Miley Cyrus twerked up a storm of controversy with her music video for her song We Can’t Stop. In this recent video, Miley throws a party with French fry-skulls, Pepto-Bismol, lines in the bathroom, and a teddy bear twerk team. But the video pokes at a trending social issue; the video’s subtext commercializes “ratchet” culture.
Now what is ratchet? I wish I knew, but this is a concept that’s a little confusing to me since its meaning changes when it’s directed at different people. Not too long ago people began using the phrase “ghetto” to imply behavior, speech, dress, thoughts, and expression that is typically evocative of low income communities, ignoring the historical connotation of minority communities being pushed to live in certain areas. It seems like the meaning for ‘ghetto’ has transferred to ‘ratchet.’ In my feeble but most robust attempt to grasp the concept of ratchet, I define it as the popularized characteristics of low social economic status communities, which include but are not limited to factors such as education, behavior, and quality of materials.
Ratchet can be used as an insult by insinuating that someone identifies within a low SES community (“wow, your beat-up car with duct tape is so ratchet!”). However, what confuses me is when ratchet is used as a compliment (“I got in a fight at the club, I’m real ratchet!”) to glamorize the rough exterior of low SES communities. There’s a clear difference in dictation when you hear someone say “oh gurl, you ratchet!” versus “oh, ew, she ratchet.”
And unfortunately, ratchet isn’t stamped upon low-income communities, but has been generalized to black communities. People excite the instances where black people demonstrate anything close to the assumed meaning of ratchet. And this is what annoys the word I’m not allowed to type out of me when people find it funny to say “Aint nobody got time for that!” with a voice that attempts to mimic one underprivileged woman’s vernacular. And I grit my teeth whenever I come across a person that says “oh they’re acting all ratchet.” Never mind the sad excuse for grammar usage, what does it even mean to act ratchet?
Much of the controversy around Miley Cyrus’ video was that was a negative use of cultural appropriation, in which Miley was trying too hard to be ratchet, implying that Miley was trying to adopt characteristics from black culture. And yes I agree that a privileged girl that has been wealthy her entire life looks ridiculous trying to wear golden teeth and gyrate her butt around. But is twerking and being ratchet really a part of black culture? It’s popularized in music videos to be, but I always found it a bit insulting to say that it’s black culture. So in a way, I don’t think Miley is appropriating black culture, because, arguably, there isn’t much valid black culture portrayed in the video. However I have to admit this is purely opinion, and I acknowledge that another person may have an entirely different view from mine.
There isn’t enough critical analysis from the general population towards the media or social landscape. A angry YouTube commenter wrote in response to Miley’s alleged appropriation: “If black people dress “preppy” or speak “proper” should we say.. stop appropriating white culture?” I have never thought speaking proper was an indicator of white culture. Though education is limited to the privileged, it’s horrible to assume that education belongs to the white population. I feel that privilege is an unexpected byproduct of Miley’s video. When we critically examine what the video really is, we see a bunch of overly privileged teenagers with neglectful parents. This is unbeknownst to Miley, as she tries to explain in her video “we can love who we want.” Right.