Open letter, closed mind


Graphic by Karl Enghofer

Call me the victim of the times, but I’m all about a good online celebrity feud. And luckily for me, a pretty top-notch Internet showdown between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor occurred this week.

Now, their feud never had a chance of besting my personal favorite Twitter cage match between Rihanna and Satan. Yes, we’re talking about biblical Satan — as in pitchfork-carrying, lives-in-a-fiery-abyss Satan — and Rihanna almost gave him a run for his money.

However, that’s a tough feat anyway, and the feud between Cyrus and O’Connor did have a charm of its own.

Unless you’ve been living under several rocks, you know Cyrus has been in the media frequently this summer. For the most part, she has received a lot of criticism about her recent sexual awakening, as it has been called.

One such criticism came as an open letter penned by O’Connor. In case, like me, you’re not familiar with O’Connor’s work, it turns out that she was famous in the 1980s for her career as a singer/songwriter.

The 46-year-old Irish singer wrote to Cyrus, “(the music industry) will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think it’s what you wanted.” O’Connor said her letter was written “in the spirit of motherliness and with love,” but it read more like a denunciation.

And people on the Internet have largely loved it. I’ve seen endless praise of O’Connor’s letter, and I’ve seen people sharing it on social networking Web sites en masse.

O’Connor’s letter is self-righteous in tone and presupposes that Cyrus is not self-aware enough to control her own affairs. The letter critiques Cyrus’s artistic freedom and denies her the agency and freedom to express her sexuality as she sees fit.

The letter continues trying to be maternal saying, “We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked, because it makes them prey for animals.”

It’s one thing for O’Connor to question Cyrus’s choice in image. But it’s completely different to conjure up the backwards mentality that women should be sheltered. The idea that clothing can make someone “prey” is a pretty trite and conservative world view.

I have seen valid critiques of Cyrus’s image before, such as Haley Zblewski’s Spectator article about Cyrus’s cultural appropriation, but O’Connor’s critique was not so socially informed.

The medium through which O’Connor wrote the article was also ridiculous. The whole concept of an open letter addressed to a single person irks me.

O’Connor could have just as easily sent the letter to Cyrus as an individual if she wasn’t pandering for attention, hoping other people would read it.

Let’s face it, O’Connor has gotten more press coverage and attention for writing a letter than she has in the past ten years of making music.

From a marketing standpoint, it was genius. From a being a decent human being standpoint, it was not. Some people call the open letter opportunistic. I see it more as fame parasitism.

Cyrus has been pretty vocal about asserting her autonomy, so it isn’t a surprise that the letter didn’t hearten her. Mostly it just made her angry.

She took to Twitter and said some pretty problematic, ableist things that criticized O’Connor for seeking psychiatric help.

Although I don’t agree with the methods Cyrus used, I think she was absolutely correct in retaliating against the all-but-forgotten O’Connor.

In light of all the criticism Cyrus has received in the past week, she handled hosting Saturday Night Live remarkably well. She was hilarious, candid and used just the right amount of self-deprecating humor.

And surprisingly there wasn’t even a tacit mention of O’Connor on SNL — although the lack of attention proved almost a bigger slap in the face than poking fun at O’Connor would have.