Whether you read the Jewish press, the celebrity gossip blogs, or both, you are no doubt aware by now that Miley Cyrus, most recently famous for licking objects a dog would have the good sense to avoid, told Hunger TV why she wants to be in control of her image: “It can’t be like this 70-year-old Jewish man that doesn’t leave his desk all day, telling me what the clubs want to hear.”
Is this an anti-Semitic thing to say? Well, yes. Does Miley hate Jews? I don’t know. Anti-Semitism is the default setting for many people, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Having been raised Christian and given a minimal education in the bubble-world of child stardom, it would be understandable if Cyrus never developed any real understanding of the history of different religious and ethnic groups. Her statement that she wanted producers to give her new album a sound that “just feels black” indicates her lack of cultural sensitivity or knowledge of American musical history. My guess is that Cyrus is probably not a true bigot. She is probably, primarily, just stupid.
If that allegation sounds surprising or nasty, it’s because, outside of Internet comment sections, well-known women are not often called out for their lack of brains. Up to a point this represents great progress; not so long ago many people, if not most people, believed women were intellectually inferior to men. Now, thankfully, that view pops up much less frequently, and it is treated as inflammatory when it does. These days, when someone wants to attack a woman in the public sphere, the target is usually her looks or weight, not her mind. (That is damaging in its own ways, of course.) And enlightened people today, for the most part, believe that even if a woman is young, scantily clad, and has a job that doesn’t entail deep thinking, that she is certainly capable of leading an intellectual life.
But none of that changes the fact that some women — just like some men — are just… kind of… dim.
It is possible that Cyrus happens to be a marketing genius and is so devoted to making herself short-term famous that she is willing to sacrifice her reputation for record sales and clicks. It is also possible that her use of black people as props, her insinuations that Jews control the music industry, and her boasts about throwing lit cigarettes out of moving cars into the dry California brush are all part of a genius master plan. Maybe Cyrus doesn’t really believe that people stop wanting to have sex at 40, or the fact that her VMA performance was, in her words, “strategic” and “all thought out” makes it better and not worse. Maybe she’s extremely well-read. But I wager that Cyrus is as dumb as a bag of lint.
Failing to recognize or even publicly discuss this possibility has consequences. Remember when Sarah Palin almost got to be vice president of the United States? During the 2008 presidential campaign, pundits said she was inexperienced, that her political views were extreme, that she was unsophisticated and perhaps out of her depth. Writers questioned her ethics and even her account of her pregnancy. Her gaffes — most notably her assertion that living in a state bordering Russia gave her some sort of foreign policy insight — were mocked endlessly. But they were presented as gaffes, and not what they apparently were: the best ideas that Palin, a woman with determination and ambition but a clearly limited intellect, could come up with. No respected commentator ever went on TV and pointed out that this candidate could barely pass a Seventeen Magazine quiz, let alone potentially run the country. (Or maybe that did happen and I’ve lost so many brain cells reading about Miley Cyrus that I’ve forgotten it.) In a very un-American display of political correctness, Palin ascended to a height she should never have been able to, because the right people were unwilling to call her a dolt.
So to prevent that kind of thing ever recurring, please, let’s stop equating a narrow sort of self-promotional savvy with being smart. Let’s stop pretending that unintelligence and “just being Miley” is cute. Because it is not cute. And if Miley is in fact a secret connoisseur of English literature and a student of anthropology and a chemistry whiz, and this is all an act, that’s not cute either. Casting Miley as a media savvy prodigy is not the way to teach young girls to value education, formal or otherwise. So while we criticize her unfortunate inability to twerk, let’s also point out that she either is, or is pretending to be, stupid. And then let’s ignore her.
I don’t mean to suggest that it’s never valuable to discuss anti-Semitic accusations, of both the intentional and ignorant variety. And I don’t want to diminish the really smart articles many people are writing about this not-so-smart celebrity. But maybe it would be better if anytime someone like Miley opened her mouth and anything other than her weird tongue came out, we rolled our collective eyes and went back to reading our books.