What can Barack Obama and Miley Cyrus learn from Karl Marx this past week? Maybe they should take to heart a famous quote where he says that the second time a tragedy comes around, it comes as a farce*. That’s true whether you’re following the footsteps of Madonna or George W Bush.
Were anybody seriously “shocked” at Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance? Underwhelmed and disappointed, maybe. I get that people are tired of a sexualized pop-culture where female artists turn to twerking and groping and self-subjugation to male co-performers. I get the fatigue that follows the trite and oh-so-predictable scheme of innocent teen-star turning adult by means of shock performances or other crazy-looking antics. But shocked? In many ways Miley is in the same boat as Lance Armstrong. If predecessors push the benchmark impossibly high (or low) to meet or beat, you’ve got to go to extreme lengths to be noticed. How in the world is a has-been-Disney-star like Cyrus to compete “shock-wise” with all the Madonnas and Britney Spears out there? Maybe she would have done better choosing a completely different strategy.
In her re-branding efforts, Miley is becoming to the music industry what Monster High is to fashion dolls. A cartoon that you take out on special occasions like Halloween and MTV performances. I think few kids really want to copy her beige maxi-panties and emulate her antics, but they might give their Barbie dolls pixie cuts. Maybe pose with stuck out tongues on their Instagram selfies for a while, which I wouldn’t see that as neither progress nor regress from the equally contrived duckface pose. We all knew Rolling Stones’ tongue logo had to get a comeback, didn’t we?
I’m far more worried that Cyrus’ antics this week distracted from another deja-vu moment with much more dire consequences. By now you have to live under a big twerking teddybear not to have noticed that we might be at war with Syria any moment. The similarities to the justification for invading Iraq 10 years ago are so striking that I won’t even spend much time on it. Arianna Huffington writes today: “This week, the White House sought to thrust the nation into military action in the Middle East, claiming that its “high confidence” in our intelligence obviated the need to allow U.N. inspectors to complete their work. Sound familiar? It’s like a bad summer sequel, with many of the same actors.”
Once again there is no U.N. mandate, no clear evidence that the chemical weapon are less likely to be used by the Syrian rebels than by the regime. Assad is a jerk obviously. Using chemical weapon is awful. Killing your own people is cowardly. But Assad is hardly the only despot who has abused and murdered his own people. And is it really another country’s right or duty to correct these oversteps? Maybe in cooperation with a multinational jurisdiction, but unilaterally? And the antagonists to the regime are not exactly liberty-loving democrats either. In wars, as in bad farcical comedies, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but do we really want to align ourselves with the Syrian rebels? The Millennial generation on both sides of the political aisles, some of whom can only remember an America that has been at war are opposing a possible intervention. Ranging from idealistic to pragmatic and economical concerns, war is not the answer for them even if no soldiers are put on the ground. (How do you predict that anyway if the conflict escalates?) And what will another war mean for the Homelanders? What type of future will they inherit? Rather than turning to physical weapons maybe our politicians should consider intervening in Syria by going full tit-for-tat and establish an Electronic Army of hackers to invade strategic Syrian information nodes? What about embarrassing Assad by planting Cyrus’ VMA performance on Assad’s Instagram? Yes, it would be farcical, but we are indeed living a time when bad stories repeat themselves…
* Marx’ actual words were: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”