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GUEST BLOG #108: Eric Gould Takes on Video Bad Gurls: Miley, Christina, Katy
July 27, 2010  | By Eric Gould

Aguilra_Diamond.jpgDearest TV Worth Watching Readers:

Since I (unintentionally) opened the Pandora's Box topic of the female psyche in current music videos two weeks ago, out sprang the multi-headed Hydra of Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry. Our Fearless Leader of this website, and my long-time mentor, had clearly lost part of his towering mind -- the Smothers Brothers book having taking such a toll on him, he threw these women onto my lap for some kind of understanding and critique.

Not that I ever shrank from a tough project, but this time I considered it. How we arrived at the utmost authority of the female sexual psyche, a middle-aged Jewish man, I'm still trying to absorb.

Here's what I saw: Christina as The Dominatrix, the diamond-gagged Submissive, 70's Disco Chick, Bi-Curious Tourist, and Group Sex Partner.

We had Miley, gone all Tina Turner trapped in Thunderdome, snarling her way out with dance partners writhing behind her.


Finally, there was Katy's supposed sexual ingenue (once as a Girl Scout with a thinly disguised phallus cookie), in multi-flavored Barbie wigs, her dance troupe dolled up as a box of candy-coated confections with creme-puff brassieres, with cherries topped as the nipples.

Oh, yes, and there was a monocle in there somewhere, too.

Such is the state of video culture in the 21st century: nanosecond bursts of id-borne images that are designed to penetrate, divert, and sell.

My recent look at the Lady Gaga video "Alejandro," by comparison, was easy pickings -- dumb, political misappropriations of kick-turning storm troopers and all.

Like a ball of snarled Christmas lights, the human sexual psyche has been unraveled by better than I. But when Miley spreads her black raven wings (at top above), well, yes, I get it. Don't even go there.


My general impulse is to slog the whole thing off as Art Directors Gone Wild. (And perhaps the artists themselves, too, including Miley's mom and Billy Ray, trying to one-up the other star, with no particular message other than "watch out, folks, she can be a sexy brat, too." )

But maybe there's more than just style. Artists, video artists in particular, rightly feel they have about three seconds to get through and separate themselves from the herd. In media culture, if you're not fresh, you're over. Understandably, drastic measures are needed.

So, like millions of teenagers standing in front of their closets on date night -- the question becomes, who do you want to be tonight? Good "Gurl"? Bad "Gurl"? Or, better, both, and keep them guessing? It's just not that hard to hit a large part of the demographic you're after with your choice, and the dollars will roll in until the Next Big Thing. Which should be along in about five minutes.

My only nagging suspicion here is that artists who slave to the quick-change routine won't have that many bullets in the barrel -- or, in Katy's case, whipped cream in the can -- to maintain a run as long as David Bowie or Madonna did, always seemingly one step ahead of their fans and the press.

katy-perry-whipped-cream-1.jpgOf course, back in the dark ages of the '80s and '90s, there were only a few video channels, and no Internet, so constant reinvention wasn't nearly as difficult -- or as crucial -- as it is now. It also occurs to me that The Chameleon isn't always the most healthy choice for a young woman's identity.

Aguilera, who hardly needs more in her bag of tricks beyond her remarkable, endlessly riffing voice, seems never to tire of playing the vamp and the femme fatale. It's still true in her latest, "Not Myself Tonight." (Boy, is she ever not.)


She -- like Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and others -- is a Disney product, and seems to be determined to pay back Mickey and the gang with bad behavior ever since. Perhaps it illustrates how confining management and handlers can be for young stars: once they become adults, there's nothing left to do but show 'em who you really are... a grinding, angry, sexual connoisseur with a vinyl Oreo for a hat.

Wasn't it just 2009 when we had Miley, a symbol of youthful wholesomeness, tinged with a cute rocker's edge? No more.

Perhaps last year's movie, Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds didn't mean so much that there was a Miley behind Hannah Montana, but that Hannah was pretty much a dull bore, and there was a raven-winged archangel inside, with pretty wicked eye make-up, in the wings. And with them.

The true poster child of all this is Perry -- a former gospel singer, raised strictly in a Christian tradition -- who has charmed all of us with her irreverence.


With "California Gurls," she's maybe set the height of the current backlash bar. There's no snarl, no sneer, no platinum blond pelvic assault. Instead, she projects bubbly, gum-snapping winks, while virtually naked on a cloud of cotton candy and shooting whipped cream.

Perhaps here we're now well into the "sex-positive" sub-genre of feminism, where sex is naughty play, fun, out in the open. I'd say that's an improvement over where we were when I was young, and it was hidden, and you were left to your own bad, first impressions of it for life. Blessings to those who can teach their children such things in the electronic cultural minefield in which we now live.


I am pretty sure, though, it's probably better not left up to those such as Snoop Dogg: Grandmaster Pimp of Candyland, former Internet pornographer himself, and current co-star of Perry's video, whose main contribution to the piece is rhyming "bikini, zucchini, martini." (Honestly, I wept.)

After all, we know full well the target audience for MTV, and I am pretty certain it ain't the gray hairs here at TV Worth Watching.

Personally (guilty pleasure here), in the end, I find the dedicated rocker girls like Avril Lavigne and Pink -- both remarkable vocal talents -- more interesting to watch and having more lasting power. Yes, they get into sketchy territory, but that's not the sole focus of their shows, or their personas.

But hey, Gurls, by all means, make hay while the sun is shining. Who among us, given the opportunity, would not?


We just have to realize that the particular package we're buying -- The Madonna, or The Whore -- is pretty much the same thing. They're both crafted PR products to achieve the best cash flow possible. It's not necessarily art or poetry. But it does sell, and make the marketplace go round.

Oh, and the monocle? A meta-reversal of the artist watching us, perhaps?




Tausif Khan said:

Eric I thought you would do more of analysis of the images. I was hoping to get some more in depth perspective from someone who practices in a visual field. I was wondering what the imagery symbolizes.

On another note... I understand that grrl (as opposed to girl) is intended to show that young women have strength and that womyn (as opposed to woman or women) is intended to show that a woman does not need a man to be successful but what does "gurl" signify?

Comment posted on July 31, 2010 5:14 PM
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