This column is not about Miley Cyrus because, let’s face it, attention is what she wants and it’s why she does what she does.
No, it’s about us.
But first things first: Cyrus turned up on one of those New Year’s Eve network TV programs, renting out her bared midriff and dragon tongue to the celebration. There she was with Ryan Seacrest and an audience of millions, accompanied by a dwarf in matching glittered attire.
All of which was the latest confirmation that Cyrus has won. She got exactly what she wanted when she turned in the nastiest, raunchiest network TV performance in history a few months ago: ramped up fame and fortune — an invitation to New Year’s TV events, host of "Saturday Night Live," mention on Barbara Walter’s Most Fascinating People list, mention on Time magazine’s list of best and worst dressed of the year, MTV’s Artist of the Year, not to mention constant paparazzi and media coverage and free publicity for her music, resulting in No. 1 songs and No. 1 music videos.
She couldn’t have executed her plan better. When she strutted her stuff on MTV, crossing all boundaries of common sense and decency, it was as plotted as a play out of the Denver Broncos’ playbook. A modest talent whose career had already seen its best days, she resorted to an old trick: She shocked us with outrageous behavior calculated to get attention and all that accompanies it.
She even admitted it. She told Walters: “It wasn't just shock(ing) people to shock people. It was with a purpose.” And what was the purpose? “To make everyone in the world be talking about me and music.”
Which is exactly what she did and exactly what happened. No one can say she’s not an honest sellout (but can we please stop calling her an "artist"?).
Suckers that we are, we fell for the ploy. Again.
It worked for Dennis Rodman.
It worked for Madonna.
It worked for Lady Gaga.
It worked for Howard Stern.
It worked for Janet Jackson.
It worked for Paris Hilton.
It worked for the Kardashians and Marilyn Manson and many more.
Their formula is the same, as I once noted here years ago: Bizarre, over-the-top behavior = attention = fame = money.
They’ll do whatever it takes to get attention — “leaked” sex tapes, wardrobe “malfunctions,” tattoos, piercings, strange clothing, outrageous behavior or some combination of the above. Rodman had his tattoos and orange hair and piercings. Gaga has her bizarre outfits. Cyrus has her tongue and twerking and X-rated dancing. Like a petulant child, when she couldn't get our attention honestly she acted out.
Talent and hard work are not even required. You only have to be willing to sell yourself, if not your soul. It’s a shortcut. All they have to do is get your attention because any attention is considered good attention, no matter how low they have to go.
For this, we make them wealthy.
You know the drill. At first we are repulsed and outraged, then fascinated. The media laps it up. They cover everything the bad boys and girls do, which creates public curiosity. Websites like Yahoo.com are a willing facilitator for the Kardashians and Cyrus, providing daily updates from the freak show. You can’t buy the sort of marketing they provide.
But they couldn’t have done it without us. We create our monsters. They act out, and we can’t look away. Every time we watch them — a click on the Internet, a peek at the TV — we give them what they want.
The badder, the better. The more bizarre, the better. Meanwhile, there’s little tolerance for the other end of the spectrum. Tim Tebow kneels in prayer on the football field and quotes scriptures, and he is vilified. Shaquille O’Neal wanted to dominate David Robinson “because I got tired of the goody-two-shoes image he was throwing out there."
Go figure: We are suspicious of goodness and fascinated by badness, not to mention more forgiving (please, see Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, Charlie Sheen, etc.).
Where will it all end? Who knows. To gain attention, each generation has to top the previous generation to obtain shock value, because the culture becomes numb to it. It takes more and more to titillate. Madonna's shocking stage act would draw yawns today. Cyrus had to take the raunch up a notch, which means, as rotten as her act is, we haven't reached the bottom yet.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org