When people meet me, even here in South Carolina, they almost always are surprised to learn that I am from the South. I don’t have much of a Southern accent and I am not demure or interested in playing dumb. There is, unfortunately, a prejudice that exists, even in the South itself, against people who are Southern. There is an assumption that everyone here is stupid, poorly educated, and a redneck.
It’s not that the South hasn’t come by its reputation honestly. There are Bible Thumpers, Tea Partiers, Second Amendment Freaks, and an education system that is more broken than not. There are rural areas that don’t even seem like America to anyone who has lived near a town, and the problems and poverty that come with that. But, while a Democrat may never win the state of South Carolina, 40% of the population votes for a Democrat. You may be able to paint the South itself with a broad brush, but you lose a lot if you also paint individuals from the South with that same brush.
I have struggled over the years with embracing that I am from South Carolina, but I really am about as Southern as it gets. I was a debutante, I was sent to cotillons when I was growing up. My father hunts and fishes and collects rifles, my mother worked for Lee Atwater and George HW Bush. When I was young, I spent most of my days with my babysitter/nanny who lived in a trailer park and we watched NASCAR, drank Mountain Dew, and occasionally I missed my nap and watched The Bold and the Beautiful. The first time I ever got on a plane was to go see Graceland.
And, even more embarrassingly, the thing I most wanted to be when I grew up was a country music singer. I’ve never lost my love of singing or a (not so) secret desire to be a rock star, but I did lose my fondness for country music over the years. But yes, there was a time when my favorite song was “Achy Breaky Heart” and I dreamed of being Dolly Parton.
I suspect many people reading this would think that this was a major handicap, something that I had to overcome to be the erudite, snarky, witty, and progressive person that I am today, but I think it was actually completely necessary for me to get here. I only wish that I was better at embracing it and not being embarrassed by it. In an attempt to embrace being Southern, I’m offering a paean for Miley Cyrus.
Miley Cyrus is a lot cooler than most people realize. I’ll be the first to admit that her devotion to her faith is not something that particularly appeals to me, but the fact that she is Southern Baptist and still open-minded is something we should be celebrating. And I confess that her music isn’t exactly my thing, as most of the teen music I like was written by people now in their sixties. But the really cool thing about Miley Cyrus is that she’s a bona-fide red-state American who depends on red-state Americans for her career and she hasn’t let that stop her from speaking out against what she perceives as injustice.
She is a vocal supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. This past May, she bashed both Urban Outfitters and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum for being anti-gay. She is so in favor of gay rights that she got it tattooed on her body — an equal sign for “equal love” on her ring finger. And when someone disagreed with her stance on Twitter, she posted, “Where does it say in the bible to judge others? Oh right. It doesn’t. GOD is the only judge honey.” Hell yes!
She fights in favor of reasonable body images for women. When people try to shame her for her weight, she says that her accusers are part of the reason there are so many women with eating disorders and states quite clearly that she has no intention of buying into it. “I love MYSELF & if you could say the same… I don’t wanna be shaped like a girl I LOVE being shaped like a WOMAN & trust me ladies your man won’t mind either.” That’s a feminist message about body acceptance, and an important one for the age group that she appeals to.
It’s easy to look at Billy Ray flag waving for Republican candidates, how very Southern they are, how vocally Christian they are, and assume that they are stereotypical, uninformed conservatives. They are not. Her grandfather, Kentucky Colonel Ron Cyrus, was a Democrat and a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives for 21 years and he was the secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO. It turns out that Southerners have a wide range of political beliefs.
The inspiration for this post was a video in support of the Occupy movement that she posted this week on YouTube, as part of her celebration of her 19th birthday. Most of the response among my friends on Facebook has been shock and a little bit of poking fun at her music and at the irony that she, of all people, was the big musician to support the Occupy movement. But actually, it is not ironic and, if you’ve followed her, it is not surprising. It is, however, marvelous.
Their surprise I can understand, not everyone is as obsessed with LGBT activism as I am, but it is when people dismiss her entirely that I get upset. There is an article in the National Post that made my blood boil. The writer describes Miley’s birthday party, which apparently included a unicorn, and then goes on to discuss the Occupy video:
At the very least, it seems Cyrus is interested in showing a more socially conscious side of herself now that she’s entered the twilight years of tween stardom. Like many people, 19 or otherwise, Cyrus has apparently been following the Occupy movement, and together with Rock Mafia (the production team helmed Cyrus hits including 7 Things and Can’t Be Tamed), she Tweeted a link to a video montage featuring footage of Occupy protesters around the world. Titled “Don’t Give Up – It’s a Liberty Walk,” a remix of the pop star’s 2010 track Liberty Walk features in the video, which Cyrus posted to YouTube with the following message: “This is Dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in.”
This, we can only assume, includes unicorns.
That may be the most dismissive thing I have ever read. I’m not going to go into a rant about how wrong it is to dismiss people for being young and female, because I might explode, but that’s exactly what’s going on here. “Oh, she’s interested in politics and unicorns, how sweet.”
Miley Cyrus is now a player in progressive politics, not because she is a politician, but because she has a voice that is heard by millions. This young woman isn’t part of the “Hollywood Elite” — she is from “Real America” and her fans are all from “Real America” too — she is an ambassador to the red states. But because she is young and because she sings pop and because she is from the South, many people are tempted to dismiss her out of hand. Her conservative critics are wise enough to be afraid that her influence will lead young Christians away from the intolerant values of their parents, perhaps we should be wise enough to be very grateful to have her on our side. Embrace her or not, she has influence with the people progressives have the hardest time reaching.
Maybe being from the South isn’t a handicap, maybe it makes our progressive voices that much stronger.