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Provocative needs to be redefined

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Am I the only Penn Stater whose professors won’t stop talking about Miley Cyrus?

As I sat in my second class of the day last Wednesday, I saw that much talked-about picture grace the projection screen. That skin-colored two piece. That foam finger. That tongue.

We soon launched into an argument about why people were so concerned about Miley Cyrus. It was an argument that I’d been having with a lot of people for a while, an argument that Miley knows exists.

The real kicker, as a classmate pointed out, is that Miley knows she can capitalize off of this.

And that’s really the truth of it. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Miley Cyrus does the outrageous things she does because she knows it will capture your attention. And when she captures your attention, she captures your wallet.

Cyrus’ album, “Bangerz,” has sold almost 900,000 copies as of this month and her two hit singles from the album, “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball,” broke YouTube streaming records and hit the top of the Billboard charts. Her Twitter follower count skyrocketed from 13 million in August to almost 16.7 million five months later.

Clearly, love her or hate her, Cyrus knows what she is doing. She knows that everything from the Great Twerking Incident of 2013 at the MTV Video Music Awards to the nearly naked display in her “Wrecking Ball” video is getting an audience talking.

Miley’s choices may not be seen as ideal or worthy of idolization. She has been lambasted by older generations for being too sexual. But even they have to appreciate that someone this young knows how to run the market.

Besides, this is the year 2014. What really defines provocativeness anymore?

Let’s take one of this year’s best-reviewed films for example: “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Did you know that the film sets a new record for the use of the f-word? The unofficial count is 569 times over a three-hour running time.

Were you aware that the first scene features Leonardo DiCaprio snorting cocaine out of a woman’s butt crack?

Provocative? Oh yeah.

But look at the acclaim the movie has gotten. Last week, it snagged Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Additionally, the film is a box office hit, nearing $100 million domestically.

So what makes the raunchiness of Cyrus’ antics different from the vulgarity of “The Wolf of Wall Street?”

Now I’ve heard all of the arguments. “Cyrus is supposed to be a role model for kids.” “She’s only 21 years old!” “No one that age is doing things like that.”

To that I have two responses: 1) Miley Cyrus played a role model. 2) Come to Penn State for a weekend. I’m sure you will find someone doing way worse.

It is not that I feel a need to defend Miley Cyrus, although I will own up to the fact that I am a fan of the “new Miley.” But it just annoys me that she gets torn apart for doing outrageous things for the purpose of making her star shine a little brighter.

As Cyrus said during her interview with Barbara Walters on the anchors “Most Fascinating People of 2013” special, she does what she does because she knows people will talk.

I think we need to take a step back and think about the times we’re growing up in here. Things are quite clearly different now than when our parents were growing up. As young adults, we’re just more used to things that might be labeled shocking. The movies we see are more sexualized, the TV shows we watch are as boundary-pushing as ever, and the music we listen to is more willing to make you blush when your grandmother hears it.

How then do we push ourselves to get a broader acceptance of Miley’s acts? How do we convey that “she’s just being Miley” and this isn’t something to get upset about?

If you want to get upset about anything pertaining to the Miley movement, how about we talk about this string of vitriol spewed out by Mika Brzezinski on the MSNBC talk show, “Morning Joe,” after Cyrus’ VMAs performance:

“I think that was really really disturbing. That young lady…is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably an eating disorder, and I don’t think anybody should have put her up on stage. That was disgusting and embarrassing. Nobody thinks that’s attractive, Miley... She is a mess, someone needs to take care of her.”

Charming, isn’t it? Didn’t you just feel warm and fuzzy when she called Miley “disturbed?” And those “confidence issues” Brzezinski bought up were probably definitely boosted when she said Cyrus “probably had an eating disorder.”

Brzezinski’s comments did go viral, but she was not crucified for her clear attack on Cyrus’ mental state. Instead, most chose to laugh at how obsessed this morning host seemed to be with what really is just a performance on an awards show.

So we grow up in a world where we can hate someone because they are too explicit and provocative, but laugh at someone who baselessly jokes about mental illness and eating disorders. Great.

And the funny thing is, the issue doesn’t end there.

HBO’s comedy “Girls” recently started its third season, and for the past few years, creator/writer/director/producer/star Lena Dunham has gotten a lot of flack for her on-screen nudity. Her character appears nude on the show quite often, and recently during a press event, someone asked her why she chooses to be naked, saying: “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on your show. [Other shows such as “Game of Thrones”] are doing it to be salacious and [to], you know, titillate people.”

Dunham’s response, that “it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive,” was apparently not good enough, as debate continued.

So where is the argument here if there is not one to be made? Why is the debate of nudity on “Girls” vs. “Game” even bought up?

As “Girls” executive producer Judd Apatow added, the nudity on “Girls,” a show based in reality, is real and touches on people’s insecurities, as opposed to a fantasy show like “Thrones.”

And so we end up back at the shock value of the real world, a world where Miley Cyrus’ outrageous antics are criticized and Lena Dunham’s nudity is condemned, but the scandalous “Wolf of Wall Street” and salacious “Game of Thrones” are deemed “too unlikely to be real” and are not denounced.

If this is what society thinks “the real world” is, maybe I’m just living somewhere far away.

Evan Cuneo is a sophomore majoring in telecommunications and is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist. His email is exc5106@psu.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @evan_cuneo.

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