Miley Cyrus vs Sinead O’Connor: feminism, mental health and the ecosystem of the Social Age


© Dionne Williams 2013, used with permission

You may have seen this saga playing out: Miley Cyrus is a former Disney sweetheart, reinvented as raunchy teen seductress, selling records and generating profits for fat middle aged white men whilst being chastised by wiser, older, pillars of the musical community, like Sinead O’Connor, for sabotaging the feminist agenda. In return, O’Connor’s own battles with mental health and suicidal thoughts have been raised to the fore as people pile into the discussion with their own interpretations and agendas. All of this playing out across websites, forums, Facebook, Twitter and a thousand other social spaces.

O’Connor herself has reflected that the very discussion has bought mental health into the open, provided a platform for discussion. She has said this even in light of the fact that Cyrus’s initial response was abusive and that she was even taunted to ‘kill herself‘ by some of Cyrus’s more juvenile fans. Before i continue, i should make my position clear: i have the greatest respect for Sinead O’Connor for her honesty and bravery in sharing her very public battle with mental health and the dignity with which she has conducted herself. I also have no issue with Miley Cyrus making money in any way she wishes: if she believes she is forwarding a culture where women are respected for their creativity rather than simply as sexual objects, then good luck to her.

My primary interest is in how the ecosystem of Social has facilitated and enabled these discussions to be so very public and so very lively. I think it’s a great case study of the democratisation of power and publishing and the power of amplification, as well as an interesting insight into the ways that mental health issues are perceived and dealt with in our society (and how Social media may help to break down those barriers).

The ecosystem of social works like this: there are curated spaces owned by individuals: O’Connor and Cyrus both have their own websites where they can publish their ‘open letters‘. These are spaces that they control: they can block others from commenting and they own the messages as well as the landscape.

Then there are the collaborative spaces, the Forums where these discussions play out: these vary from fan sites to Facebook and Twitter, where we typically see the massed armies fight it out with their own interpretations. Finally there are the reported views: the journalistic, narrative stance, through magazines and news sites, which look upon the actions of the Generals and the armies and try to make sense of it all.

Such is the reality of Social, and this is the landscape in which we live and learn.

It’s often not a deeply reflective space: the rush of the battle and the emotions involved can lead to some very raw and course emotions, but once we move into the wider narrative, we start to see some themes emerging: there are broad themes at play in this case study that we can see and comment upon.

One theme is about who is exploiting whom? Is Cyrus exploiting her femininity to make money. Is Cyrus being exploited by old men to dance naked and make them money? Is O’Connor exploiting the situation to revive record sales? Are O’Connor and Cyrus exploiting all of us by manufacturing conflict to boost sales? Are women exploited by men in the whole music industry? Or are modern feminists exploiting the perceived exploitation by men to create a post-exploitative new reality?! Maybe the truths of this will only play out over time.

Woman in ink

© Dionne Williams 2013, used with permission

One thing is clear though: O’Connor is right that this conflict has bought questions of mental health more thoroughly to the forefront, and i believe that this is a good thing (and can only hope it’s not cost her too much personally to do so).

Whilst many of the immediate conversations have been emotional and often abusive, there have been equally as many people who have stopped to think and to talk about the issues at hand. The collaborative technologies have facilitated this: the dynamics of the Social spaces and the democratisation of commentary have fuelled it. These are the new ways that truth and meaning are created in the Social Age.

We need to understand these dynamics: these are our new realities. Messages play out in multiple channels, some of which we own the messaging in, others that we simply visit. This is the ecosystem of Social that we live and learn within.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Age, Conformity, Meaning, News, Social Learning, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Miley Cyrus vs Sinead O’Connor: feminism, mental health and the ecosystem of the Social Age

  1. benoitdavid says:

    Very well put. We do need to understand the new dynamics of how information flow, what is controlled, what is not, what are opinions, what are emotions, what are facts. One thing I noticed is that a fair amount of people refrain themselves from even saying anything online, from fear of saying something wrong, and that it will be forever stored out there, in the internet… People have said they need to think about it, and never do follow through… Is it worth trying to get them to speak?

  2. benoitdavid says:

    Back to the social leader, right? 🙂

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