A week has passed since the Miley Cyrus debacle and frankly, I have nothing to add about her performance at the VMAs.
I believe that everything that needed—and indeed, did not need—to be said about it has been said to the point of ad nauseum.
However, one thing that struck me were the claims that Miley Cyrus was a corrupting influence on today’s youth. That one made me smile if only because that accusation is as old as time itself, and it seems to be trotted out at least a few times per generation.
Indeed, some people and things accused of corrupting the young have gone on to become famous cultural and pop-culture icons. While it’s probably unlikely that Ms. Cyrus will go on to achieve such status, she may one day look back on her career and be genuinely flattered to find herself in such esteemed company.
So, without further ado, here are 5 other things besides her that found themselves in the same boat that she currently occupies:
Considered one of the founders of Western philosophy and the original gadfly, Socrates annoyed a lot of people with his method of inquiry known as The Socratic Method. (Indeed, even the term “gadfly” refers to a type of fly that irritates horses by constantly stinging them.) Still, while many found him merely annoying, Socrates, who was never one to keep his opinions to himself, found himself in hot water when he praised Sparta even though his home city-state of Athens had recently suffered a humiliating defeat at hands of the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War.
Suddenly, Socrates went from merely being an annoying old guy to an enemy of the state when he was charged at the age of 70 or 71 with both “corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety or (not believing in the gods of the state)”. Impudent to the end, Socrates argued at his trial that instead of charging him, the state should pay him a pension and provide him with free dinners for the rest of his life. He closed by saying he would rather die than admit wrong doing.
In the end, he got the latter wish and was sentenced to die by drinking poison hemlock which he cheerfully did despite the fact he had numerous opportunities to escape prison.
2. The V-Neck or “Pneumonia Blouse”
It’s hard to believe that a v-neck blouse which looks positively frumpy by today’s standards could cause so much controversy, but that is exactly what happened when the V-neck women’s shirt became very popular at the turn of the 20th century.
Labelled as downright obscene by some, the top was even accused of being a danger to women’s health with claims that some who wore it had contracted pneumonia hence it’s nickname. Indeed, some ministers and even some newspapers declared war on it saying that even if a young woman’s physical health was spared, it still damaged her emotional well-being and virtue. Despite this or maybe because of this, the blouse remained popular for years.
Most people are familiar with Elvis and his pelvis and that infamous Ed Sullivan appearance where he was filmed only from the waist up, but rockabilly legend Jerry Lee Lewis was arguably a far bigger hell-raiser than The King. Long before he became famous, Lewis was expelled from his Christian high school for daring to play some “worldly” music at a school talent show.
His first major hit “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On“, which actually was not written by Lewis, was banned by several radio stations on the grounds that it was obscene. Still, what really did Lewis in and what he is most known for is his third marriage in 1958 to his then 13 year old second cousin, Myra. (Lewis was 22 at the time.) The scandal nearly ended Lewis’s career and some rock historians argue that Lewis could have gone on have a much bigger career had it not been for that.
Now in his 70s, Lewis is still performing and best summed his life and career in the following quote: “[Y]ou know it’s strange, the same music that they kicked me out of school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I am playing for the devil and they don’t.”
When the legendary violet-eyed actress died in 2011, most obituaries mentioned her many loves and how in her later years she (rightly) received praise for her tireless work for AIDS charities. While many in the media reported on Ms. Taylor’s colorful love life in a tone of nostalgia mixed with the sort of tenderness often reserved for the elderly, many of them probably weren’t even born when Ms. Taylor was seen largely as a man-stealing temptress who even earned the condemnation of the Vatican.
Taylor, who started out as a squeaky-clean child star appearing in Lassie movies, quickly made the transition to adult actress/femme fatale; and by the time she was 30, she had an impressive CV of legendary movie roles and was on her fourth husband. Indeed, Hubby number four (the singer-actor Eddie Fisher) was very much married to Taylor’s former best friend, Debbie Reynolds, when the two embarked on an affair months after Taylor’s third husband died in a plane crash. While the public was still reeling over that, the married Taylor went on to meet her future fifth and sixth husband, the also-married Richard Burton, while the two were working together on the film Cleopatra.
To give an extent as to how bad the fall-out was from that, Taylor revealed in her 1988 memoir Elizabeth Takes Off, that at the time of the affair with Burton she was in the processing of adopting a daughter and there were real worries that the adoption would not go through because the Vatican declared her to be an “unfit mother.” (She was already a mom to three kids) While eventually the adoption was approved, it would take years for Taylor’s reputation to recover and indeed, to this day, she is just as well know for her personal dramas as she is for the ones on the silver screen.
Like Miley Cyrus, Madonna made a memorable appearance at the first VMAs in 1984 where she performed her hit “Like a Virgin” while rolling around the floor in a white wedding dress and appearing to be writhing in ecstasy. And that was just the beginning of a career that is still going on to this day.
Madonna, who was arguably the Queen of MTV in the 80s and early 90s, had several of her videos banned including 1989’s “Like a Prayer” where she dances in front of burning crosses clad only in a slip and appears to make out with a black saint and 1990’s “Justify My Love” which has the distinction of being the first music video single ever released on VHS after it was banned on MTV. The video, with its themes of S&M and which showed Madonna making out with men and women was even the subject of a “Dateline” segment in which Madonna appeared on live TV to defend it.
Just when many were saying she couldn’t possibly go any further, Madonna released a picture book in 1992 called Sex which was, well, about sex and was sold behind the counter in bookstores and came packaged in a solid sealed wrapper.
In 2003, Madonna made headlines again in the VMAs performing “Like a Virgin” with pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera along side her and kissing both young women on the lips at the end of the performance. Once again, Madonna was accused of corrupting a whole new generation of young people.
In closing, corruption of the youth is nothing new nor is it something that can be blamed soley on today’s modern stars. The fact is, blaming someone or something of corrupting the young and innocent is a phenomenon as old as history itself. Indeed, in a decade or so, it would not surprise me if the collective public looks back at Miley Cyrus’s performance with the same amount of nostalgia as they do with the things listed here.
However, even if they do not, at least Cyrus and her fans can take comfort knowing that she is not the first or the last thing to be accused of corrupting the young ones. The only real question is who or what will be accused of corrupting next?
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Ed: Sara Crolick