A friend wrote me the following email last week. He's a seasoned gentleman who has oft expressed to me disappointment when youth allow themselves to be entertained by the lowest common denominator. And to be sure, his response to the Miley Cyrus VMA performance was not unlike many other peoples regardless of age and sensibility:
RE: GRATUITOUS SEXUALITY
It might be helpful in future if that what's-her-name MTV performer -- Miley Gaga? Beyonce Cyrus? -- remembered that "twerk" rhymes with "jerk."
What is being lost in all this controversy is (popular) cultural context. "Twerking" has its origins as a Hip Hop dance found celebrated in down South rap songs as early as the 1990s. DJ Jubilee's 1993 call and response laden dance track "Jubille All" may be the first commercially available song invoking the phrase.
Before we indict Jubilee for unleashing such a pithy sexist commemoration of rhythm and gyration, at least one interview of the man during his heyday seem to indicate Jubilee understood his music to be aligned with that of any well intended after school program:
“I don’t use drugs. I don’t smoke weed. I don’t drink. I don’t gamble. I grew up around all that, I see it every day and I wouldn’t wanna live that life. It’s not me so that’s why I don’t rap about it.” As far as his image goes, DJ Jubilee takes his responsibility as a role model very seriously. “I’m out every day tellin’ kids who are on the streets sellin’ drugs—’You have a chance. You have a chance in life. Your chance is now. Go to school. Get your education.’”
The above is not an attempt to justify a man extolling the virtues of twerking but to place this dance in a larger, more confusing cultural context. Jubilee may be hiding in a suit of male armored privilege but take that away and he still may be a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.
The "subculture" of Hip Hop from the Dirty South has always been characterized by its illicit nature in both lyrics and dance. It is often equally praised and criticized for it's all out celebratory nature. I am not the first to do it, but I describe southern Hip Hop to the uninitiated or close minded as embodying the same festive nature of 1970s "Old School Sugarhill" rap records: flash, cash and pizzaz. However, many Dirty South artists combine that aesthetic sensibility with a contemporary disregard for sexual taboos or enlightened gender relations.
What's more, an armchair anthropological study will find similar moves movements found in the African dance, Mapouka. Here a workshop held in Poland explores the dance:
But what is even less easier to discuss are the issues of class and race that Miley Cyrus so easily transcends by being a mass media magnet that reduces the conversation down to headlines and hashtags.
|Meet the new boss,|
same as the old boss
Furthermore, what Miley leaves on that stage is the racial and class stigma associated with twerking that perhaps a black woman working at a strip club in Atlanta will likely have a harder time transcending. Moreover, this hypothetical young black woman is somehow used as a marker for her fellow young black woman- a discredit to her race. Examples of this can be found in formal media and educational discourse and likely in informal discourse amongst family and peers as well.
Miley gets to Twerk and I doubt anyone will say to my daughters, "What's wrong with young white women today?"
|Our Bodies, |
Miley Cyrus and company are simply cashing in and selling the nuances of Hip Hop culture and the African American woman short. If there's a body part to blame, it's hipsters.