Aaron R. Davis
Here’s the thing about offering sage, unasked-for advice: you can’t get mad at someone if they refuse to take it. And you sure as hell don’t get to be surprised when someone — especially a young someone — gets offended at the life lesson they didn’t solicit.
I’m referring to the single most annoying barely-qualifies-as-news story from last week, which is Sinead O’Connor unleashing her wisdom all over Miley Cyrus, and then having a meltdown when Miley got a little miffed by it.
Sinead O’Connor, for those of you too young to remember, was notable almost a quarter of a century ago for having a massive hit song written by Prince, having a shaven head and ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live. She was a controversial artist in a time when every music artist seemed to be taking a stand against materialism and poverty and exploitation while recording charting hits and making as much money as they possibly could.
But “Nothing Compares 2 U” is an enduring classic, and the lasting success and popularity of this one song, along with the omnipresence of social media, have put Sinead O’Connor in that weird position of not really being famous or doing much of anything, but still getting a bit of attention. So when, two years ago, she announced she was looking for “a very sweet sex-starved man” and then found one (a drug abuse counselor), and wrote a blog post about how much she loved his cock that also served as a marriage announcement (her fourth), and then the marriage ended 16 days later under an avalanche of crack cocaine, followed by her canceling a tour because of a serious breakdown that included a suicide attempt, everyone who cared to got to follow this saga with real time updates.
I’m not saying this because I think it’s something Sinead O’Connor should be embarrassed about. I’m saying it to provide an example of a cliché that only became a cliché because it’s 100 percent true: we all make bad decisions sometimes.
So: Miley Cyrus.
I didn’t jump in to write the umpteenth comment about Miley’s VMA performance because I just didn’t care. I don’t think twerking is funny or controversial, and I do think she got unfairly crucified and slut-shamed while Robin Thicke got a free pass from the media, even though his hit song this year was literally about how much fun it is to degrade women. There was a much more interesting and vital conversation going on under all that about cultural appropriation that the mainstream media chose to ignore in favor of “Miley’s a slut” slideshow link bait that was presented as real journalism, and maybe it is, I don’t know, I’m not The Huffington Post. That’s still considered a real news source, right? Somehow?
Sinead O’Connor, perhaps reading that Miley Cyrus said she had been inspired by the “Nothing Compares 2 U” music video for scenes in her own new video, “Wrecking Ball,” decided it was totally cool and important to write a 1,000 word open letter of motherly concern directed at Miley. If you haven’t read it, it’s pretty hilarious. She tells Miley that she’s being “prostituted” by the music industry, that she doesn’t care about herself properly, that she’s falling into the trap of being sexually valued rather than artistically valued, and then tells her what real feminism and empowerment is. And this is coming from someone who’s been a real media whore in her life, so she knows what she’s talking about.
What I’m surprised someone of Sinead O’Connor’s experience doesn’t know is that the quickest way to get someone to stop listening to you — especially someone Miley’s age — is to condescendingly lecture them on everything they’re doing wrong, tell them they don’t know what they’re doing and order them to change their ways because you know better than they do how they should be living their lives. That shit doesn’t sit well with kids coming from their own parents, much less from a total stranger who hasn’t been culturally relevant in decades.
I know Sinead O’Connor was at one point a prominent feminist — she shaved her head to make a point about standards of beauty and force her record company to sell her based on talent rather than looks, and certainly not also to find a distinctive way to trademark herself — but telling other women who have different values than you do that their idea of feminism is wrong is totally insulting. If Miley’s making a mistake, it’s hers to make, and that’s just life.
I’d like to give Sinead the benefit of the doubt and say she wrote her open letter out of genuine concern and maybe a sense of experience, but I don’t think she did. I mean, she could have reached out privately if it was that big of a deal to her. But she didn’t. She latched on to someone popular and then publicly patronized them in a desperate bid for relevance. It wasn’t smart, it wasn’t nice, and it certainly wasn’t genuine.
Miley responded in an offensive manner, I think, by throwing Sinead’s history of mental illness in her face. She could have simply dismissed it as another in a long line of attempts to be controversial for attention. (Sure, she had a point about the Pope, but the manner in which she made her protest had the effect of placing the spotlight on her action and not the actual reason for it.)
It got Sinead’s attention, though, and prompted a response in which she warned Miley “taking me on is even more fuckin’ stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism” and said that Miley would one day also be mentally ill, which really sort of proves that all of her faux-concern was just so much grandstanding hypocrisy that was only ever meant to be about Sinead O’Connor. (For another example of how insufferably self-serving a person can be about glomming onto someone’s plea for attention and using it to get attention for yourself, look up what Amanda “Every Controversy Is Only About How I Feel About It” Palmer’s diatribe about this whole thing.)
Sinead is acting like that aunt that comes over for Thanksgiving and starts ranting about what everyone should do with their lives, and instead of telling her she’s crazy or wrong you just have to sort of humor her about whatever the hell she’s upset and bitter about this year just to get through the holiday without a fight. It’s never about you. If it was about you, it would just be a piece of advice that you could choose to ignore. But you can always tell when it’s about her, because she explodes in an offended rage when you tell her to mind her own business. When it’s your aunt, it’s awkward and uncomfortable. When it’s someone famous, it’s a misguided publicity stunt.
Look, I’m not invested in defending Miley. I don’t really care what she does. But that’s kind of my point. I find this attitude that we should all judge her because she used to be on a show for children or because she’s so popular or because she’s a woman and how could she be a woman in public and not be begging for us to constantly tell her what she’s doing wrong so very fucking tiring. The last thing anyone should do with their lives is get all worked up about how someone else lives their own life. Especially if you don’t know her. Even if you were famous once.
Stop making someone else’s life about you because you need attention.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.