Learning Cultural Complacency From The VMAs

I’ll be the first to tell you that awards shows aren’t usually my cup of tea.

In fact, there’s a bit of apprehension that I feel with indulging in watching a two-hour long awards show that glories the best and the worst of our celebrities. They behave badly or dignified on a regular basis in the public eye, and it’s that very scrutiny that can lead them to indulge us in moments that will be etched on our social media accounts for days.

This year’s VMA Awards on MTV were different.

This awards show is hosted every year, and it was expected that there would be shenanigans amuck on the red carpet and on stage. However, this year’s awards show seemed to unveil a new level of bad behavior–it was an odd mix of real-time clickbait and cultural appropriation, mixed with some small and shining moments of marginalized celebrities taking back the narrative. As I recapped the night for myself, I was unsure whether to feel offended or proud.

Here are the top three moments that made me (and probably the rest of America) take a pause.

1. Amber Rose and Blacc Chyna

On the red carpet, Amber Rose and Blac Chyna donned outfits that represented the sexism that the two women have faced. Written on the light-colored outfits were various slurs, including “b*tch”, “slut”, and “whore”. As stated in the New York Daily News,

“They call us sluts and whores all the time, so we just embrace it. I have slut written across my vagina…I wish I was a whore,” Rose told host Kelly Osbourne during the MTV pre-show.“My social life would be much more exciting.”

Amber and Chyna’s assistants also wore outfits covered in insults, this time highlighting the homophobia that the two men have encountered.

Interestingly enough, Vic Mensa also used his outfit to bring awareness to another important issue–police brutality. He wore a “Free Assata” ensemble that highlighted activist Assata Shakur’s struggles against police brutality, bringing to light the many struggles that Black individuals face at the hand of systematic racism.

2. Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus

We’re all aware of the sticky situation that occurred after Nicki’s Anaconda video was snubbed for a nomination. Though Nicki and Taylor Swift had their own squabble on Twitter and have since moved beyond the topic, Miley Cyrus added her own two cents to the situation.. which Nicki didn’t take lightly. While on stage receiving her award for Best Hip-Hop Video, Nicki addressed Miley’s comments head on, with the now-infamous line of “Miley, what’s good?”

This situation is particularly notable to highlight, as it adds to the ways that the Angry Black Woman troupe works to derail the legitimate anger and outrage that Black women feel when they are slighted by their treatment by mainstream media, but are told that their behavior is unacceptable by people who do not carry the weight of that.

3. The Multitude of “Misses” on MTV’s End

Miley’s appearance (did anyone else see those faux dreads?). Rebel Wilson’s deadpan joke on police brutality. The “White Assistance” commercial. The list goes on, but I think these instances showcase how very far we have to go when it comes to finding the link between cultural complacency and achieving social justice.

Media is not exempt from the standards of decency that we hold other things in our lives. Celebrities, though their careers are often dependent on bad behavior and carefully crafted staged acts, they must still be held accountable in the ways that they perpetuate oppression that happens all too often in real life. Who knows? Perhaps the discussion from the events of this year’s VMAs will serve a larger purpose of bringing awareness to these issues, and will allow us to work in dispelling them.


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