Disney teen actress and pop star Miley Cyrus welcomed the month of March 2012 with a “blasphemous” tweet. She accompanied the word “beautiful” with a picture of a quote by Theoretical Physicist Laurence Krauss that included the phrases:
"You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all the things that matter for evolution) weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in stars. So forget Jesus. Stars died so you can live."
Cyrus received a backlash from some fans and followers who previously thought that she was a Christian. Those who accused her of ditching Jesus for fame were shocked by the bold tweet which did not complement her child star, good girl and role model image. Of all the phrases in the whole quote, the most shocking was:
“So forget Jesus. Stars died so you can live."
The rage from those who thought her tweet was “blasphemous” and anti-Christian did not make Miley apologise or back down. Six days after the tweet, she responded to the criticism by tweeting:
"How can people take the love out of science and bring hate into religion so easily?"
"It makes me sad to think the world is this way. Like Einstein says “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”"
Challenging religious beliefs
The backlash against Cyrus offers an interesting case study to those who have studied in the Arts and social sciences. The word “blasphemy” has to be put in quotation marks in the same way as as “race”, “beautiful”, “sexy” and other qualities since it is regarded as a “floating signifier”.
“Blasphemy” qualifies as a floating signifier because it depends on who defines it, what the term means to different religions and how it changes over time. The meaning of the word and those above depend on the context and what is acceptable to society. Floating signifiers, as is evident in cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s studies of race, is any term that does not have a stable agreed-upon meaning, changes over time and depends on who is defining it, where and when.
Not all fans slated Cyrus's religious tweets. Some praised her for being bold enough to challenge Christian beliefs and some said they respected her more since the tweet showed a sign of maturity and intelligence. She received props from humanists, atheists, scientists or just general believers in freedom of speech. Some comments included:
“As usual religious people want freedom to believe in what they want, but as soon as someone says or quotes something they don't agree with they freak out. Miley Cyrus is kind of becoming awesome...”- Anthony Witkoski.
“As a secular humanist, I'm liking miley Cyrus more and more. I have a feeling she will be a great role model in the future for fellow free thinkers :)”- Nick John Hobbs.
“I now actually respect her. I hope she stands by what she said. Don't let a braindead fanbase bully you around, Miley”-Joseph Kowalski.
Social media: a saviour for nonconformists
Social media is a saviour to nonconformists such as Cyrus because it is faster and there is no need to get permission from anyone before publishing something. The duration process to publication is shortened. Instead of waiting to find a space on television, radio or print, one can publish in a second. It would have been difficult for her to express herself or respond quickly in legacy media. However, due to the benefits of social media, she is able to say anything she wants at an instant.
"God doesn't exist".
In a country like Indonesia where one can face up to five years of jail time for “blaspheming” against Islam, he would not have had the opportunity to express his views because he would have to first go through a long channel to have his views approved for legacy media.
Nonetheless, even with social media and laws that encourage freedom of speech, religion is still more popular that anti-religion on social media. While searches like Jesus on Facebook’s search page show numerous results with more than a million followers, searches like “atheism” or “atheist” show no single result with more than quarter a million likes. In fact, the most famous one, Atheism, does not even have quarter a million likes.
You would think that in the year 2012, full of science, reason, freedom of speech, right to religion, a move towards tolerence and diversity, no one would be bashed for having a certain view. However, Miley's case proves that as much as the world can change and technology becomes more and more advanced, traditional religious beliefs and well-established ideologies are not easy to shake. The backlash shows that while some might see social media as a platform to practise freedom, some wil hate it for challenging popular beliefs.
This incident also means that certain celebrities are expected by their fans to live according to certain values. Fans of Cyrus expect her to follow Christian beliefs and any conduct that puts her in the "good girl" category. But the question remains. Aren't we being hypocrites for being pro-freedom but failing to allow people to live their lives the way they want to? Why do we have to promote the "Be Yourself" principle but bash who are themselves?