When watching the 2015 VMAs, I was expecting music, jokes, and good-natured fun amongst the artists. Instead, MTV aired scenes of uncomfortable and blatant white privilege and microaggressions that left my friends and I wondering: how is this okay?
Several instances throughout the program involved MTV trying to be lighthearted and whimsical, yet it backfired and showed their insensitivity for social issues occurring.
To start it off, the host, Miley Cyrus, styled her hair into dreadlocks. Although Miley’s intentions were probably just her freedom of expression, this came off as cultural appropriation rather than appreciation. Cyrus simply “borrowing” a look that serves as an identification to a certain culture is not only insulting, but shows her using her white privilege to essentially exploit a minority group. In many cultures and religions, particularly the Rastafarian culture, dreadlocks were a source of pride and identification that stemmed from hundreds of years of enslaved oppression. Cyrus wearing them as a fad, particularly since she herself has not experienced the same history, shows her lack of knowledge and understanding of a different culture.
Another remark made involved Miley Cyrus joking that it was the LAPD who killed the Notorious B.I.G. This was not her place to joke about, yet it was still meant to be comical and lighthearted…which it was anything but. Other instances throughout the show, such as her use of the word “mammy” and the scene where Snoop Dogg played a pig while she ate a weed brownie further increased the tension of white privilege throughout the show.
Moving on, there were several remarks and hints towards police brutality, which were acted out by white celebrities. For example, Rebel Wilson joked that “A lot of people have problems with the police” and then proceeded to relate it back to “police strippers” and the injustices she has faced with police strippers who were not doing their job correctly. This was a disrespectful way to address a serious issue going on in the United States that has had hundreds of innocent black lives killed…yet this was supposed to be a playful way to address it? To add insult to injury, this was what Wilson said right before introducing the “Best Hip-Hop Video Award”, a predominantly black industry. What seemed to top off the jokes about police brutality was the unbearable “White Squad” commercial. This was a “playful” commercial aired by MTV that showcased “carefully selected group of white representatives who act on behalf of people of color” so that “systemic prejudice” could be stopped. While this was meant to come off as satirical, it was a clear sign that MTV viewed racism, prejudice, and discrimination as topics to joke about, particularly because it showed whites acknowledging their own white privilege and still making a mockery of it. It presented people of color as “needing” whites to help them in their day-to-day lives and subtly subordinating them into a lower position than whites.
Throughout the broadcast, my friends and I constantly mentioned how uncomfortable we were and how poorly MTV handled it, particularly because these were all scenes that they knew were going to happen. It is impossible for MTV to control what others celebrities say/do outside of the show, but it is MTV’s job to make sure it is not brought into their own broadcast. MTV failed to facilitate and control their passiveness and insensitivity towards social justice issues, making them the biggest culprit of all.