MAKE GOOD ART (with your clothes on)

So what did you think of Sinead O’Connor’s letter to Miley Cyrus?

Following Cyrus’ claim that her now famous nude-on-a-wrecking-ball video clip was inspired by O’Connor’s hit 80s song ‘Nothing Compares,’ O’Connor hit out at Cyrus, basically imploring her to stop prostituting herself.

‘Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited,’ said O’Connor, ‘and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.’

Many have applauded O’Connor’s words, while others maintain that she was out of line; that women should be able to express themselves however they choose, including sexually.

Replying to O’Connor on the issue, US singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer wrote ‘we gotta give Miley (and every female) space to try on her artist’s uniform.’  Fair enough, Palmer, but don’t you find the birthday suit routine a bit passé by now?

Surely these artists should strive for a higher level of creativity?  Is it idealistic of me to hope that the main goal for Cyrus and other female songstresses might be (in the words of Amanda Palmer’s famous author-husband Neil Gaiman), to ‘Make Good Art’?  Surely the now-standard practice of turning oneself into a sex object for that art is not what Gaiman had in mind when he coined that phrase.

Neil gaiman

Look, I get that these artists are trying to be controversial, but by operating at this lowest common denominator level, they inevitably divert attention from their real talent.  Surely the ‘hey, haven’t I got a great body’ song has been done to death and is a cliché that should be beneath such talented songstresses.

For years now, Melinda Tankard Reist (Canberra author, commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls) has spoken out about the Mileys of the world, claiming that young girls are learning from these role models to flaunt themselves in sexual ways.  She laments the fact that so many female artists now seem to follow this one, narrow path of self-expression, claiming that ‘the radical thing would be if these women actually just sang and kept their clothes on.’

Tankard Reist is right.  How artists like Cyrus present themselves is not revolutionary or even inspired.  But it is not an easy thing to call them out on it, as Sinead O’Connor has of Cyrus.  For when women do, they are chastised for criticising another woman; for not letting her ‘write her own script,’ as Amanda Palmer puts it.  We hear phrases like ‘women scolding other women’ and ‘we’re our own worst enemies’ (Palmer again).  Tankard Reist is similarly dismissed (by second wave feminists such as Eva Cox and Anne Summers) as a conservative, religious type who has no right to enter into the feminist debate.

The most recent singer to follow suit is Ke$ha, who posed provocatively on Instagram; down on all fours, wearing nothing on her lower half but very revealing underwear.  She creatively labelled the picture (below) ‘butt’.

But at the end of the day, we all know that what Cyrus, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and other supposedly enlightened, self-determinate artists do amounts to one thing: selling.  Selling sex and selling themselves.

I think Sinead is spot on when she says to Cyrus: ‘The message you keep sending is that it’s somehow cool to be prostituted… it’s so not cool Miley… it’s dangerous.’

And, finally, do these artists really not care that when their young and impressionable fans google them, this is what they see as representative of their brand?


I find it a shame that I have to tell my tween kids that, yeah, these women are good singers, but they’re basically idiots.  What else can I tell them?  That it’s okay to express yourself (publicly) in this way?  It’s not and I won’t.  Or perhaps that these women are famous for being good singers but that’s not enough on its own?  That they have to be hot, too?  My kids aren’t fools.  They know, like all of us, that anyone with an ounce of self-respect would not behave like this and expect to maintain any dignity.

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

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