Surely if Sinead O’Connor wanted to write a letter to Miley Cyrus, she could have done that. She’s got the connections to obtain Cyrus’ address.
There has been justifiable admiration for O’Connor’s letter, despite its less than pristine language, admonishing Cyrus that she is allowing others to diminish her talent by hiding it under raunchy antics.
In the short term, for all the anguish about Cyrus’ awkward attempt at twerking, her move was a smart one. Far from being dismayed by the huge pile of criticism, she almost certainly wanted it. The point wasn’t to be admired; it was to get huge piles of publicity, and this was the easiest way to get it. She might someday reach the point where she thinks more about her legacy than the number of headlines, when she cares what the headlines say, not just that they exist aplenty.
Times columnist Robin Abcarian writes, accurately enough, that O’Connor’s words are probably lost on Cyrus, who has responded with predictable low-rent flair.
But I suggest another way to interpret O’Connor’s letter: That it was never intended for Cyrus at all. After all, is Cyrus any less entitled to her choices in performance weirdness than O'Connor has been to hers? Instead, perhaps, the missive was intended for girls.
O’Connor is no idiot. She can manipulate publicity as cleverly as Cyrus. She knows that if she wanted to send a message to girls calling on them to believe in their own strength and talent, and to resist a society that perpetually tries to sexualize them, to market thong underwear to 6-year-olds and display photographs of prepubescent girls in provocative clothes and poses, no one would pay any attention. In fact, girls would probably reject it as one more bit of preachy lecturing.
Instead, I like to think that O’Connor took the opportunity, after Cyrus had mentioned her as an inspiration, to commandeer Cyrus’ publicity train and drive it in another direction. Now the Irish singer has the attention of young girls. And maybe some of them are finding truth in O’Connor’s words.
One way that art often works is through subversive communication, and that might be what O’Connor intended. Or not. Sometimes the best art is unintentional.
I don’t really give a -- insert an O'Connor-esque word here -- about Miley Cyrus or her tweets and shticks. But I do care -- in a society that still harbors a backlash to feminism, that continually delivers the message that girls must be stick thin, gussied up and dumbed down to be noticed -- for there to be some opposing voices out there, ones that they might actually heed.
If O’Connor’s letter has made a few of those girls talk, debate or even consider for a few moments, she’s done a much more important thing than simply upbraiding a publicity hound.
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