Saturday, October 19, 2013

Culture of silence?

Soon after her well publicized, analyzed, and criticized performance on the Video Music Awards, Miley Cyrus was broadcast on German Television, performing "We Can't Stop."  Cyrus appeared on stage with a back up band, all of whom were people of short stature.   Within a few days of the German Television Broadcast, a media outlet contacted Little People of America.  


The outlet asked if it was exploitative of Cyrus to perform with a group of dwarfs.  For a number of reasons, LPA chose not to comment.  For one thing, heavy criticism had already been leveled on Cyrus.  Much of the backlash criticized "the unconventional way in which she expressed her sexuality."  Some suggested the performance was,  and Cyrus is racist, "Miley Cyrus Brings Her Race Problem To The VMAs."   Others defended Cyrus' expression of sexuality, pointing out there is a double standard at play when Cyrus is a lightning rod of criticism while her partner on stage, Robin Thick, avoided the media and popular backlash.  In some ways, a case could be made that Cyrus exploited little people.  In the article, Miley Cyrus, Feminism and The Struggle for Black Recognition, Jacqui Germain, speaking of Cyrus, wrote, "When you feel the need to express your sexuality by turning my body into an accessory, the black feminist in me—two identities which I refuse to separate—can’t have your back anymore."  Many people in the dwarfism community believe that the dancing bears, little people in costume on stage with Cyrus at the Video Music Awards, were used as an accessory.  The media outlet that asked LPA for comment thought that LPA might believe the back up band for the German Television performance was used as an accessory.  The difference though between the dancing bears on the Video Music Awards, the black female dancers on the Awards Show, and the back up band is that the back up band showed their faces.  The appearance of the faces, and the appearance of the playing instruments, humanized the performance.  Of course, even with the supposed humanization, the intent of Cyrus still might have been that of a gimmick.  Based upon the embedded stigma in popular culture around the objectification of dwarfism, it is easy to believe that the intent was that of a gimmick.  But an assumption would need to be made.  Considering the circus around surrounding Cyrus at the time, making an assumption would not have been productive and probably would not have led to anything production for LPA or the dwarfism community.  

In addition, even if it was clear that Cyrus used little people as a gimmick, criticism leveled at Cyrus would have been shared with the dwarf performers.  Traditionally, LPA doesn't criticize the professional decisions of members of the dwarfism community.  This stance frustrates many members who believe that individuals who perpetuate stigma should be held accountable.  Nevertheless, criticism is often very subjective.  As soon as one portrayal in popular culture is criticized, it would be difficult to maintain a clear line between what is positive and what perpetuates the stigma.  Similarly, all members of the community, not just performers, have the potential to perpetuate stigma.  If LPA were not (note made on October 27-- the "not" should be deleted. It's a mistake to include here) to police, or comment upon, performers, it would be compelled to do the same for professionals outside of the performance industry.  

While LPA was hesitant to respond to the request for comment, the media outlet soon found a person who would comment.  She was quick to be critical of the dwarf performers, and also was critical of LPA for not commenting, asserting that the organization contributed to a "culture of silence." 

No comments:

Post a Comment