What do millionaire Donald Trump and recording star-actress Miley Cyrus have in common? Both got headlines and are probably smiling right now. Because they how to push a common button.
Trump is the millionaire, television celebrity and birther-in-chief who has proven that in America any young, enterprising boy can grow up to be a loud, bullying and vulgar man who makes millions not just due to building and investments but due to his media branding as a loud, bullying, and vulgar man. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced he was suing Trump for $40 million because he was associated with "Trump University" that promised students big-bucks results but was what he called a "deception" ending in expensive seminars and useless internships.
Trump then hit the button: he got headlines by charging that Schneiderman was a Democratic "hack ," mad because Trump didn't raise enough funds for his election. He also told CBS News this could well be a "mini-IRS scandal," since the New York AG had met with Obama earlier in the week. Schneiderman replied they were talking about things "more important" than Trump.
Charge Obama is to blame and there's guaranteed media coverage and partisan support for your position. A recent poll of GOPers in Louisiana found that a big chunk of them blame Obama for the government's bad performance during Hurricane Katrina -- which was on President George W. Bush's watch. Will blame for leaving Pearl Harbor unprepared be far behind?
Meanwhile, the once wholesome "Hanna Montana" decided to discard --or, rather, repudiate -- her Disney Channel persona. She gave a performance at MTV's MVA awards where she rubbed herself against Robin Thicke after stripping herself down to flesh-colored lingerie and executing some blatantly sexual dance moves. She was also "twerking" -- a dance move where someone shakes their hips up and down and shakes their butt in the audience's faces.
Twerking originated when someone wanted to put to dance the way politicians treat their constituents.
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski was disgusted at the act, and the media coverage: "There's pushing the envelope and there's porn, there's raunchy porn that's disgusting and disturbing and seeing... a 20 year old young woman literally in the process of her undoing and everyone clapping for it and being disturbed by it and talking about it and showing it, which I hope we don't," Brzezinski said on NBC's Today. "Don't show it here on my segment, please."
But the segment got wide replay, even though Cyrus was generally skewered. The Daily Mail called her "an international laughingstock." Singer-actress Bette Midler tweeted: "Does her tongue hanging out mean she's dehydrated?" The Washington Post's Allison Stewart wrote: "Miley Cyrus debasing herself in some misguided attempt to be seen as an adult sexual being just made her seem younger. (There was a reason for all those Amber Alert jokes on Twitter.)"
But one person on Twitter called her "the new Elvis" and likened those who objected to 1950s housewives. The most insightful observation and Tweet came from comedian John Fugelsang: "My plan is to get Miley Cyrus to twerk the US public school system so the US media will pay attention to it."
How did we reach this point where peddling loudness, unsubstantiated charges and name-calling and lowering the bar on public performance sexual standards to shock the public seem to be actual goals? Perhaps a turning point in American culture came in the 1978 movie "Animal House," where mainstream comedy was jolted when John Belushi (using a mouthful of mashed potatoes) did an imitation of a pus-shooting zit. It was cool to be loud, outrageous, a bit gross -- and attention getting.
Trump and Cyrus know now to push the buttons to get big publicity. The heck with being thoughtful or a role model. You get more publicity and money if you act like an erupting zit.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/joegandelman.