OOH, that Miley Cyrus makes me sick. Did you see her at that awards show the other day? Prancing about and doing all that gyrating and thrusting – in a flesh-coloured bikini, no less. Ooh, she makes me sick.

Did you see her sticking her tongue out and rubbing that big foam hand on her … well, I’m not even going to say. She makes me sick.

Ban her. Force her to wear more clothes. Think of the children! That was the overall tone of the reaction to the pop star’s provocative performance at the MTV awards on Monday: utter disgust, outrage and anger.

Despite Miley only doing what a thousand other pop stars have done before – and actually, what a couple of other pop stars even did on the same night – she managed to provoke global indignation on a scale not seen since that other young female pop star did that sexy thing that time.

Here’s the thing. We should all be disgusted at Miley Cyrus’s performance. We should all be completely outraged. But not because she waggled her bits about and sang about “getting nasty”. We should be horrified because for three days Miley’s five-minute dumbshow was all the world was talking about, at a time when thousands were crippled and hundreds killed from what Western leaders assert were government-led gas attacks in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated the death toll from last week’s neurotoxic gas attack at 322, including 54 children. Thousands more were critically injured, with field hospitals quickly established to cope with the onslaught of patients turning up in convulsions, unable to breathe and blinded as their pupils were reduced to pinpoints.

Medecins Sans Frontieres reported patients with diarrhoea, confusion, headaches, vomiting, uneven heart rate and paralysis. Some died within minutes of being subjected to the gas. Military strikes on the region seem imminent, with both the US and France saying they’re ready to take action, and the UK under pressure to follow suit.

All of this and yet there was Miley and her foam hand, the most clicked-on story on most news websites. The top story trending on Twitter. The No. 1 water cooler conversation in offices around the world.

Not that any of this is Miley’s fault, of course. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be a weapon of mass distraction against actual, real life weapons of mass destruction.

She wasn’t alone anyway. Days before we got excited about Miley we’d all been obsessed with “Batfleck”, the apparent scandal of Ben Affleck being cast in the role of Batman in a new Hollywood blockbuster.

On Monday satirical news website The Onion posted a fake op-ed purporting to be by Meredith Artley, the managing editor of CNN.com and titled: “Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus’s VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning.”

In the article, the fake Artley wrote: “You want to know how many more page views the Miley Cyrus thing got than our article on the wildfires ravaging Yosemite? Like six gazillion more. That’s on you, not us.”

It might have been fake, but the sentiment was terrifyingly real.

It’s no wonder Syrians have taken to posting photographs of themselves on social media, holding up signs reading: “Dear world, we’d like to inform you that there was another massacre in Syria today”.

You know you’re part of a navel-gazing, celebrity-obsessed culture when a “selfie” achieves more cut-through than hundreds of videos, photographs and words about a country on the brink of war.


First published in The Advertiser, August 29, 2013.