The Occupy Wall Street movement got a much publicized cosign this past weekend, from pop music’s undisputed worst singer, the interminably, almost impossibly graceless Miley Cyrus. She posted a YouTube clip pairing images and video from the protests with a remix of her 2010 song “Liberty Walk,” which is a fairly standard pop anthem, warning as it does not to let anyone keep you down or whatever. The lyrics are not particularly relevant to the message of Occupy Wall Street, or to anything else, really—it could just as easily be taken as a kiss-off to an no-good boyfriend or a controlling set of parents. This is splitting hairs, though. Taken solely at face value—one of the biggest, most recognizable pop stars in the world calling attention to and siding with a grassroots political protest is important. Not to us, of course, as we sit back and roll our eyes as hard as we’re capable of rolling them, but maybe to everyone else.
The focus is largely on footage of police engaged in physical confrontations with protesters—people are dragged violently along the ground; riot gear is donned; batons are flashed—and there’s even, I guess as a lighthearted twist, a scene where a protester taunts an officer by grabbing his hat and tossing it away. It’s an ambitious tack she’s taken, for sure, in that she could very well be lessening the potential impact of her statement by focusing on the tension between protesters and the police instead of the movement’s core economic concerns. It’s easy to understand why she did it like this, of course—there’s no real sexy way to present a bunch of numbers and facts explaining how badly the rest of us are getting fucked by the 1%, at least not as a part of something called “The Rock Mafia Remix”—but it’s also possible she’s asking people to acknowledge the one thing they’re simply not willing to: police brutality. Mike Barthel over at Sound of the City has an interesting take on why this just might work:
It’s no accident that the video focuses not on the more staid moments of the protests, but almost exclusively on police confrontations. A bunch of hippies camping in a park is every stereotype you could have of a radical protest, but authority figures preventing young people from expressing themselves sounds like the plot of half the shows the Disney Channel has ever run. This is to say that the protesters made the movement acceptably progressive, but it took the police to make it all-American. (In one shot, a cop is literally tearing an American flag away from a guy trapped on the ground.)
This makes a good deal of sense to me, but I also think it’s important to remember that for a lot of people, and especially, I’d bet, a lot of people whose daughters or little sisters could conceivably be affected by anything Miley Cyrus does or says, the idea of what it means to be “all-American” has changed. Not hours after the World Trade Center fell, this notion took hold that the single most “American” thing you could do was to surrender certain rights provided to you by the Constitution if there was any chance at all that you could somehow be contributing to the greater good (fighting terrorism). The idea was that since something so unspeakably terrible was done to us, the government, and by extension the police, deserved our full, unquestioning cooperation in trying to make sure nothing like that happened again. Matt Taibbi wrote a great piece for Rolling Stone last week about how this mentality, which has stuck with us for a decade now, has in many ways just now come back to bite us.
This isn’t Miley’s fault, of course, and she deserves a round of applause for taking the first step toward undoing it. She can be accused of many things, but preaching to the choir isn’t one of them.