We Like To Party: Childishness Masquerading As Maturity

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The internet has been abuzz this week after Miley Cyrus’s raunchy performance at the VMA’s, but I’m honestly confused by all the hoopla. Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” VMA dance was not much different than the video version of it, which to date has over 160 MILLION YouTube hits. To be clear, I found both the video AND the live performance to be shockingly disgusting. However, it seems kind of illogical that people were so surprised when a song that they made the number two hit of the summer was performed as disturbingly on stage as it was on film.

In truth, the video is probably even more troubling than the live performance as it contains scenes like a woman cutting off her fingers and bubblegum pink “blood” spilling out of them. (Yes, that was actually in it.) The first time I saw the video (without realizing what it was about!) I was extremely upset by the images, but also by the lyrics. When explaining the video to the press, Miley told them, “I’ve grown up.”

Well, what does “growing up” mean according to this song?

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want

Doing whatever we want
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop
And we won’t stop

Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
We run things, Things don’t run we
We don’t take nothing from nobody

The theme seems to be “Because I’m no longer a kid, you can’t stop me.” And that is what adulthood is about, isn’t it? Not having to listen to mom and dad any more? Being the one in charge? Dressing how you want? Seeing who you want? Saying what you want? Being able to do drugs and move your body however you want because you’re an adult, darn it!

The irony in defining maturity as being able to do whatever you please is that it’s the immature kids who we find screaming that it’s their toy and they can “do what they want.” Or telling their moms and dads “you’re not the boss of me!” When considered in that light, Miley’s hyper-sexualized, know-no-boundaries song sounds a bit like a spoiled little child having a fit about how she wants what she wants!

We’ve come to believe that coming of age is that point in life where no one can prevent you from doing what you feel like. That having power is equivalent to exercising it. But our Sages saw things differently. “Who is truly strong? they ask, “he who controls his desires.” The Jewish definition of maturity is the ability to choose NOT to follow every last whim and impulse, even though you have the FREEDOM to do so. It’s about deciding, within the widest range of theoretically possible choices, to stop after one drink, to hold your tongue, or–even better—to choose to do good, to put someone else first, to commit yourself to a spouse, even though that will limit your freedom to do whatever you want in the future.

Everyone’s cracking down on Miley about the message she’s sending kids, but I believe this problem is much bigger than Miley. Instead of our youth rushing to grow up in order to have the freedom to live out every one of their desires, we need to encourage them to aspire to true maturity: self-control. If only we could turn that idea into a viral hit!

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. I agree, but if I may take it a step further.

    I think it’s about teaching our children how to choose right from wrong rather than list off the do’s and don’t do’s.

    You can’t have a sense of self with out being permitted to be a self. When one chooses he chooses who he is, he create an identity.

    We need to teach young children they do have a choice, and empower them to make good choices.

  2. Ok. I won’t debate you that the performance was disgusting.

    Using it to disparage the secular world (“*Our* Sages…The *Jewish* definition of freedom is…”)and to perpetuate the idea that *we* are on a pedestal head-and-shoulders above the rest of humankind is pretty yucky, though. I grew up in a non-Jewish environment and I can tell you that self-control was very much a value impressed upon me. It’s pretty universal (though I’m certain we can both find examples to the contrary in both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds). We are all human beings. We can feel sorry for Miley Cyrus and disagree with the choices she has made. But we can’t hold her up as the paragon of secular culture because it’s simply not true.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, but I wasn’t trying to disparage the *entire* secular world, nor did I commend the entire Jewish world (neither of those things are my style!). I too grew up in a non-Jewish environment and agree that self-control was valued. But 160 million YouTube videos didn’t come out of thin air. This message is trickling down. While self-control is a universal value, I think the idea that power comes from not exercising it is a bit counter-intuitive. It’s more obvious to think that the one who is powerful/in control is the one that does what he wants, not the one that keeps himself in check.

      I was merely using something newsworthy to teach a Jewish lesson. I am very much a part of the secular world, but I believe that Jewish wisdom is quite helpful in guiding us (and all people) as we live in it.

      • Well said, Allison. I couldn’t agree with you more. I posted something very similar in a comment on a Facebook thread about this today. I wrote, “She’s trying to show the world how grown up she is, but she might want to look around at how real grown-ups act, because all she did is prove that she isn’t one. Her behavior was more infantile than mature.”

      • Alison, you made good use of a teachable moment. Yasher Koach!

        Rock on!

    • The Western world of course values self-control and responsibility, and always has, but consumerist culture values impulsivity and immaturity.

    • Hi there. I was intrigued by the conversation between you and this other woman. I read and re-read this article. There was no disparaging in this article. The fact that this woman highlighted a particular group of people does not exclude others. It merely states one simple fact.
      I am a very orthodox Jewish woman who taught English in public school. There were students of all religions, cultures, races, etc. Some students, who by the standards of certain people would fit the stereotype of “born to fail,” defied such a standard because of the positive upbringing of someone other than their parents. So they received the proper guidance, but it was through learning to control their desires. These sweet mannered children were that way because they were taught to have boundaries. One of my teachers from middle school once said, “Freedom comes from setting boundaries.” Ironic, but it’s true. If you would like to discuss this further, that is fine. But it is something I’ve observed myself as well.
      I think we need to be really careful with our words. This woman commented on a topic in a very professional manner. She was not derogatory whatsoever from a completely objective point of view, and it was mentioned that she should not be disparaging. Yet this comment was followed by “This post is honestly a cliche of intellectually shaky kiruv.” Is that not disparaging?
      I’m not here to start an argument. I am merely mentioning this, because this woman did not target anyone, but she seemed to be targeted in return. And that’s not right.
      Be well.

  3. Ok I totally don’t get where you’re deriving that power comes from not exercising self-control. This is show business we are talking about. Multiple people made this decision – not just Miley Cyrus herself. This is her entourage’s attempt to control her image. Not too many people liked it in spite of the 160 million YouTube hits (I watched it once, I admit it).

    There are ways to teach a Jewish lesson without disparaging others. This post is honestly a cliche of intellectually shaky kiruv.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      I think when most people think *power* they think of the person who wants something and can get it. It’s very results oriented. That’s how I viewed power in my pre-observant days. When most people think of “the rich and powerful” they think of people who can eat at the restaurants they want to eat at no matter how long the wait is for “most people,” get favors from politicians, i.e. get what they want. I believe that it’s counterintuitive to consider power to be when a person keeps him/herself in check.

      As for who’s making the decisions in Miley’s performance – the post wasn’t really about her performance – it was much more about the message of the song. I just used the performance as a springboard to discuss something related that was bugging me.

      In terms of “not too many people liking the video” despit the 160 plus YouTube hits, it’s not just the number of hits. This has been the number two song on the Billboard Top One Hundred all summer. AND, the WSJ did a piece a few weeks ago about a music video becoming a social phenomenon. They measured the affect a video has on the general population by how many times it’s been parodied on YouTube. #1 most parodied video on YouTube this summer? Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” #2? Miley’s “We Can’t Stop.” Of course this is not ALL of secular society, but this song is more influential on our youth than perhaps you realize.

      In terms of “disparaging others,” if you noticed I purposely didn’t come down too hard on Miley. I made it more about a way of thinking that is spreading through society that I think we ALL need to be aware of. And I used Jewish wisdom as a guide because that’s what guides my life and there are MANY non-Jewish readers of this blog because they find this wisdom meaningful as well.

      I honestly don’t know what a “cliche of intellectually shaky kiruv” means. Jew in the City’s mission is very open: breaking down stereotypes of religious Jews and offering a humorous, meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism.

  4. Dominique says:

    Allison, I hope you saw the rated version of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (the second song they preformed together). I’m just saying that because you would be shocked at the R version I saw last week. On a video screen at a club. (I’m agnostic).

    Anyway, imagine the rated version, with the women prancing around in latex two pieces, and the R version is the same. Except they are wearing barely there underwear and are topless.

    That’s right, for 5 minutes I watched girls bounce around topless in a music video. I watched it in pure fascination of what would drive these performers to do this video. What do their peers think? Their parents? And I kept thinking, real women’s chests don’t look like that..but that’s a debate for another day.
    How come Robin Thicke isn’t getting the backlash he deserves?

    All in all seeing that video in a public venue was disturbing.

  5. I guess I don’t shock easily, but that was annoying in its tastelessness. If you honestly believe you’re fulfilling an artistic purpose in being racy, show some skill. Show some substance. Basically Miley gave them a strip show with teddy bears. Once you travel down the road of shocking people just because you can, this is what you ultimately get — a third grader’s idea of entertainment. Someone once described this as “growing down”.

  6. It’s funny how a problematic and confused tweener gave so many people the opportunity to indulge themselves in some morally superior speech. Using the religious veil is more of a cliche rather than a self-justifying demagogic technique.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Skeptic, but as I said, this is bigger than Miley and this isn’t about “morally superiority.” It’s about basic decency. Self-control is a universal value among all good people, but it’s getting forgotten due to certain cultural influences. I can’t speak for other articles, but the purpose of this one was to take a current event and get people thinking about a way that we can ALL grow from it.

  7. I completely agree. Watching Ms Cyrus I could only chuckle imagining how she will burn with embarrassment when she is reminded of this video at age 32 (and it will come up in every long form interview she ever does for the rest of her life – imagine Barbara Walters or similar saying “So. The 2013 VMAs. Can you tell me – what were you thinking?”)

    I work with young people, but I can be a little old school in some of my attitudes towards young people. I believe they deserve respect, understanding and empathy. But whenever I hear a young person state they can’t wait to be an adult so they can do what they want, or that they are grown up now and can do what they want, I think, just try telling that to your boss, your landlord, the manager of the bank who holds your mortgage, the traffic cops, the utility company – and if you refuse to answer to any of those people, the police, courts and prison officers.

    Maturity isn’t about doing what you want; it’s about accepting that you can’t always do what you want, and making a productive meaningful life within that. And there’s not a culture in the world, secular or any religion, where that isn’t true.

  8. JITC,

    Thank you for this insightful article. Her situation, and the situations of some of her colleagues, fill me with pity. It is my prayer that God will come over her and draw her closer to Him.

    Shalom,
    Heather

  9. Hi Allison,
    A few days ago I came across your blog when I saw one of your posts on BuzzFeed. Since then, I’ve been reading a few of your blog posts each day. Although I am non-religious and fairly liberal, I am really intrigued by your posts and opinions. You communicate your views with such eloquence and I truly enjoy reading everything that you’ve written. I have always loved to learn about different cultures and religions even though I do not identify with any specific religious group. Just wanted to share my thoughts – I will continue to read as long as you continue to write! Take care –
    Kristin

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