Unless you’ve been living under a bit of a rock the past week, you’re aware that MTV’s Video Music Awards were on…and they featured some rather interesting dance antics from singer and former child star Miley Cyrus. I haven’t seen the video myself, just a few pictures posted here and there on news sites and Facebook. Suffice it to say that the dancing was overtly sexual, rather provocative, and seen by most people as somewhat tasteless. Plus, it introduced me to a whole new word: “twerking.” (Maybe don’t Google search that one.)
The episode has caused no small amount of handwringing amongst members of the media, Facebook peers, and the general public. Issues ranging from the dancing’s overt sexual content, criticism of both Cyrus and her dance partner Robin Thicke, and questions about our culture’s objectification of women have been raised over the past few days, making this single event a touchstone for a lot of societal reflection.
At least some of the dismay at Miley’s performance has to do with the fact that most of America first got to know her (not too long ago, mind you) as a child star on the television show Hannah Montana. To see her go from such perceived innocence to…whatever that was the other night, is traumatic, to say the least. Further, it must deeply concerns those parents of adolescent girls who fear that this is a harbinger of this generation’s potentially devastating abandon of propriety, dignity, and morality.
While the events of these VMAs were, like most years, rather extreme, this question of a loss of innocence on the part of Miley Cyrus is interesting. For those parents who look at what took place, shudder for her, and run to protect their children from such a loss, I understand. I think few parents want their children to do that. I too mourn for the fact that Cyrus and any part of our culture felt that this was OK, desirable, or wise.
But at a deeper level, consider this: growing up has always meant a sort of loss of innocence. Our fallen world allows no other way. To be blissfully innocent into adulthood about the messiness of our shared human culture is naiveté, not virtue. We all, in other words, have lost our innocence as we’ve grown up. It is not good, but it has happened to every person since that day in the Garden. To try to protect children from this is quixotic at best.
While our shared and individual loss of innocence (and hopefully those of our children) have likely not been as extreme as that of Miley Cyrus, her life might be seen as a signpost of our own. We don’t stay stuck in the childhood world of Hannah Montana forever. We can’t. For most of us the loss is not as public as hers, but for all of us it is no less fraught with tragedy. As the poet would say, our songs of innocence inevitably fade to songs of experience, in the process wounding us yet, hopefully, making us wiser about the way this world works.
Thinking theologically for a moment, it would seem to me that Jesus did not come to protect us in innocence or, as we might sometimes prefer it, ignorance. It is far too late and we have far too much free will for all that. We are not an innocent people. What Christ came to do was redeem us in the midst of our post-innocent lives. Save us from our sinful selves and transform a degraded world. As parents and in youth ministry and church settings, if our goal for young people is simply to preserve the innocence of children forever, we are, I fear barking up a very wrong tree.
Trying to stop our children from dancing half-naked on national television? Well, that’s another story…