‘A 21st Century Nightmare’: Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus & Media Misogyny

The media's contrasting representations of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are symptoms of an age-old misogyny that continues to underpin societal portrayals of men and women, argues Jeremy Allen

Take two child stars with the dubious advantages of growing up in public: one from Ontario is 19 years old, the other from Nashville now 21. As it stands, one has 49 million followers on Twitter, the other nearly 17 million. Both live in L.A. Both have brazenly flouted the responsibilities thrust upon them by the guardians of morality and by virtue of simply being in the public eye (responsibilities they both never asked for). Both have been labelled ‘attention seekers’ and many other things besides, an inevitable consequence of being famous. Until last week (and even now) however, the behaviour of one has been passed off as Boy’s Own hijinks while the other’s actions epitomise the erosion of "standards of politeness, manners and morality", as David Jason put it, and may yet precipitate the fall of western civilisation as we know it.

Justin Bieber is increasingly becoming what the media likes to call a "bad boy", one being portrayed as hapless and, you get the impression, not particularly smart. The implication is that this working class son of a "heavily tattooed deadbeat" (the words of The Daily Mail) who got lucky thanks mainly to his looks, is playing up to impress pops – though the DUI charges have been dropped, Bieber still faces a count of resisting arrest.

Miley Cyrus on the other hand, who provocatively licked a sledgehammer in the Terry Richardson video for ‘Wrecking Ball’ and danced around in her undercrackers with a foam wrestling hand at the MTV VMAs (two incidents that as far I’m aware didn’t endanger the lives of anyone in her immediate vicinity) appears to know exactly what she’s doing. Type ‘Miley Cyrus knows exactly what she’s doing’ into Google and you’ll be hit with pages of stars reiterating that very same sentence, from Tinie Tempah to X Factor USA judge Demi Lovato, from godmother Dolly Parton to some chap called Matt Lauer who Americans might recognise from the Today show, and from The Boston Globe to Wetpaint Entertainment (who all but the most hardy gossip hound is unlikely to recognise).

If, like me, you’re wondering why anyone would care what Tinie Tempah or David Jason has to say about Cyrus, be prepared, because there’s plenty more where that came from. Kasabian (who, lest we forget, keep their ears close to the ground where the state of the world is concerned, with lyrics like "Horsemeat in the burgers, people commit murders, everyone’s on bugle, we’re being watched by Google") had their say when speaking to NME in a news story published on 20th January.

"We created Miley Cyrus man, that’s our fault," lamented guitarist Serge Pizzorno. "She’s just a fucking accumulation of internet porn, fucking hip-hop, fucking Disney World. She’s just a fucking nightmare of the 21st century. It’s not her fault but we created that. The way she goes about her business, Twitter, all this bollocks, blows my mind." "I’ll tell you something, my daughter’s not going to be anything like her, no way," chipped in singer Tom Meighan.

It’s understandable that beacons of virtuosity like Kasabian might take offense, but what about other superstars of a similar age and ilk to the former Hannah Montana singer?

"I think it’s, you know, promoting promiscuity," said Harry Styles of One Direction, referring to Cyrus twerking at the VMAs with priapic latecomer Robin Thicke. Ed Sheeran is of a similar stance where such moral turpitude is concerned: "It’s a stripper’s move. If I had a daughter of nine, I wouldn’t want her twerking."

"She’s cheating herself and she’s cheating the rest of us," reckons Pink. "People can like it if they want. I’m not going to buy it. She can do better. I’ve seen her do better."

"Who is Miley Cyrus?" asks actor and charmer Jamie Foxx. "The one with all the gums? She needs to get a gum transplant!"

Kate Winslet, Annie Lennox, Cliff Richard and of course Sinead O’Connor have all had a say too, hoping she’ll grow out of these "hyper-sexualised pop antics".

The hands-off approach appears to be prevalent where the media talks about the implications of Bieber’s actions. At worst it’s a "meltdown", but in no way is it as savage or as severe as the mid-noughties meltdown Britney Spears suffered. Again, this could be an example of double standards. Before getting arrested tear-arsing through Miami in his Lamborghini, Justin had been responsible for headlines across the world, some of them funny, some of them less so. Being caught on camera urinating into a nightclub kitchen mop bucket and saying the words "fuck Bill Clinton" (when he saw a picture of the ex-President on the wall) is fairly amusing; apparently being smuggled out of a brothel in Rio de Janeiro probably less so, though where were the stars lining up to insinuate that the latter might corrupt his febrile fanbase? Egging a neighbour’s garden might be horseplay, but alleged battery of paparazzi, your flatmate Lil Za getting busted for drugs and marijuana being found on the tour bus are all serious enough misdemeanors. However, this accumulation of bad boy antics – whether true or not – doesn’t appear to have got the moral crusaders in anything like the same froth as reserved for Cyrus and Spears. There’s certainly more smirking though, and more of the old ‘nudge-nudge’.

"Who amongst us hasn’t drag-raced a Lambo in Miami on pills? #FreeBieber" tweeted Zach Braff.

"50 in a 30 [mile an hour speed zone]. Jesus, Bieber even drag races like a pussy," chortled Jason Biggs.

"The only crazy part of Justin Bieber arrest is that he was ‘popping anti-depressants all day,’" said Lena Dunham. "Anti-depressants take like 3 months to work."

"Prison name: Justine Bieber," tweets Ricky Gervais, "Prison game: Just in Bieber". It’s all a far cry from the fall of moral rectitude Cyrus is accused of.

The webs and wires are even more amused…

"Don’t get us wrong, we’re frantically tweeting #FreeBieber like our lives depend on it and wearing our best orange shirt in support of Justin, but a teeny weeny part of us is absolutely loving all the snark popping up across the internet since the news broke yesterday that Justin Bieber had been arrested," said website Sugarscape. "Yup, we know it’s pretty serious and that driving under the influence definitely isn’t something to joke about. But we challenge anyone to watch this absolutely mental GIF of Justin’s mugshot morphing into Miley Cyrus and not splutter out their cup of tea a bit."

Celebrity website TMZ thought it’d be hilarious to send Justin some Proactiv – an acne treatment he was briefly a spokesman for in 2012 – after he appeared to have a ‘breakout’ in his mugshot.

Getting arrested "bodes well for the lad" according to Entertainment.ie, who then shared other famous mugshots including Elvis, Frank Sinatra and convicted armed robber James Brown.

In all the hullabaloo, Miley Cyrus’ performance at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammys party was headline grabbing in its demurity. "Miley Cyrus does absolutely nothing attention-seeking, wears clothes, keeps tongue in head on Grammys night," shrieked the Independent, baffled that instead of going to the main event Cyrus had instead elected to go home and play Guitar Hero.

"Miley Cyrus epitomises what we have allowed," David Jason told The Sun On Sunday recently. "We’ve lost our standards. She has done it to break the mould. I can understand why, but we have given her the oxygen of publicity and encouraged it, so young girls will think it is the right way to attract men."

And therein lies another massive problem with attitudes, in that if Cyrus supposedly knows what she’s doing compared with Bieber’s serial contretemps, it’s all apparently for the gratification of men. It would appear that we still, after all this time, see young men as impressionable and eager to play up to impress – hapless passengers unable to control themselves – while young women are apparently calculating and know exactly what they’re doing. Only to a man like Jason, Cyprus’ scheming has little to do with perpetuating a hugely successful global career for herself, but more to do with some prurient, animalistic need to be desired by guys everywhere. That’s why she does it, and that’s the example she’s giving to other impressionable young girls, who will presumably copy her. It would be wrong to single out the actor, because those attitudes permeate our society, as exemplified by Kasabian’s decrying of her as a "fucking nightmare of the 21st century… a fucking accumulation of internet porn, fucking hip-hop, fucking Disney World". Pizzorno has said he’s tired of the "booze knobhead lad-rock dicks" (his words) label many people associate with a group like Kasabian, but you wouldn’t anticipate him being quite as insulting or derogatory about Bieber, who’s probably just being a bit of a lad, right?  

Our musicians, actors and media are still operating with double standards where young men and young women are concerned; it’s age old and it seems it isn’t going to change anytime soon, even if it’s more subtle than it used to be. While it might be less severe, the principle is the same; it’s the same misogyny that gave rise to more hatred from the populace for Myra Hindley than for Ian Brady in the 1960s, despite the fact the latter was regarded as the ringleader of the Moors murderers. It’s the same misogyny that hated on Yoko Ono for having the audacity to be with one of our Mop Tops while giving Lennon impunity to behave as he liked, no matter how murky. It’s the same misogyny that plasters Amanda Knox across front pages throughout the world while we forget what Raffaele Sollecito – her boyfriend at the time of the murder of Meredith Kercher – looks like. This double standard may not be as glaring, but it’s just as shameful and depressing when you realise how little the media has changed in all that time.

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