Hard to believe, I know, but there was once a time when entertainers could get through a song without actually touching themselves. Or simulating fellatio, as Cyrus did. So inured have we become to grotesque behavior that even a congressman's sexting expeditions, at least initially, were blithely disregarded as errors in judgment.
Community standards irrelevant
The notion of community standards, meanwhile, has become quaintly irrelevant. How does one impose standards when almost every citizen has his own videocam and vast audiences can be summoned with a tweet? One doesn't. In free societies, the call to civilized behavior is strictly voluntary. Like democracy, it has to be willed by the people by community consent.
To that end, Cyrus inadvertently may have performed a public service. She didn't just tip the point, she forced the shark to jump the shark.
The grinding image of Cyrus playing nasty while sticking out her tongue at the world ultimately was mostly sad and, as Rihanna so perfectly projected, kind of boring. Provocation for the sake of provocation is rarely provocative. And sex in the hands of a Cyrus-gone-wild has all the appeal of rutting season at the zoo. Whither mystery?
Even posing such a question usually invites dismissal as out-of-touch old-fogery. The planet's young, having discovered sex anew, have always imagined their predecessors as hopelessly square, forgetting until they themselves become parents that certain acts of passion were involved in their invitation to the circus. This time may be different. This time, even the young are offended.
Just possibly, America has had enough. When all things are permissible, then permissiveness loses its allure. And the pendulum always comes back.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP