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VMAs: You go, girl

Posted by Joanna Weiss  September 7, 2008 08:32 PM

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Who knew the MTV Video Music Awards were going to turn into yet another battleground in the culture wars, circa 2008? Or that Jordin Sparks would be the one to make a bold defense of teenage chastity? This is one topsy-turvy, crazy-confused election year, and MTV turns out to be hip-deep in the madness.

Granted, MTV is all about duality these days. On one hand, the network is punishing its "My Super Sweet Sixteen" stars with a new show called "Exiled." On the other hand, Paris Hilton is getting a reality series, too. Last night, MTV had the stars of the chaste "High School Musical" introduce Christina Aguilera. (Forget about those Vanessa Hudgens pictures on the Web, and just remember that Troy and Gabriela still have barely kissed.)

MTV also gave those tween pinup Jonas Brothers a giant platform: They performed an acoustic-to-electric number on a movable stage on the Paramount backlot. Then VMA host Russell Brand, decked out like a 70s rock star in his skintight black pants, poked merciless fun at the boys' famed promise rings. It seemed the sort of catty joke that would go unanswered, since the boys look far too nerdy-sweet to offer much backtalk. (They weren't let near a microphone, anyway.) But leave it to Sparks -- who came to awards with her mother, God bless her -- to stand up to the forces of cynicism.

Sparks took the stage to introduce T.I., but first leaned into the mic to make a spontaneous personal statement. "I just have one thing to say about promise rings," she said. "It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut." She looked sassy and triumphant, like a girl who felled a dragon. Whatever you think about promise rings, you must agree: the girl's got guts.

Apparently, she had a point, too, because the next time he appeared, Brand apologized. "I've got to say sorry to have said them things about promise rings," he said, looking pained. It was unclear whether this sudden contrition was spontaneous or came from the MTV powers-that-be. Brand did make a glum point of saying he didn't want to alienate teenage fans. And like the class clown called out by the teacher, he offered a closing zinger. "Promise rings, I'm well up for it," he said. "It's just, you know, a little sex occasionally never hurt anybody."

Still, the moment had weight. And here, all the excitement was supposed to be about how Britney Spears would open the show, after last year's "Gimme" fiasco. That turned out to be an anticlimax, instead: a little comedy schtick with Jonah Hill, followed by a walk onstage and a brief declaration. "This is the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and it starts right now," she said in monotone -- no Sarah Palin of public speaking, she -- and then she stuck out her tongue. It was the sort of move a 13-year-old girl makes when she's just finished her Bat Mitzvah Torah portion. That poor little girl hasn't grown up at all.

But then, Good-Angel MTV was all about redemption. So Britney, humiliated so completely last year, got three Moon Men in 2008. Is the payback complete? The comeback? Time will tell.

The rest of the show, as they say, was noise. The opening Rihanna production number exemplified what makes me sad about "So You Think You Can Dance:" All of that talent and skill, and yet you know that most alumni with to wind up holding light sabers and writhing around pop stars. The Pussycat Dolls think God has been "awesome" to them, which is probably true. Aguilera's "Keeps Getting Better" choreography was supposed to make her look like a twisted supergirl dancing with some nerdy Clark Kents, but it looked more like a feminist twist on "Deal or No Deal."

Either way, it was a moment that came and went. However empowered XTina wants to be, she was upstaged by Sparks, who showed a generation of teenage girls that sisters really can do it for themselves.

Edited to add: The commenters below make a good point about labeling. Of course not everyone who doesn't wear a promise ring is slutty. And that's the problem with the current culture wars: When it comes to rhetoric, there's no middle ground. Either you're a slut or a hopeless prude, and I'd venture to say that most people fall healthily in between.

But choice of wording aside, I'm still mightily impressed with Jordin for standing up to the sex-sells music establishment. She's not your typical pop starlet, and I love her for it.

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28 comments so far...
  1. Although I do think Brand's comments may have been a bit over the line, I was more angered at Sparks' remarks.
    "Because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut". Really?
    I don't mind her taking a stand on her beliefs, but I would hope she would choose her words carefully.
    Just because you choose to have sex out of wedlock does not make you a slut.

    Posted by Sara September 8, 08 01:41 AM
  1. i thought she sounded really stupid when she said that! like wtf! i dont wear a purity ring...so am i a slut?!?!?! ugh i just thought it was a really dumb comment that didnt need to be said and I hope someone calls her out for sounding like such an idiot. even the audience didnt know whether to clap or be offended!

    and BTW! this is coming from a huge jordin sparks fan! i voted for her a million times for the VMA awards and yeah i just didnt like that comment. it was totally uncalled for. russell brand is a COMEDIAN! he was joking around and he was funny!

    Posted by tia September 8, 08 02:08 AM
  1. I think she was completely out of line to have that outburst! She could have phrased it better. It's great that she's proud to be a virgin but name calling is simply unacceptable.

    Posted by Brittany September 8, 08 02:30 AM
  1. Really, Joanna? We're still saying, "you go, girl?"

    And, as for Jordin Sparks, suddenly everyone who isn't a virigin is a slut?

    Ha. A fallacy of logic. Utterly ridiculous. She's the one who should apologize.

    Posted by Bilbo B September 8, 08 07:58 AM
  1. I'd be more impressed by Jordin Sparks had she not felt the need to insinuate that everybody who doesn't wear a promise ring "wants to be a slut." She, too, might want to consider offering an apology.

    Posted by Phoebe September 8, 08 08:02 AM
  1. I admit that it was a little bit funny to see Jordin Sparks look appalled when Brand called Bush a *Offensive word to mentally challenged people* cowboy. But, the night was odd: the awkward silences after Brand's jokes. And the way Britney Spears looked like she couldn't wait to get off the stage. And the fact that VH-1 broadcasted two hours of "look at what you're missing" with a corner of the awards showing and no sound. And the weird moments when it seemed like no one really knew where to stand. Was the director new?

    Posted by Melissa J. September 8, 08 09:14 AM
  1. I was really glad that Sparks got up there and said that. Brand was bordering obnoxious all night and he crossed the line by poking fun of teenagers for making choices based on their beliefs or religion. He didn't have to agree with them, but he doesn't have to make fun of them on national televison. It just makes there decision look like a joke, which it isn't to them and to many tweens who look up to them. If you don't wear a promise ring, it doesn't mean your a slut, but they should at least respect their decision.

    Posted by Kate September 8, 08 09:24 AM
  1. Jordin did something that nobody in the room wanted to do. I don't think she actually meant that everyone who doesn't where a promise ring is a slut, I just think she said "It's okay not to be sleeping around and it's okay to be proud of it" the way a nineteen year-old would say it. She's acting her age, but saying what the older woman in the business should be saying. With that, she's won me over in more ways than one. She went from B-list Idol, to A-list role model after last night. At least in my book.

    Posted by Monee September 8, 08 11:43 AM
  1. So Bristol Palin and her boyfriend Levi Johnston are both Sluts. Also,
    was Sara Palin a virgin when she got married? If not, then according to Ms. Sparks, Palin is a Slut.

    Posted by John Bryans Fontaine September 8, 08 12:16 PM
  1. Housekeeping point: No name-calling, please. I'm not posting comments that have personal insults in them, directed at either Jordin Sparks or Russell Brand.

    Posted by Joanna September 8, 08 12:40 PM
  1. What's the point of comedy if you can't mock virgins? I guess you get soft if you don't go to a real high school.

    Posted by Chris Kane September 8, 08 01:25 PM
  1. Wow, I can't believe you all are seriously suggesting that Jordin Sparks be the one to apologize. Russell Brand was completely out of line and seeing as how he's a sex addict, I'm pretty sure that here comment was directed at HIM.
    For real, someone at some point was going to say something to Brand for his rude comments, Jordin just happened to be the first to get to it.

    I completely back Jordin and the Jonas Brothers. You SHOULDN'T have sex before marriage. And I stand by that.

    Posted by Alexis September 8, 08 01:38 PM
  1. A dictionary definition of "slut" says "one who is sexually promiscuous". Hmm... engaging in casual, uncommitted sex with multiple partners... is that not promiscuous, and therefore, a slut?

    Semantics aside, it's amazing how many brash, crude an offensive things the host can say, and no one cares. Jordin Sparks makes a comment to the defense of those being mocked, and all the liberals are up in arms over it...

    Posted by Erica Crowl September 8, 08 02:14 PM
  1. According to Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin is a "Pinhead" for allowing her daughter to have sex out of wedlock. And I suppose, according to JSparks, whom I admire, the Palin's are sluts...depends on your perspective I suppose. Funny all, let it go.

    Posted by Jim September 8, 08 02:53 PM
  1. I thought Brand was great.
    He crossed the line with the purity ring stuff, but he really made the show for me.

    Posted by Sar September 8, 08 06:36 PM
  1. Teenagers have sex. It is a fact. On the other hand, a young adult is to be admired for waiting as long as possible before "diving in". Hopefully, when said teens decide to take the plunge, it is done with careful consideration of the possible outcome of that action ->> pregnancy. I somehow doubt Sarah Palin's daughter was on birth control.

    Posted by Tracy September 8, 08 07:11 PM
  1. Loved that Jordin made the comment (and that she is an ex-Giant's daughter) and had the guts to do it. Different "show" but same theme. We were at the Boston Globe Children's Book Festival over the weekend and one of the performing acts was Choo Choo Soul of Playhouse Disney. Meant for the pre-schooler set, Choo Choo Soul has some rockin tunes (that this 41 year old loves) and Genevieve the lead singer wears a conductor outfit. About 99 percent humidity on Saturday, she asked everyone in the audience (ages 6 mos - 70 + years) if they thought she was "cool." Everyone said yes. She said, "See how I am all buttoned up, don't need to show skin to be cool, right girls?" I loved it and feel like that follows the theme of being confident, sassy and smart.

    The awards were a bust - Pink rocked and looks awesome.

    Posted by Jason is a Riot September 8, 08 07:24 PM
  1. Whoever wrote this is completely out of touch with the majority of American youth and certainly the world at large. They are, however, clearly in touch with the twisted, freaky version of American youth that is promoted by the Christian Right. I think the author of this worthless piece of writing, should reassess their decision to be a journalist. Also, is entertainment journalism actually journalism? Don't they give that stuff to the girl who was too busy painting their nails in Politics or English to become a real journalist? PS- Sparks is a talentless void, who reacted like someone out of their depth. Girls shouldn't be taking any of these freaks as role models. They should have the belief and conviction to live the life they want to lead. If you want to abstain form sex, do so. Why wear a ring? Are you going to forget your sense of morality if you don't have it on? You do so to alienate and chastise, yes chastise, those around you who have more vitality, honesty and freedom. It's your cross, bear it in peace. Why abstain from having sex after you're of legal age? I love it. I have sex with my gorgeous fiancee all the time. I love her completely and would do anything for her. I totally recommend it to all those over the age of consent. It's about choice, which is something these young people are being denied by this shameless hypocrisy. Those who moralise to others are usually repressed and obtuse. Also, why put so much faith in marraige, when two-thirds are destined to end in failure? Clearly, America isn't getting any decent sex these days and clearly it has little freedom or vision, other than the religious dogma it's been choked on for the past 200 years. America says it's one thing, then does another. It is not the land of the free whatsoever. There's a disturbing duality in the American psyche. People are genuinely forgetting what America used to mean. They are drifting off into sleep. Bravo! Brand for trying to wake you all up. Why wait to vote in McCain, go to war with Iran and Russia and start world war three. Why not just set off all the nukes now. Retard was accurate. And you can't excuse a country on three occasions for voting for the same political agenda. God Bless The United Retards of America. How ironic that the most religiously zealous Christians on the planet are going to bring on Noah's flood number 2 with their backwards approach to the environment. The floods and hurricanes are going to swell not diminish. The tide is already rising. Or perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps it's intentional. Perhaps they hope to cleanse our souls of universal suffering. How about that for a tangent America. Have a nice day.

    Posted by Fallen out of love with you September 8, 08 08:26 PM
  1. Fallen out of Love with You clearly suffers from the same sense of self importance that the far right could be accused of exhibiting. People... let's just cool down for a second here, we're talking about the VMA's here, this was not a G8 meeting deciding global security issues!!

    Russell Brand learned a whole lot about America 2 nights ago, it wasn't all good granted... hopefully one of the things he learnt was that a music awards ceremony aimed at teenagers is not the occasion to vent your concerns about the effect of American culture on the world at large. He is relatively unknown in USA and his Brand of humor is yet to be tested in these waters! He does raise some important points, I am as sickened by Palin-mania as most Americans I know.. but his insistence on driving the point home ad nauseum about Bush's disastrous 8 years in office felt like he was rubbing salt in the wound and it made us all uncomfortable. It was presumptious and naive of him to think that we needed him to spell out the mightily obvious. I can't see an American presenter getting away with insulting Prime Minster Gordon Brown in his own country that way, and neither do I think we Americans would be proud of one of ours disgracing himself abroad like that.

    Jordin, bless her, spoke her mind. I am glad she spoke her mind though I have no doubt that she will cringe in 10 years time when she watches that video back! But she showed the world that she has the freedom to express herself and that she comes from a background where strong virtues are promoted... wish I could say the same for the Palin family!

    In a nutshell, America is not going to the dogs, it is on the cusp of a strong resurgence and it's long overdue. We know it because we are making it happen... we don't need the VMA's to tell us about it... just play some good music!

    Posted by Islington September 8, 08 09:49 PM
  1. Oh my Fallen. It was a silly pop TV awards show and somehow it has turned into a morality issue for you. As for pointing fingers at the journalist, your post is filled with typos. Pick up a dictionary and an AP style book so that you too can be taken seriously.

    Oh yeah, I really enjoyed Kid Rock too.

    Posted by Jason is a Riot September 8, 08 09:52 PM
  1. I totally love what Jordin said. Props to homegirl for sticking up for values that NO ONE even acknowledges today. It's seems so cool in the media to make fun of people who aren't liberal in every way & no one ever says anything.

    One little comment when the shoe is on the other foot & people become irate. *sigh*
    Maybe she shouldnt have used the word 'slut', but I like that there are other young people out there who do believe their bodies should only be shared in the sanctity of marriage and that, yes anything outside of that is unacceptable. And for her to actually SAY that in a crowd filled with wild musicians & actors? u go girl.

    Posted by Mels September 8, 08 09:57 PM
  1. Fallen out of love = crazy. Wow. Get a life.

    Posted by chill out September 8, 08 10:44 PM
  1. I happen to agree with Fallen. Astute. I personally loved Brand's political comments. Maybe they were too adult on many levels for the general crowd.

    Also, I am now supremely unimpressed with Sparks. I'm sure her manager/PR people choked on their cokes when they heard that "slut" comment come out of her mouth. Get some poise, Jordin.

    Posted by Laurie September 9, 08 01:48 AM
  1. RE; Jason Is A Riot - i was at the Boston Globe Children's Book Festival and i agree 100% - loved that comment by Genivieve!

    i was lamenting while watching the VMA's - remembering the first one and how mush i had enjoyed them way back when. I did enjoy Mr. Brand and thought Pink was fabulous. i have no beef with people p[eaking thier mind, as long as they don't mind me doing the same. :)

    Posted by jenne the niftywench September 9, 08 12:26 PM
  1. I agree with Mels. How often is virginity made fun of these days in the media? ALL THE TIME. There are still some teens out there (myself included) who believe that waiting until marriage is not only safe, but it builds character and gives you time to really fall in love with the person you will be sharing such an intimate act with. So many people have sex with someone they think they're in love with, and then break up with them a month later and find someone else.

    I'm not saying Jordin should have used the word "slut", but I am extremely impressed that she had the courage to stand up there in front of the entire audience and any TV viewers, and be so bold. Mostly because of the message she was sending out, but also because she's usually very diplomatic but she showed that sometimes you just have to defend your beliefs.

    Fallen out of love with you, I don't understand your staunch opposition to religion and morals but your comments exemplify hypocrisy at it's worst, or should I say best. You are offended by Jordin's comment because you think it seems judgmental, yet you sit here and judge people who live their lives for their religious beliefs.

    Posted by Live4God September 9, 08 04:25 PM
  1. Jordin, you hold your head up and be proud. You are an inspiration, especially to teenage girls! SOMEONE out of the entertainment world needs to be, because, yes, MOST of them are sluts!

    Posted by b a salter September 10, 08 12:34 PM
  1. hurray for jordin sparks!!im glad she spoke out, but its also true tat she couldve used better words...but i can understand i think she got really pissed for the comment.

    Posted by ilse September 10, 08 10:30 PM
  1. Interesting how so many seem to have taken Sparks' comment so personally.

    Posted by bizona September 14, 09 08:45 AM
 

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