Twerking it: Reluctant Townie on the impact of dirty dancing

Twerking it: Reluctant Townie on the impact of dirty dancing

No, dude, I did not watch the MTV Video Music Awards. If I had even known they were airing, it would have been cause for concern.

I am too old for the VMAs. So is MTV.

I was surprised to discover they still produce awards shows for music videos because MTV — as millions, if not billions, of clever human beings have already pointed out — no longer shows music videos.

(I'm not sure you could classify the kind of programming the network airs these days ... Exploitality Television? While staying in a hotel recently, I caught a few minutes of an MTV original called "Ridiculousness," which featured a skateboarder showcasing YouTube clips of people falling face-first into empty swimming pools. Probably more teenagers watched that last week than read a book. Probably more adults, too. #NoFateButWhatWeMake)

Of all of the things that happened at the VMAs — again, here I am left to assume things happened, things of importance, things of prepubescent interest — the incident people fixated on the most was how Miley Cyrus twerked all over Beetlejuice — who, in a surprise bit of casting, is now being played by Alan Thicke's son.

(I doubt Michael Seaver would have gotten away with as much.)

For all my biddies out there unfamiliar with the term "twerking," it is a portmanteau of the words "twerk" and "ing" and translates roughly into English as "How to Give Billy Ray Cyrus an Achy Breaky Heart Attack."

On Monday, Miley Cyrus was all anybody young enough to still drink their alcohol from plastic cups wanted to talk about. Which is fine because I can avoid those people if I need to: They are easily identifiable by their neon wayfarers and inferior pop culture references.

But unfortunately, the adults also wanted to talk about Miley's twerking, and it quickly became the thing everybody was talking about because it was the thing everybody was talking about. Liberal arts majors authored cultural analysis about it. It took on superficial importance. At one point, Facebook required subscribers to describe their feelings on the subject before they could log into their profile.

How do I feel about the Cyrus performance? I'm glad it happened because it gave me something to write about this week, and I really cannot overstate the importance of that function in my life.

But how do I feel about it? To be honest, I still haven't seen it in its entirety. Mostly because I am suspicious that she is not 18, and I have better things to do than have the FBI kick down the door and seize my computer this week.

But from what little I glimpsed on the Internet, I don't see what the big deal is. Well, besides the fact that my 6-year-old niece who used to love "Hannah Montana" will probably see the video at some point in the coming years and take any number of things away from it.

(Potentially the most worrisome: That it is acceptable to grind up on cheesy, middle-aged crooners who dress like the undertaker at Tim Burton's funeral.)

Since having a daughter totally updated the firmware in my brain and forever altered my perceptions of strip clubs, Maxim magazine and clothing items with the word "Juicy" emblazoned across the buttocks, I can't help but sympathize with Billy Ray Cyrus, on a cellular level.

My daughter better never think of blurring any lines with Robin Thicke, for the sake of Thicke's face.

To me, it seemed clear that Miley Cyrus is trying to break away from her child star image — and the fastest way to do that is to put on an NC-17 performance. I don't fault her for that.

And to be honest, it was more PG-13 than NC-17. (Have any of these outraged columnists ever been to a nightclub?)

She is an adult (Google verified); she can dance nasty if she wants. I think Cyrus will be fine. The collateral damage is the teenagers and preteens who have no subtext for the performance and take it at face value.

At the 2000 VMAs, Britney Spears performed a striptease in a nude-colored suit. I was watching that year. I was 16 years old.

I worked on a student newspaper at the high school, and that month a few of the guys on the staff got together and created a pictorial evaluating Spears' performance at the VMAs. Really, it was just an excuse to publish a mostly nude picture of her. We had arrows pointing to her body parts, with the idea that we were going to review her performance piece by piece.

Yeah. Let that one settle in for a moment ...

Our journalism teacher (I'm not sure if she'd want me using her name here) caught wind of our editorial, took us in the back room and proceeded to rail at us for an hour. It was a Friday, and she didn't stop until the bell rang.

Monday morning, when we walked into class, she pulled us in the back room again and picked up where she left off.

Of course, at the time, I thought her outrage was unfairly directed. How I looked at it was: Britney Spears put this out there for millions of people, she drew attention to her body, she used her sexuality to sell records. She exploited herself, and thus it was impossible for anyone to exploit her performance further.

But what I did not understand at the time was the impact our editorial would have had on the female students that read it.

I imagine, at this point, Miley Cyrus does not, either.

Ryan Jackson hopes Robin Thicke can dodge a Kentucky Thunder Punch, and he can be reached at

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