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A New Year’s Resolution: No MTV

Way back when the Music Television network first started coming through the cables we watched 24 straight hours of its fare, drinking coffee and keeping notes along the way for a rather snarky feature story in the local newspaper, and since then we’ve rarely tuned in. MTV does occasionally come up in our daily news reading, though, mostly recently when it offered its New Years “resolutions for white guys.”
Being white guys ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering what the network was suggesting. We hoped MTV was urging its youthful white male audience to shave those ugly beards and stop getting tattoos and start taking an occasional glance up from those newfangled telephones they’re always looking at, but of course it was just the usual white guilt-mongering and man-shaming.
The video begins with a head-and-shoulders shot of a clean-cut and pasty young white guy addressing his “fellow white guys,” with the usual quick cut to the same shot of a chubby Latino-looking fellow noting that it’s about to be a new year, with another quick cut to the head and shoulders of a non-threatening young black man who explains that “here’s a few things we think you can do a little better in 2017.”
Another quick cut the to head-and-shoulders of an attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity, who advises that first of we should “try to recognize that America was never ‘great'” — with the disdainful internal quotation marks emphasized by that two-fingered gesture the kids use — “for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.” After another quick cut to a bookish-looking young black woman saying “Can’t we just all agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter?” That clean-cut and pasty young white is quick cut to again to say that “Blue Lives Matter isn’t a thing,” and there’s an even quicker cut to that non-threatening young black again who laughs at the very idea, noting that “cops aren’t born with blue skin, right?”
With the cuts coming in dizzying quickness, a white guy with one of those ugly beards urges white men to stop bragging about being “Wook,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and the aforementioned chubby Latino says to stop saying “Wook” altogether. A bookish-looking young white woman says to “learn what ‘mansplaining’ is,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and to stop doing it. Then there’s that clean-cut and pasty white guy telling us to believe any woman who alleges she has been assaulted by an Ivy League athlete. There’s something about someone named Beyonce and a dig at Fox News, some inside joke about Kanye West that we take to be a dig against his friendship with president-elect Donald Trump, the bearded white guy’s advice to not mention one’s black friends, and the non-threatening young black man’s brief rant that having black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
They throw in a brief admission toward the end that not all white guys are bad, we think it was the bookish looking young white woman who said so, but it’s all in the same cheerfully hectoring tone. Pretty much every word of it is astonishingly stupid, too.
Countless non-white-guys have found America great enough to sacrifice their lives for it, and at the moment it’s probably better for that attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity than it is for those coal-mining white guys who voted for Trump. We agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going to wind up costing a whole lot of young black lives. No, cops aren’t born blue, but that doesn’t mean their lives don’t also matter, even if that isn’t “a thing.”
We’ll go along with the ban on saying “Wook,” whatever that is, but so far as we can tell “mansplaining” is when a man explains something to a woman, and we often find ourselves in dealings with women when we have to explain things to them. Usually we’re explaining our tardiness and temporary penury, but at other times such things as quantitative easing or the infield fly rule, and try as we might we can’t avoid it. That bookish-looking young white woman should also know that we more often find ourselves having women explain things to us, oftentimes with a certain vehemence that we rarely muster, but we suppose she would consider that properly assertive feminine behavior. We’d ask one of our black friends how they deal with the inevitable need for the occasional explanation of something or another to a woman, as “mansplaining” is apparently a behavior unique to white guys, but we’re also told it would be racist of us to acknowledge that we have black friends.
We’re not sure why that clean-cut and pasty white guy singled out Ivy League athletes as sexual predators, rather than the Southeastern Conference or the Big XII or some and blacker and more big-time association, but we suspect it’s because he thought it would sound less racist, which strikes us as a rather racist assumption. There are black athletes in the Ivy League, of course, and even those white guys on the non-Ivy but still pretty highfalutin Duke University lacrosse team turned out to be innocent. We’ll consider these occasional college rape allegations on a case by case basis, thank you, and be glad that it’s ultimately left to the judicial system.
We’ll also happily refrain from any mention of Beyonce or Kanye West, unless it allows us to take a dig at Trump from an old-fashioned Republican perspective, and try to be at least less obnoxious a white guy than the old white guys running MTV and the young white guys they keep sending out through the cables. Although we can’t stop being white guys altogether, not without expensive surgery and a whole lot of explaning to some of the women we know, it’s the best we can do.

— Bud Norman

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On the Latest Show-Biz Brouhaha

American warships are steaming toward another confrontation in the rapidly disintegrating Middle East, the economy continues to sputter along with millions of Americans out of work, further details of serious scandals undermining the public’s trust in the government are slowly seeping out, staggering amounts of national debt continue to accumulate, and yet all the talk around the nation’s water coolers and coffee machines is about the hootchy-kootchy dance some scantily-clad chanteuse performed on a cable television awards show.
We weren’t tuned in to Sunday night’s “MTV Video Music Awards” program, as we are grumpy old men who long ago cancelled our cable subscription and every other link to contemporary popular culture, but anyone who tries to keep abreast of the news couldn’t help but hear about it. Apparently some young woman named Miley Cyrus stripped to a flesh-colored bikini and writhed erotically against some young man named Robin Thicke, poking him suggestively with one of those oversized foam fingers seen at sporting events, while the two performed some song with suggestive lyrics that is apparently all the rage with the youngsters. It all sounds quite mundane by the prevailing standards of entertainment, and downright wholesome compared to the hard-core pornography that is just a few clicks away from this site on your internet machine, but for some reason it has provoked a widespread reaction. The Parents’ Television Council and the usual conservative party-poopers have predictably weighed in with their disapproval, but this time even the supposedly cutting-edge in celebrities in attendance at the show reportedly expressed shock and disgust. The famously dissolute Bill Maher went so far as to liken the performance to a strip club act, although it is not clear if the comedian and professional blasphemer meant that as a compliment or insult.
So far as we can tell much of the shock value comes from the contrast to Cyrus’ previously squeaky-clean public image. She once starred in a Disney-produced television show popular with the pre-teen set, and is the daughter of country and western performer Billy Ray Cyrus, who we remember as being briefly famous back in the ‘80s or ‘90s or one of those long-ago decades for his hilarious mullet hairdo and an annoyingly catchy line dance number called “Achy Breaky Heart.” Her duet partner reportedly has a famous father of his own, who once starred in one of those cloying sit-coms with cute kids, and the family histories made the decline of western civilization angle too hard to resist for most commentators. It’s as if Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s son had made scorching rock ‘n’ roll records with James Burton on the electric guitar, although that also happened and western civilization somehow survived.
As we much as we’d love to join in with all the tsk-tsking, being quite convinced that western civilization has been in decline pretty much ever since Ricky Nelson recorded the irresistibly rockin’ “Waitin’ In School,” the most outraged reaction we can muster is a yawn. At this point we have seen far worse than what Cyrus and Thicke had to offer, and much of it was far better. Eroticism and even lewdness have been essential components of popular entertainment since at least the days of ancient Greece and its bacchanalias, and have always played an illustrious role in America’s grittily democratic popular culture. Lest you think us prudes, our extensive collection of American vernacular music includes such favorites as an astoundingly foul-mouthed zydeco song by Boozoo Chavis called “Louisiana Women Love Uncle Bud,” a track by the great ‘50s doo-wop group The Clovers with a title too raunchy to repeat here, a classic slice of western swing by Smokey Woods and the Modern Mountaineers called “Everybody’s Truckin’” that repeatedly rhymes “truckin’” with a still-popular obscenity, and an especially saucy rendition of “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” from the ‘20s that would surely make even the immodest young Miley Cyrus blush to a shade far redder than her flesh-colored bikini. Throw in the more subtle double-entendres from any number of records made by Dinah Washington before her cross-over to respectable pop music, or the few secular records made by the great gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or the sly insinuation of the Light Crust Doughboys’ ‘30s western classic “Pussy, Pussy, Pussy,” and we’ve enjoyed a good many songs both raunchier and worthier than anything young Cyrus is likely to produce.
Those songs were sold behind the counter, though, and their illicit status was no small part of their appeal. Cyrus and Thicke are both second-generation show-biz legacies performing on the 30-year-old MTV awards shows, which is the modern equivalent of the “Ed Sullivan Show” as an imprimatur of official entertainment industry approval, and we must agree that it is a darned shame when such raunchiness is at the forefront of the popular culture rather than at its outlaw depths. The spectacle of Cyrus’ shimmying is as good an occasion as any for lamenting the decline of standards that infects our politics as well as our entertainments, but it’s also worth noting that our pop-cultural icons aren’t even very clever about in this dismal age. Perhaps the squares are getting harder to shock in our jaded era of presidential fellatio and “tweeted” underpants photographs, but Cyrus’ shenanigans just seem dull.
The great internet satirist Iowahawk is now “tweeting” rather than “blogging,” so he’s already beat us to the obvious observation that that Cyrus could have created a far greater controversy by donning a rubber mask resembling President Barack Obama and allowing a bull to chase her around an arena at the Missouri State Fair. When a rodeo clown recently did that he was banned from the fair, his accomplices were fired and forced to resign from their positions with a rodeo organization, and all future rodeo clowns at the fair were ordered to take “sensitivity training” to ensure that such outrages would never again stain the fair’s wholesome reputation. Being truly anti-establishment and transgressive these days seems to require being old-fashioned and traditional, and although that actually does involve courage and independence it’s not good for a career.

— Bud Norman