Unlike the days following Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2nd, 2011, the tenth anniversary of his killing passed without hoopla in the American Homeland. A decade on from death of America’s arch enemy, no jubilant drones danced in patriotic formation above the National Mall; there was no SEAL Team 6 reenactment at the freshly reopened Disneyland; no Director’s cut (John Brennan’s not Kathryn Bigelow’s) of Zero Dark Thirty dropped on NetFlix or on the Hindu Kush.
In 2011 then-Vice President Biden advised Obama against the mission because he was nervous about potential failure. This past Sunday the now-President folded his statement about the anniversary into the larger message: the killing of bin Laden symbolized the “success” of the American adventure Afghanistan and was adduced again by the current Commander-in-Chief to legitimize his declaration of American victory and the withdrawal of the troops: “Al Qaeda is greatly degraded,” intoned Biden. Mission Accomplished!
Far more greatly degraded than Al Qaeda, which has been issuing ominous threats since Biden announced the American military departure from Afghanistan, is presidential rhetoric.
Biden needed more bounce for the tenth anniversary of the killing. He should have invited Miley Cyrus to the White House for a dance party.
Back in 2011 Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” became the celebratory anthem of bin Laden’s demise. The song had been released in 2009 and gone mega-platinum that year, the singer just sixteen years old. The day after the nighttime raid on the Al Qaeda leader’s compound in Pakistan, Cyrus’s hit was taken up by the tank-topped zeitgeist, the YouTube video racking up millions of new hits. Legions of viewers put up their jubilant posts on the site, bigoted slurs cavorting with 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 triumphantly on the arch-terrorist’s watery grave.
In contrast to the burkas of Muslim women, the “Party in the USA video” gave the world American teenage girlhood on full display: abundant decolletage and miles of leggy real estate running from her cowboy boots to the fringes of her Daisy Dukes. Repurposed for weaponization against the Muslim world when the video went viral, Cyrus’s flowing auburn hair did more to cover up her wares than did her outfit. If the Nashville-born singer still wore her “purity ring,” it was is lost among her bangles.
Already in 2011 the openly-bisexual, strapon-wielding Cyrus’s chastity cred—which she cannily used at the outset of her career to market her rampant sexuality—was more frayed than her Daisy Dukes. “Inappropriate” photos had been recently snatched from her computer by a hacker, whom I assumed had been paid by the singer’s own publicists.
Before marijuana became legit and legal, it also clouded her reputation. Not since Bill Clinton claimed not to have inhaled had marijuana use been denied with such breathtaking absurdity. The bong seen to be operated by the eighteen-year-old and spread across the internet was filled, her people claimed, not with the devil’s weed, but with fragrant salvia (though one strain of the large salvia family is said to have psychedelic potential).
As the present pandemic has reminded us, viruses mutate. The “Party in the USA” video enjoyed another outbreak after Biden’s electoral victory back in November of last year. It shot up the iTunes and Spotify charts, and young folks danced to the tune in Times Square on election night.
Cyrus’s hit has become a leitmotiv for the cycles and continuities of American foreign policy. A decade after bin Laden’s assassination it’s almost worth revisiting the moving, sounding image that America presents to itself and to the world.
Cyrus’ video is a vacuous mix of nostalgia and sex, one that projects the American Dream through Vaseline-smeared lens. The setting is a made-up drive-in 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 Fifties drive-in outings required darkness to descend before things heated up. Not so In Cyrus’s video. Hetero couples cuddle on the hoods of vintage America muscle cars, while the singer grapples with a retro chrome microphone and 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 alongside a Mustang. It’s the stuff pure male fantasy: babes and cars.
The narrative set out by “Party in the USA” is the autobiography of a star being born: girl lands in Los Angeles, takes a taxis directly from LAX past the Hollywood sign and to a dance club. 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.”
The Cyrus of the song claims to be nervous, though she doesn’t look it. “It’s definitely not a Nashville party,” she observes, and this gets her to “feelin’ kinda home sick.” But then the DJ drops “her favorite Britney tune,” and her nervousness vanishes.
With Cyrus repeating the phrase “and a Britney song was on,” the video gazes up as a humongous American flag unfurls down the face of the drive-in screen, not white, but golden. 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. The voice has been put through post-production pokings and proddings more dehumanizing than a TSA search.
The message of “Party in the USA” is that the American Dream comes not from hard work, but by being discovered on the dance floor. The advertisement of sexual availability is the quickest road to success, one to be raced down in a Camaro with big fat racing stripes.
Cyrus’s video 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. But it was not just the patriotic symbols of American flag, American femininity, and American free-range automotive beef grazing the California grassland that stirred the national pride and its lusts. No Islamic terrorist was going to curtail American freedom to sell a teenage sex symbol, especially when that symbol was on offer in front of the red-white-and-blue.
As the Afghan war “ends” and the video closes in on a billion hits, Party in the USA reveals even more starkly than ever its true identity as a bizarre, hyper-sexualized, pathological ode otodefeat. Bottom of Form