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Teaching Miley Cyrus

posted: 9.11.13 by Barclay Barrios

Miley Cyrus’s performance at the Video Music Awards has caused quite a splash.  I particularly enjoyed the analysis of CNN’s coverage of the performance in the ever-acerbic and satirical The Onion. Given the average demographics of the writing classroom, it’s also a chance to do some work with her “twerks”. Some essays you might use to teach the performance include:

  • Julia Alvarez, from Once Upon a Quinceañera.  Though Alvarez’s explicit topic is the Hispanic coming of age ritual, the quince, she also broaches a number of questions about gender differences and expectations.  Given that part of the shock of Cyrus’s performance was it overtly “adult” nature it would be interesting for students to consider how it functioned as a very public quince for this celebrity.
  • Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire” is part of the new ePages feature of Emerging.  Erdely’s analysis of the painful digital celebrity of Kiki Kannibal is a great way to think about the relationships between privacy and celebrity in a digital age, particularly in relationship to sexuality and the difficult transitions into adulthood for youth today.
  • Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” new to this edition, is another good choice.  Levy explores “raunch culture” among women and its relation to feminism and would offer students a larger cultural framework for understanding the VMA performance.

I might fold into these assignments one of the visual readings, perhaps the video from or the postcards from PostSecret.  Unpacking Miley Cyrus’s performance is about more than figuring out the shock factor of it all; it’s also about thinking about performance and visuals (what was the deal with all the teddy bears?).

Using this particular current event offers a unique opportunity to put youth culture center stage in the classroom.  It’s a way for students to participate more actively and (hopefully) more critically by using ideas pulled from the essays of the class.

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