night Miley Cyrus put on a performance at MTV's Video Music Awards that appeared specifically contrived to elicit controversy and, by Monday morning, sure enough the controversy had arrived.

For those who missed it (and in fact I missed it until compelled to watch it on YouTube due to the controversy), Cyrus put on a performance that ranged from simply bizarre to crudely offensive, with plenty of twerking and rude gestures with a foam hand more reminiscent of a drunken frat party than good art.

Such a performance is bait, and I use that term on purpose, for the more sanctimonious set to thunder about the degradation of our society.

Outraged parents: Miley, what were you thinking?

Christopher J. Ferguson
Christopher J. Ferguson

As if on cue, the Parents Television Council, a nonprofit "watchdog" group and perennial foil of naughty media everywhere, issued a press release condemning the VMAs, which, of course, succeeded in little more than drawing more attention to them.

The council called also for legislation that would allow viewers to select cable stations buffet-style rather than getting stuck with multiple channels they don't want. I'm actually sympathetic to this kind of a la carte cable system (although adult viewers should have the opportunity to select more adult-oriented channels if they wish and efforts to scrub cable clean seem nannyish).

On the other hand, if you went in watching the VMAs, particularly with Lady Gaga headlining, with no clue you might see something shocking, you went in uninformed.

First, let's put things in perspective. Were elements of the VMAs artistically dubious and in poor taste, particularly if you (somehow) didn't see it coming? Absolutely. Are they the end of civilization as we know it? Absolutely not.

Miley Cyrus act just good marketing?
Miley Cyrus' performance shocks fans
O-M-Miley: From teen queen to too grown

Opinion: Miley is sexual -- get over it

Although it's common to imply that media images such as these are harmful to minors, evidence for this has been inconsistent at best. Two early studies linked watching sexy media with small increases in the likelihood of initiating sex earlier in the teen years. However, psychologists Laurence Steinberg and Kathryn Monahan reanalyzed one of the datasets and found that, with other variables properly controlled, the influence of sexy media was negligible.

And we must remember that, though explicit media are probably more available now than at any time in history, teens have been having sex later than in previous generations, and becoming pregnant less often. We have to be careful not to mix moral outrage, which may be justified, with a public health crisis when one is not apparent.

Miley upholds VMAs tradition

All of this outrage appears calculated to me, however (it doesn't help that Cyrus' father sits on the board of advisers for the Parents Television Council). The performers who do outrageous stuff do so on purpose because scandal sells. And "watchdog" groups themselves often thrive off outrage.

Such groups would wither financially if it were not for the public's outrage and fear of media. The council's website contains handy instructions on how not just to donate money but to include the group in your estate, give stocks, an automobile, etc. Fairly common for advocacy groups to be sure, but it still gives them skin in the game. Members of these groups may act in good faith, but let's not mistake them for objective, financially uninterested parties.

The irony is that likely all the furor has probably only encouraged teens to see what all the fuss is about on YouTube.

If one is serious about reducing sexual content in the media, making a big fuss only draws attention. Telling teens they shouldn't watch only makes them want to watch more. If you would like to see less of Cyrus twerking (and count me among those masses), the answer is quite simple: Change the channel. We need less outrage, less nannying and more apathy toward such silliness.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christopher Ferguson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT