Here in the Homeland there is jubilation. The YouTube site of teen idol, Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” hosted the virtual party to celebrate the unarmed bin Laden’s killing. As of this morning the video had been visited by more than 215,000,000 times, and viewers posted thousands of celebratory sentiments?along with racist slurs and sexually prurient outpourings. America had voted with its virtual feet and made “Party in the USA” bin Laden’s funeral song, the lighter-than-air digital body of pop culture dancing joyously on the arch-terrorist’s watery grave.
An adolescent geopolitical moment apparently required an exuberantly adolescent song for this epoch-making anti-funeral. In contrast to the burkas of mourning Muslim women, the Cyrus video gives the world down-home American young womanhood on full display: miles of leggy real estate between the frayed southerly edge of the singer’s Daisy Duke shorts and the tops of her cowboy boots. Her flowing auburn hair does more to cover up her womanly wares than the black bra and tank top. This vision was simply too much for some of her onanistic admirers, many of whom seem to have a gift for typing with one hand. If the Nashville-born Cyrus still wears her “purity ring” it is lost among her bangles.
Cyrus’s reputation for teen chastity has been sullied by the usual parade of supposedly inappropriate photos exhumed from her computer by a hacker, who was probably paid by the singer’s own publicists. Not since Clinton claimed not to have inhaled, has an encounter with marijuana been denied with such breathtaking absurdity. The bong the eighteen-year-old can be seen getting friendly with all across the internet is filled, her allies claim, not with the smoke of the devil’s weed, but that of fragrant salvia (though one strain of the vast slavia family is said to have psychedelic potential).
The video marking bin Laden’s demise is a vacuous mix of nostalgia and sexual desire, one that projects the American Dream through Hollywood’s vaseline-smeared lens. The setting is a mythical drive-in theatre mired not in suburban sprawl but spread out in the tall brown grass and among the live oaks of the seemingly unspoiled California hills. The dress of the singer and her cohort is Dukes of Hazard chic: the teen-set from the Bible Belt is out for a good time in the bright light of day. The heavy-petting of the drive-in outings in the Fifites required darkness to descend before things heated up. Not so In Cyrus’s video, as couples cuddle on the hoods of vintage America muscle cars, and the singer grapples with a retro chrome microphone as her scantily clad gal pals dance?“Moving my hips like yeah” as the song’s lyric put it?in the back of a classic Ford pick-up and parked alongside a Mustang. It’s pure male fantasy stuff: babes and cars.
The narrative set out by “Party in the USA” is the autobiography of a star being born: girl comes to Los Angeles, goes directly from LAX, past the Hollywood sign, to a dance club in her taxi. The jaded partiers scrutinize her entrance: “Everybody’s lookin’ at me now / Like who’s that chick, that’s rockin’ kicks? / She gotta be from out of town.”
Miley is nervous ? though she doesn’t look it. “It’s definitely not a Nashville party,” she observes, and this gets her to “feelin’ kind home sick” But then the DJ drops “her favorite Britney tune,” and all her nervousness is immediately dispelled.
As Cyrus intones a three-fold “And a Britney song was on,” the video gazes up as a giant American unfurls down the face of the drive in screen, not the typical white surface, but one that is golden and burnished. Even if the streets are no longer paved with gold in America, at least a rural drive screen can be.
Suddenly, Cyrus is in front of the screen doing that thing with her hips she’s so proud of while fondling her microphone. Cyrus’s voice has been put through scans, probes, and processes more dehumanizing than a TSA search. Or perhaps it’s simply that she’s inhaled a balloon full of digital helium. What is left a computerized phantom that sounds dangerously close to the croonings of a Smurf. It is the body that sells, not the voice.
The message of “Party in the USA” seems to be that the American Dream is not to be realized through hard work, but by being discovered on the dance floor. Sexual availability, or at least the advertisement of it, is the quickest road to success, preferably in a Camaro with big fat racing stripes.
Cyrus’s video probably vaulted to the top of the charts for the bin Laden Death Festivities because of the vastness of its flag and the skimpiness of the singer’s outfit. Its motives and music may make many feel good to be an American because simply you don’t have to think to believe it. But it is not just the patriotic symbols of flag and free-range automotive beef grazing the California grassland that stir the national pride of the teeny-bopper set, and make it the anti-bin Laden hit the song was never intended to be. The more powerful message it sends to the terrorists is that even at a funeral a nearly naked American woman could sing her heart out too?if she had one.
David Yearsley teaches at Cornell University. He is author of Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint His latest CD, “All Your Cares Beguile: Songs and Sonatas from Baroque London”, has just been released by Musica Omnia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org