Queer Time/Shocking Transformations: Miley Cyrus as a Fascinating Person(s)

Curator's Note

Each year, Barbara Walters enumerates the lives of iconic individuals in a television program entitled Ten Most Fascinating People. For 2013 and for the second time, she included Miley Cyrus. In the segment, Walters compares Cyrus with her earlier 2008 interview, most notably as a more “innocent” child. Cyrus, referenced eponymously as Hannah Montana, is described as a dead object—a “gone” little girl who was “destroyed” and “murdered.” At 2:22, the 2008 interview quickly dissolves into the 2013 one, and the juxtaposition appears shocking and revealing. I believe this asymmetrical presentation of Cyrus is made possible due to the sequential order of development we internalize in patriarchal discourses in which women are supposed to evolve from prepubescent girls to reproductive mothers—something Cyrus does not accomplish. In fact, it seems to be a failure she embraces and thus, subverts. I would like to suggest that Miley makes queer trouble through her disruption of disciplinary regimes in which women who fail to evolve properly are criticized for their shocking/sudden sluthood. What I find *fascinating* about Cyrus is that she directly confronts this normalized temporal structure in her interview when she stresses that “every day” she is figuring out her independence; her articulation of time is fluid. Rather than stressing solidified womanhood in which she has the right to be sexual (a defensive position rooted in citizenship that many pop stars have expressed when similarly confronted for their ‘newly’ sexualized appearance), Cyrus acknowledges that she has figured out little and is content with the incoherence. Her response does not chronicle her life as distinct eras of “before” and “after” sexualization. She even parodies the deviant time frame in which she is placed by mentioning that she is only wearing more clothing now because it’s “getting cold.” In the end, Miley seems to queer time in this short interview by articulating her life as an unclear and unrestricted trajectory rather than a shameful failure to progress “appropriately.” How do you think Cyrus confronts the narrative of tarnished female sexuality? Has she altered its meanings? Is she queering the temporal structure of “female development,” or reinforcing it in some way, as well? How is Walters’ staged shock reflective of our expectations of how children, particularly young girls, “should” grow up?


Great post Chris and it carries on from the other conversations we have been having about infantilism, the refusal to grow up, queer childhood etc in response to Ryan and Zachary's curations. Upon watching the Celine Dion video Ryan shared I am thinking about temporal glitches, failure and stuckness. One way to read Miley--as you illuminate so beautifully here Chris--is as someone who has failed: to mature, to move on, to become a heterosexual woman. On the other hand Miley seems to revel in moments of temporal drag and queer failure, the non-linear, the non-coincidental, asynchronicity but without succumbing to the idea that she has somehow failed, or has gotten stuck (there is a theoretical argument to be made in favor of stuckness too. We stick to things, stick with things because of a certain adhesiveness which needn't be negative; there is also a theoretical case to be made for letting go, for giving up on our objects in ways which needn't be understood as failure...) I would be curious to hear from Ryan about Chris' "befores" and "afters" in relation to Jose's "thens" and "theres". MOR

I apologize for not responding to Zach's wonderful and insightful post yesterday. My computer was being funky. But I will go back to reference some of his points to continue this conversation and hence, appropriately interweave between the past and present. I actually want to quote something important Zach mentioned on day one in response to Ryan's interest in duplicity. He noted that "Miley dis-identifies with her past selves [and] is somehow in tension with her past self. Miley is absolutely aware of this tension, and she plays it up in performances and videos; she constantly self-infantalizes...making us aware of her (dis)identification with that past self." To me, it is this dis-identification rather than reification of temporal eras that makes Miley's trajectory a queer and fluid one. I brought up this interview with Miley because, once again, her understanding of her past selves and her failure to grow up properly is articulated much differently than the more common responses we hear from other pop stars, such as Christina Aguilera, who discussed her sexualized performances as a reflection of her independent womanhood and right to be sexual. Again, I see this particular perspective as one that reinforces temporal boundaries, even though it is still doing so in a deviant way. Women like Aguilera are equally criticized for their shocking/sudden sluthood as Miley; however, Aguilera and the like, by stressing their newness, discard the past selves as de-sexual, weak, and ultimately pre-womanhood that was concealing their true selves. It's almost a coming out process that, like Butler warns, requires us to produce another closet. Miley, by playing with the idea of her past selves, queers the process and shows blurred connections between the past, present, and future, and in the end, offers an unclear meaning to time and how it develops. Rather than solidifying progress from pre-sexual woman to sexual woman or from pre-pubescent girl to reproductive mother (two categories that are often morally bifurcated, yet they both represent distinct eras), Miley's playful attitude toward Hannah Montana demonstrates a more open relationship that allows the ebb and flow of multiple selves (fascinating persons) to affect one another throughout various stages of life without ever fully foreclosing a particular chapter. In this interview, she says she wasn't happy with her past self, and that she is finding her independence, yet she does not use verbs that indicate a final position. She has not found her independence, or even her happiness, as if it would contrast entirely with her past selves. This openness to our lives as shifting trajectories with multiple points of connection speaks to me because of my interest in challenging the uni-directional progress narrative applied to many social movements around the world, particularly women's and LGBTQ movements. This queerer coming out process that does not directly come into anything in particular is a kind of temporal process that shatters the Historic approach to documenting our lives as if they are a series of one-way cause and effects toward inner Truth. and that is fascinating to me!

I have loved following your musings on Miley's queer temporalities, and I think the Barbara Walters interview frames Miley so perfectly for thinking through her resistances to the kinds of discourses that Zach and Chris have traced in some way for us yesterday and today. Is there any question that Barbara (and Miley's manager/mother) see her performances as a "for now" (as Walters says at 4:24 about Miley's love affair with her fans) that must inextricably dissolve into a then of marriage(s), babies (her mom wants grandchildren in ten years?), and an end to the we won't stop/ we can't stop temporal play? I really like Chris's formulation of "an openness to our lives as shifting trajectories" because I find so much hope and optimism in such a formulation; but I wonder about its sustainability. I wonder to what extent the past - or even the now - must move us inextricably forward, toward some end, some particular becoming that limits play, potentiality, or even flow? I think this is all-the-more interesting with respect to Miley because of the ways that she strategically dis-identifies with her past selves (another very nice formulation, Zach) but refuses simply to bury them. Hannah Montana (and daddy Cyrus!) continues to haunt her performances and play even as she kills, devours, duplicates, or licks that image. She inevitably must conjure the Hannah-spectre in order to consume it, and in doing so, she seems to mark herself as a failed/stuck/stalled child while simultaneously suggesting that the only ones who are actually stuck, stalled, or failing are the ones who continue to look for Hannah Montana (and the voice of the father) in her performances. And yet. Will we still recognize her as being multi-temporal/trans-temporal or dis-identifying if the next tour, the next album, the next video, or next year's interview with Barbara rehashes the same tropes, jokes, resistances, or lines about searching, trying, and becoming? This is one area where Gaga seems to offer a different kind of hope; a suggestion that Chris's formulation is, in fact, sustainable but only insofar as the challenges to "uni-directional progress narratives" carve out space for experimenting, developing, growing, and lots of other gerunds that sound exactly like progress and maturation.

Thanks for a great post, Chris! In your comment you mention Miley's "failure to grow up properly," but I think that Miley exhibits a failure to grow up, period. Karin's comment--or is it Michael's? I can't differentiate between your posts--about stuckness seems particularly appropriate to me: Miley is stuck in childhood. In fact, if we think of the linear projection of "growing up" it seems to me that Miley has even moved backward in a strange way--she seems more "childish" in her performances than she ever did as Hannah Montana. I can't get the image of her masturbating with the foam hand during the VMAs out of my mind: I am constantly reminded of the fear of the masturbating child, the child who discovers herself and her body's pleasures "too early" and must therefore be restricted or chastised. The reactions to Miley's performance seem to follow the same paternalistic rhetoric usually launched against these children. And yet there is a temporal looping happening here--one moment she is the masturbating child and the next she is the consummate professional young woman, respectful and charismatic in her sensible blouse. Looping, as Halberstam has noted, is one kind of queer failure, along with forgetting and stupidity. Perhaps we can conceive of Miley's relationship with Hannah Montana as a "forgetting": the forgetting of one's actual childhood in order to fashion a new relationship with childhood generally--in this case, a queer relationship forged through a continual looping. I wonder if we might think of Miley as the ouroboros. This image seems particularly striking to me because it connects so many threads we have already mentioned. The ouroboros represents Miley's cyclical or looping nature where "beginning" and "end" are muddled, while also hinting toward her auto-eroticism and cosmophagia. If Miley is voraciously all-consuming, then she also desires to "consume" herself: the "tail" of the ouroboros is both phallic (and thus self-fellating) and also buccal, tongue-like (the tail as spilling forth from the mouth, as does Miley's own tongue). I'm not sure quite what to do with this image of Miley as the ouroboros, but it seemed so appropriate to mention, since it unites many fascinating strands of our discussion. Does this image spark new thoughts for anyone?

I think you bring up something really important here, Chris - the fact that Miley is simultaneously represented in terms of infantile/unripe and tarnished/overripe female sexuality. As Michael indicates above, it's as though Miley embraces failure (or hyper-success, which practically equates to failure) in both temporal directions of the female sexual development process. She seems to refuse to comply with the term 'progress' or 'progression' altogether. I'm not sure if I would call what she's doing 'stuckness', though. To me it seems more like she's developing in multiple temporally non-linear directions simultaneously - and performing them all to excess. She HERSELF is not stuck, but she captures and encapsulates the 'stuckness' or stagnation all around her - of society, feminine identity, sexual roles, etc. Once more, I'd like to draw attention to the idea of the 'carnivalesque' (which I mentioned in one of my responses to Zachary's post). A temporally slippery, snake-tongued, semi-demonic and (a la Cixous) laughing Medusa head comes to mind when I see Miley - she looks progress straight in the eye and her stare is petrifying. Karin

I'm really taken with the idea of Miley as ouroboros. A google search with those terms revealed this: http://twitchy.com/2013/11/29/do-you-see-it-this-car-seat-reminds-me-of-... and someone has tweeted that they see a "horrifying Miley ouroboros". But couldn't we see Miley's ouroborotics less as terrifying, petrifying, or frozen but rather as Zach does, in terms of a constant motility, an endless looping (coincidentally, since Miley's face is seen in a car seat here it is in the chapter on Dude Where's My Car? in the Queer Art of Failure where Jack Halberstam talks about the queer potential in forgetting, losing, stupidity). MOR

Karin mentions Medusa and Zach can't get the image of that foam hand out of his head. Which reminds me of Aphrodite, the one "born of the foam" as Jean-Luc Nancy reminds us in his gorgeous "Paean to Aphrodite" in Corpus II. "We Run things" Miley says. "And why not, since she [Aphrodite] governs things" Nancy writes. Miley's name almost doubles--to come back to Ryan's opening post of the week--Smiley. And that is what Aphrodite's name means: "the one who likes a smile" or "the one who smiles willingly". (S)miley is Aphrodite: "in her depth becomes surface, makes itself surface". Aphrodite too is the masturbating girl: "the Goddess of the island gently lifts her cleft. She is, inconceivable, well conceived, the raising of a cleft, the mound of grass parted and her gem, her key, kleitoris". MOR

Sorry for being a bit out of the loop here! Or, perhaps my late entry might demonstrate somewhat how the loop is also an open loop, subject to intrusions, penetrations and transformations. First, to address MOR’s curiosity about Chris’s “befores” and “afters” and Jose’s “thens” and “theres.” As I mentioned previously, I think Jose was very careful that his formulation of queer utopia would be grounded in a “concrete” sense of historical/political place and time, even as it veers future forward while reading back the past. Jose probably wouldn’t be too excited about a queer utopia that literally was forged with historically abstract “multiple trajectories.” But I think Chris’s project is crucial in checking the chrononormative impulse that saturates and schedules our daily lives and the lives of those around us. Regarding Miley as ouroboros, or ouroborotic, I very much like the idea, except there seems to me something fatal or ending in this figure. We often see the thing that eats itself as an object lesson of negative cravenness. However, while I was working on my Masters thesis, which surveyed the concept of “masturbation” across a perhaps unwieldy terrain of texts (!), I became enthralled with the “Klein Bottle,” a self-intersecting, non-Euclidian geometrical structure that cannot be represented faithfully in three-dimensional space: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klein_bottle The “self-intersectionality” of this form interests me, not in the sense of it being hailed as a paean to autonomous reflexivity, which seems pretty much untenable for subjectivity to thrive at all. I liked the Klein bottle because it dramatizes the structure of the mobius strip, which Grosz (I think via Alfonso Lingus [edit: LINGIS]) made appealing as a way to rethink lesbian corporeality, and perhaps corporeality and intersubjectivity in general. For me, the Klein bottle is a way to draw back “depth” into subjectivity without giving up the erotics of surfaces that Grosz importantly advocates for. The Klein bottle can be read as self-penetrating, yet also, self-phaging; a penetration and a consumption, however, that is initiated and conditioned by the presence or interference of otherness. Miley’s self-intersections consume and penetrate, and are occasion for our own self-penetrations and self-consumptions. Selfing is othering. And depth is surface.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.