The look on the faces of Will Smith and his family said it all...
Watching the performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Yet for anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention to what has been happening in our culture, there was sadly nothing remotely shocking about it.
In the 1950s, parents were shocked by Elvis Presley. At the time his most incendiary lyric was in the song "All Shook Up." Elvis sang, "Her lips are like a volcano that's hot – I'm proud to say that she's my buttercup." Then in the early 1960s, the Beatles broke through in America with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," which included bold sexual statements like "and when I touch you I feel happy inside."
A few summers later in 1969 came Woodstock and the boundaries of what is appropriate in music began to further erode. That same year Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin wanted to be "your back door man" in the song "Whole Lotta Love." In 1981 a little video company called MTV came on the scene to bring lyrics like these to life through the new medium of the music video. The next year Madonna came along and the gloves came off. Of course with Madonna, eventually everything else came off too.
In the early days of MTV, rap and hip-hop music began to pick up steam, breaking into the mainstream during the nineties. By 1993 we had Snoop Dogg's popular album "Doggystyle." And with it and others like it, all restraint was removed with lyrics like "If you give me ten b****** then I'll f*** all ten."
So what's the point?
After spending twenty years making celebrities out of people who degrade and sexualize young women, who push the boundaries of morality and good taste, how can we now pretend to be shocked by Miley Cyrus' performance at the VMAs?
Think about the first time you walked by a Victoria's Secret in the mall. Perhaps you were shocked. Even outraged. But what about the last time you walked by? Did you even notice? Vulgarity has become the background noise of our culture. While we don't pay much attention, rest assured that young girls drink in these fantasy photo-shopped images and think they have to look and act like that to be considered beautiful, valuable or current.
Meanwhile body image and self-esteem issues are causing our daughters to develop eating disorders, act out in self-harm behaviors like cutting and burning, and abuse substances to numb their pain. Studies are showing girls and young women in our culture increasingly think their appearance is more important than anything they can achieve through academics, athletics or the arts.
At the same time Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition - where the only thing missing is the swimsuit - tells our boys this is what women are supposed to look like. We are a culture that welcomes shows like "Mistresses" and pretends not to notice that "Game of Thrones" is pornography. We are a culture that names a family restaurant "Hooters." We are culture that sells video "games" to our teenage boys where they have to act out raping women to "win."
Now let's throw in the Internet, where the previously unthinkable is only a few clicks away. Misogyny, child pornography and bestiality are available 24/7 in an unending flood of dehumanizing filth. But still, every now and then, we pretend to be shocked? Let's face facts. As a culture, the "shocked" ship has sailed.
Yes, Miley's performance was sad. The lyrics to her song "What We Want" make me long for the good old days of "Like a Virgin" in whose first verse Madonna sings "You make me feel shiny and new." Tame stuff. Even more sad and pathetic was Robin Thicke's participation. As blogger Regie Hamm put it, "Grinding on a messed up kid like that doesn't make you cool …it makes you creepy."
I'm with Regie on this one. But here's the deal: This is where we are. We are in a culture that makes objects out of women - and children. As a culture, we send the clear message that they are objects to be used for our own selfish sexual pleasure. We make celebrities out of children like Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Miley Cyrus only to gleefully revel in the carnage when they come off the rails.
So if this is where we are - and it is - the only question remaining is what do we do now?
What do parents and grandparents do now? What do responsible businesses and advertisers do now? What do young people who want to grow up in a culture that esteems them for who they are do now? What can we do to create a culture that treats women with respect and dignity? How do we teach our young men what it means to honor a woman and treat her like a lady? How do we say that sex is meant to be special and private rather than prurient and public?
I suggest we start by asking one simple question: If you wouldn't want your daughter to be in a pornographic film, why would you want it for anybody's daughter? More to the current point, if you wouldn't want your daughters making obscene gestures and grinding against someone else's husband, why would you allow someone else's daughter to do it in your living room via your TV?
My point is that every girl and every woman is somebody's daughter, and it's time that we start acting like it. Turn the channel on shows that degrade women. Don't spend your dollars on magazines that celebrate the unraveling of child stars. Talk to your kids about the images they see as you walk together through the mall.
I shudder to think about what comes next if this devolution of culture continues. It boggles the mind. Let's awaken the heart in all of us that cares about our own loved ones – and that wants what's best for everybody's child. After all…
She's somebody's daughter.