Monday, October 21, 2013

I love Wrecking Ball, but hate the video.

Many videos feature gratuitious, problematic objectification, but the video for Wrecking Ball is willing to be incongruous and senseless to do so.

The video opens. Miley is crying. This song is about pain and loss.  It's about giving your all and having it not be enough. There is no reason for her to be enticing anyone.  She isn't trying to win him back or move on with someone else; this is not sexy time, it is the fall. I can feel a quiet rage under her surface. We get shots of her holding the sledgehammer, and there is a promise of what is to come.

The music rises into the first chorus, angry, hurting. "I came in like a wrecking ball..." She's holding the sledge above her head now, poised, strong, tattooed. Beneath a butch haircut and above a lithe body, her face has begun to set. There is stoicism, resolve, anger. She's crossing some gender boundaries here, exhibiting masculine power in a feminine body. I'm reminded of Pink, I'm thinking how much the lesbians are eating this up, and I'm inhaling in anticipation because shit is about to get real. Her rage is about to erupt into the physical world. Her face will contort, her well-muscled body will flex and twist, and there will be a mighty blow from that hammer.  Left to right across the screen, BAM! Rocks everywhere.  It will be a dual metaphor, an expression of how hard she tried to reach past his walls, and a destructive manifestation of her present pain and fury.

Wait, ok, not yet. She's doing like a runway thing with the hammer first. Ok, now she's... is she going to fellate that hammer? "WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?" screams one part of my brain, while another sits up and starts paying attention. Maybe there is going to be a different kind of "mighty blow." And that tradeoff right there, that's what I find to be a particular problem. Throughout the rest of the video she is portrayed as passive, wounded, and sexually available. No rubble is too uncomfortable for her to make sexy pose on. The symbols of her power, the wrecking ball and the sledgehammer, become symbols of male power (read: cocks) between her thighs for her to submissively gyrate and pose with. She is not wielding power, she is riding on it, and not from the driver's seat. Someone else is swinging that ball, she's just an ornament making it sexier.  (I'm reminded of mud-flap girl.)  Suddenly our heroine is cast into the passive supporting role.  She will take no actions.  She is going to wait, like a properly distressed damsel, for someone else.  But there's no one else in the video, where is her hero?  Why, it's you, hetero male viewers.  It's you. 

She does bring the hammer down once, and this shot fails utterly to convey strength.  Maybe a big strong man in the audience would like to show her how to swing that thing properly?  Or just do it for her?  And maybe they tried, and Miley Cyrus actually can't swing a sledge hammer (which I kinda doubt.)  Could this not be overcome with prop hammers and walls?  Could she not just get in the cab of the crane and appear to be piloting the wrecking ball?  That is the theme of the song, yes?  Hard hat, dirt-smudged face, and an angry pull of the lever?  Look me in the eye and the tell me that a Pink version of this video would not have successfully portrayed her as a hurting but strong person with agency and humanity, and not as a pin-up girl in her underwear.

They did not accidentally fail to show her being strong.  They were not trying.  Her transformation into passive sexual object is entirely deliberate.  They showed what they (she?) wanted to show, which was her passive, sexy body.  This might have been a deliberate choice on Cyrus' part, but that does little to improve the message.  We are not viewing sexual agency.

The Wrecking Ball video starts out promising to show us a phoenix in the process of violent immolation, and transforms that into a montage of boyhood sexual fantasies about Miley's body. I am disappoint.

In fact, I'm so mad that I'm going to go pose on some sharp rocks in my sexy underwear and wait for someone to do something about it.


  1. Obvious objectification aside, you put a perspective on that (or maybe just articulated it) differently - and better - than I've heard to date. I have a lot of opinions on the subject that echo others, but mostly she just makes me sad. As a woman, as someone who appreciates art as a whole, I think what she is allowing to happen to her image (and somewhat bringing about herself directly) is shameful and sad. The worst part about it is that she's at an age where she truly believes she is indestructible and nothing she does or says can deter her true fans. While an audience who really might give a damn can only watch her weaknesses (character, not gender) erode what has the potential to be a fine career. I hope I'm wrong. I thought similarly of Britney Spears, and she did ok for a little while before the meltdown. At least she was able to stay out of porn. Somehow I don't know if that's really better than ending up bald on TMZ, but meh. I digress.

    tl;dr?: Thank you for the perspective. Well said. :)

  2. Nice post. This pretty well mirrors my impression of both the song (which is fairly good), and the video (which was just a confusing usage of gratuitous nudity). The main point of the song, in my opinion, is that she came into the relationship being sexually/emotionally aggressive in the hopes that she could make the relationship be what she wanted it to be, but both people in the relationship refused to let down their emotional walls to make the relationship work.

    "I never meant to start a war
    I just wanted you to let me in
    And instead of using force
    I guess I should've let you in"

    That just has nothing to do with the video - past the first 30 seconds, anyway. It is especially confusing to me why they alternate between nudity and scant clothing through the middle/end of the video; it seems to have no reason behind it, no progression of ideas, just a random pasting together of a bunch of scenes. I like art, especially audio and visual art. The audio art is decent here, but the visual art is feels like it is just one step removed from Jackass.

  3. To my ear, this version of lyrics is correct:

    in which that last line is "I guess I should have let you win."

    I think the angle you're describing is still in there, but this does give it a darker turn. I think you're right, I can see no meaning to any of it. It's a naked appeal to "sex sells." Someone suggested in another thread that her nakedness represents vulnerability. Skeptical Heretic is skeptical. In general? Sure. In this video? No.