Miley Cyrus. A modern approach on Feminism?

An analysis of semiotics and discourse in "BB Talk"

Term Paper, 2017

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Popular Culture and Feminism in Post-Modern Times
2.1 Popular Culture
2.2 3rd Wave Feminism and the era of Post-Feminism
2.3 4th Wave Feminism and Sexual Empowerment

3. BB Talk – An Analysis of Miley Cyrus’ Cultural Identity
3.1 Background Information
3.2 Discourse Analysis
3.3 Semiotic Analysis

4. Conclusion

5. Sources

1. Introduction

In this modern world of the 21st century, where new media and influential celebrities seem to rule over teenage hood and adolescence, feminism has taken on various different, at times contradicting forms. A range of famous singers, actors, models and so on declare themselves as modern-day feminists, but seemingly fail to go into the depths of what their statements and actions actually mean and, more important, could be interpreted to mean. In the interconnected cultural spheres today’s global citizens wander, the variety of opinions and attitudes people carry around is as vast as ever and it has become almost impossible to shield oneself against influence of others. When it comes to popular culture, especially, the global influence of few people and what impact they have can be remarkable. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who are often seen to be role models for young girls and women, and thus conceded a special responsibility for them, are shaping the cultural dimensions of what is deemed relevant and desirable in, especially, Western culture. The issue of sexualization of young girls has been a controversy Cyrus has been located in herself, and has been commenting on, as well. Over the past few years she has created an image of a strong, independent rebel-woman who does not like to play by society’s rules, breaking out of the realms of what is deemed acceptable.

Resistance against current social discrepancies embedded in gender indifference, utilizing a certain way of style and bricolage of various cultural elements – ranging from things like personal clothing to writing a song and editing a music video to be released for the public – that seems what modern Miley Cyrus is all about.

2. Popular Culture and Feminism in Post-Modern Times

After the rationality and sobriety of the structuralist era, where people claimed to have spotted the absolute truths of our surrounding world through the spectacles of science, the notion arose that there might be more dimensions to discover in order to make sense of the world. Structuralists in the 20th century were examining cultural products like art, literature and so on (further to be referred to as cultural texts) with analytical concepts of inquiry from different fields like linguistics and anthropology to identify and understand the underlying structures they thought to be inherent to these texts (cf. New World Encyclopedia 2015). This premise in particular is critiqued by post-structuralist thought, stating that “the study of underlying structures is itself culturally conditioned and therefore subject to myriad biases and misinterpretations” (cf. New World Encyclopedia 2015) – so, to truly understand the dynamics of cultural texts not only the text itself has to be examined, but the structures of knowledge used to create the content under certain timely, geographic and social circumstances.

In terms of the roles established for males and females in society, structuralist order implies an essential opposition of men and women which is rooted in biological and evolutional differences, whereas post-structuralist understanding seeks to deconstruct this binary; feminist deconstructivism is convinced, that the differences in mindset and diction of males and females are deriving from socio-psychological conditioning (cf. Volkmann 2011:57). Feminist deconstructivism therefore asks to redeem our oppositional patterned thinking and overcome these social binaries that were thought to be fixed; it asks to consider cultural manifestations as relative and to always be observed in their interactive relations to one another – with popular culture, for instance.

2.1 Popular Culture

To define the compositional term popular culture has been an agenda of quite a few authors over time, but there still is no consensual understanding to it yet. In a time where the growing academic field of Cultural Studies has redefined the realms of how we asse ss our behavior in and impact on the culture of consumerism, the role of the individual participant is more active than ever – personal perceptivity, everyday experiences and subjectively formed opinions are deemed valid tools to make sense of the world around us (cf. Volkmann 2011:75). We have come to understand that the concept of culture cannot be of static nature, it must rather be a social process connecting various factors of human life and putting them in certain relations, ever-changing; dynamic; lively. Any cultural text, thus, is inseparably connected to the observing actors it is directed to and cannot gain any significance without their participation – it is only in the momentum of said relational experience where the popular is created. This collective experience of participation consists of three important notions: a sense of the self as an individual, as an engaging subject belonging to a greater audience and as an active and, at times, creative participant in the perceived cultural text (cf. Stiftung Universität Hildesheim 2016).

To overcome the uncertainty of the both vague terms popular and culture, there have been different approaches on how to interpret these dimensions in relation to each other. One gateway may be offered by the understanding of popular culture as mass culture: a staged and controlled machinery, used by the industry to manipulate the consuming people for the sake of profit. This notion deems culture as inauthentic and the consumers as a passive crowd of uncritical thinkers (cf. Volkmann 2011:77). On the other hand, deeming culture as an authentic means of the people to get creatively involved is the understanding of popular culture as a culture from the people for the people – a fairly rose madderish view of the conceptualization of culture, as Stuart Hall noted. He critiqued the emphasis on the opposition of popular – meaning “by the people” – and unpopular – meaning “by …” well, who? Who is to decide who is not to be included in society, not accepted, even shunned? The static limitation of this binary concept cannot grasp the entirety of societal structures. Another problem here lies in the timely sensitivity of the understanding of these social dynamics; different kinds and levels of culture have been oscillating since ancient times, the distinction between conceptions like high and low culture, for instance, has been distorted and transformed over time, creating new, differently fragmented understandings of culture (cf. Volkmann 2011:80). Timely sensitivity comes in the way of a too static and too descriptive notion of culture, so Hall suggested the popular to be defined as a process, in which realms a cultural text is produced under certain circumstances and perceived under certain circumstances. The popular is not immanent to the text, since the text has to be observed and assessed in its’ relation to the constantly changing parameters of this mundane world – which leaves the audience with the task of constant re-interpretation and arranging the text accordingly to current social factors. The audience is asked to question their own perception in relation to the experienced parameters of life, and if necessary, adjust their interpretation due to changed circumstances; inner as well as outer ones (cf. Volkmann 2011:81). Since the precepted value of a cultural text can be changed over the course of time, especially with regards to social change and thus change in power structures, it is important to address the popular as both a process and a place where struggles over power take place between so-called power blocs as dominating and popular classes as subordinate groupings. This leads to the assumption that cultural texts, especially in popular culture, are positioned as a gateway to get a glance into socio-political power relations, portrayed in the relation between the actors of the text. Popular culture, thus, offers an opportunity to analyze the past and current power struggles, offers dimensions to identify what is at stake in them and offers a means of assessing further cultural development (cf. ibid.).

2.2 3rd Wave Feminism and the era of Post-Feminism

By the end of the 1970’s, feminists working in the field of Cultural Studies began to ask about the political value that culture and its’ various texts offer to women. With the second feminist wave having reached its’ peak, they now began to look for more concepts that might offer the possibility of resistance against patriarchic structures. After the political activism and protests that marked the agitation of the second wave, the women involved were seeking for more – more engagement, more rebellion, more revolution. They actually ended up creating this active resistance they were seeking for themselves, in the course of their doing – through interpreting and deconstructing given cultural texts, and creating their own (cf. Volkmann 2011:82). This set the starting point for a new wave of feminism, which would start around the beginning of the 1990’s and slowly drift from political into cultural spheres, particularly dealing with popular cultural texts (cf. Volkmann 2011:73). This cultural activism seeks to finally establish true gender-equality by unravelling the drawbacks of the limiting structures of freedom of expression for women in modern times.

Issues such as sexuality, beauty, fashion and so on, previously rather trivialized topics which were not taken seriously in the realms of inquiry by earlier feminist waves, were acknowledged to be more complex by the 3rd wave feminists. This movement is taking politics into the very personal, but collectively shared dimensions of being a woman, thus seeking political solutions to personal issues which are enforced through culture (cf. Zheng 2016:23). Amongst other important issues, the expression of sexuality is an enormous conflict in the discourse of men and women. To freely express sexuality is a much bigger concern to females, since it still is met with more taboo and antagonism than for their male counterparts (cf. ibid.). This dangerous notion, rooted in a gendered system that is ordered in binary oppositions like virgin vs. slut, seeks to establish a normative understanding of femininity, in order to keep women inside the “logical” system of men (cf. Zheng 2016:25). This results in social pressure for women to grow up to unreasonable beauty ideals and so-called ladylike behavioral patterns, alienating those who cannot or choose not to meet this definition and thus exposing them to a feeling of isolation and/or despair due to limiting their freedom of expression. This lack of diversity in depictions of femininity, enforced by popular culture, leaves the ones who don’t fit in with low self-esteem and a distorted perception of their self in a world so preoccupied with the body (cf. ibid.). In this result it becomes clear, that this binary concept of choice deems the refusal to stick to the norm as the wrong choice. The females who fit into the norm automatically become the ones’ who made the right decision and the others are branded as a failure; this creates a new dimension of power relations amongst modern women, and with that more tension (cf. Volkmann 2011:231). This system is an omnipresent mindset of adolescent women, being enforced from an early age onwards. Girls and young women today are conceded more personal responsibility now, indeed, but this seemingly more empowered concept is overshadowed by the general opinion that a non-conformist choice, a “failure”, is always rooted in the personal realms. The influence of outer circumstances, of social obstacles, get overlooked in favor of individual responsibility to deny the discourse of feminist issues (cf. Volkmann 2011:236).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Miley Cyrus. A modern approach on Feminism?
An analysis of semiotics and discourse in "BB Talk"
University of Hildesheim  (Institut für Interkulturelle Kommunikation)
Seminar Popular Culture in Intercultural Contexts
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Feminismus, Diskursanalyse, semiotische Analyse, Miley Cyrus, Musikvideo Analyse
Quote paper
Julia Preßler (Author), 2017, Miley Cyrus. A modern approach on Feminism?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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