What reaction do you get when you say the name “Miley Cyrus” to a group of Warwick high school students?
It appears the response is an eye roll and a disgusted groan. “What was she thinking?” and “What’s wrong with her?” are also typical responses.
All of this disgust comes after actress and singer Cyrus’ sexually charged performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night. The 20-year-old performed her song “We Can’t Stop” while performing her signature dance move “twerking,” which is now defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “dancing in a provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low-squatting stance,” with backup dancers dressed as teddy bears. The real controversy began when she stripped down to a skin-colored bikini to join Robin Thicke for a performance of his hit song, “Blurred Lines.” Cyrus proceeded to make obscene gestures with a foam finger, dance suggestively with 36-year-old Thicke and continue to act in a manner many say was not suitable for the young audience MTV gears their programming to.
Since the performance, Cyrus has been the target of a slew of media attention, which was most likely her goal, and even MTV has come under fire for allowing the event to occur. On Monday, the Parents Television Council, a watchdog organization whose advisory board includes Cyrus’ father, Billy Ray, released a statement condemning MTV for not only showing the performance, but for rating the broadcast as appropriate for 14-year-olds.
The statement reads in part, “MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate “twerking” in a skin-colored bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds?”
PTC Advisory Board Member and a former executive at the BET Network, Paul Porter is quoted in the statement saying, “While the performance was shocking to the audience, MTV approved it during the show run prior to broadcast. Heads should roll at MTV.”
While students at Warwick’s high schools don’t appear to be blaming MTV for airing the performance, they certainly have an opinion of Cyrus, who rose to fame as the squeaky-clean television character Hannah Montana.
“Disgusting,” said Pilgrim freshman Eddie Coscella. “She was from Disney Channel.”
“It was so raunchy and trashy,” said Jeriann Evans, another Pilgrim freshman.
“She left a mark on the whole thing,” said Sophia Kaczmarzwi.
The group was in agreement that because no other performance was that outrageous, Cyrus’ performance took away from the rest of the night’s events, which included performances from Justin Timberlake and the rest of *NSYNC, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis.
Evans even commented that Cyrus’ behavior took away from the enjoyment of watching Thicke perform “Blurred Lines,” a song that was very popular this summer.
Kaczmarzwi agreed, saying she enjoys that song but could not enjoy the performance because of the behavior.
The group of friends also pointed out that Cyrus’ singing of Thicke’s song was terrible and ruined the performance without her behavior.
Others placed the blame on Cyrus’ dance partner.
“Robin Thicke should not have done that,” said Sara McCaffrey, another Pilgrim freshman. “My parents were outraged [over the performance].”
Most students were really shocked to see Cyrus, someone they grew up watching, make such a drastic transition.
“I think that was just way over the top,” said Crystal Armstrong, a Pilgrim freshman.
“It was inappropriate because younger kids watch that,” said Pilgrim freshman Collin Devine. “I think she took it too far,”
“I think she should go away,” said Jessica Nelson, a freshman. “I think she is going to influence [younger] people in a negative way. They will grow up and think ‘Maybe I should do that. Maybe it will make me popular.’”
The newest high school students were appalled by the performance, and the seniors felt the same way.
Sarah Sagnella could not believe the performance and said she almost shut off the television while watching. She said that the younger generation could be influenced the most if they see this behavior from celebrities they look up to.
“I think people my age know right from wrong,” said the Toll Gate senior.
Warwick Veterans Memorial High School seniors Kin Chouinard and Tonya Hartmann remembered looking up to Cyrus a few years ago when they watched her on TV, even trying to emulate her hairstyles. Not anymore.
“We were disgusted,” said Chouinard, who is also a member of Vets’ Leadership Academy. “No one took her seriously.”
Hartmann said that since high school students tend to be more comfortable with who they are, they probably would not be influenced by watching the performance, but the same might not be true for younger students.
“Because in middle school you don’t know who you are, so you look up to celebrities,” she said.
McCaffrey didn’t think Cyrus’ performance would affect younger students because her show is no longer played on Disney Channel; it went off the air in 2011.
“I doubt it,” said McCaffrey when asked if this could influence kids. “Hannah Montana hasn’t been on in a while.”
Teachers and administrators were shocked by the performance, but they believe their students will not be influenced in anyway.
“I don’t think our seniors are going to look at that and want to act like that,” said Cindy Rix, a Vets English teacher.
Rix also said it is the parents’ responsibility if they allow their children to watch MTV. The VMA’s have a history of outrageous performances, including Madonna’s famous “Like A Virgin” performance in a wedding dress and a similar strip-tease performance from Britney Spears. Lady Gaga is also known for wild VMA performances, stripping down to a seashell bra and thong herself during Sunday’s broadcast.
“If you are going to let your kids watch, you should be there to explain,” said Rix.
“[Cyrus] got what she wanted; we’re talking about her,” said Vets English teacher Andrea Hainey.
When asked if Cyrus’ position as a role model is gone, Hainey said, “I don’t think Miley Cyrus has to be a role model for anyone. I think she’s acting,” comparing the singer to Madonna and Spears.
Pilgrim’s Principal Marie Cote was not surprised her students were appalled by Cyrus’ performance. Cote said her students know better.
“If I ever catch anyone dancing like that at one of our dances … I don’t even know what,” said Cote, adding that the students are aware that behavior is inappropriate.
Whatever Cyrus was attempting to accomplish through her VMA performance, whether it was shaking her “Disney-girl” image once and for all or getting some attention for this week, she accomplished it. But she also appears to have lost a number of young fans in the process.