During the MTV VMAs on Sunday, Miley Cyrus used her platform to raise awareness of homeless youth, but attentions also turned in on her awards show guest this week.
The pop star, in lieu of delivering an acceptance speech for her Video Of The Year win for "Wrecking Ball," sent up her new friend Jesse to speak about his experience of living homeless. Cyrus directed fans to her website to learn more about Los Angeles non-profit My Friend's Place and to learn more about the plight of poverty and homelessness in America.
But Jesse -- identified Jesse Helt, 22, this week -- actually has a warrant out for his arrest in his homestate Oregon, for violating probation. According to the Associated Press, he'd previously been arrested (as a juvenile) for criminal mischief, criminal trespass and burglary in 2010. Court documents said he'd broken into an apartment of a man "who had been selling what Helt believed to be bad marijuana."
His mother, Linda, said that Cyrus had given Helt money to fly home to visit her; she said that Helt was welcome home at any time, and that he'd moved to L.A. to "make it on his own." He intended to pursue a career in modeling.
This has immediately led to concerns that Miley Cyrus' homeless date wasn't homeless enough. Or was selected because he was good for cameras. Or wasn't vetted to be "representative" of homelessness.
Rewinding a little, Cyrus' move to hand over precious media time on Sunday is what audiences were calling her' "Sacheen Littlefeather moment," mirroring what Marlon Brando did for his Best Actor acceptance speech in 1973. He sent Sacheen Littlefeather -- a spokesperson chosen by Native Americans involved in the American Indian Movement -- to deliver a long speech he had written about the poor and underrepresented culture of Native Americans in Hollywood. (It was a move that then caused the Academy to ban proxies from accepting awards on people's behalf at the Academy Awards, which is why now presenters accept for non-present winners.)
Miley Cyrus made waves at the VMAs last year for her twerking with Robin Thicke; she's spent the year trolling awards and entertaining at concerts, the nature of which you could file under "rebellious" since establishing her post-Hannah Montana persona.
This current move in the great Miley Cyrus re-branding is the most illustrative and widely covered example of Cyrus' charitable works. She has been an activist and donated time and effort to other causes, from Haiti relief to HIV/AIDS research to Rock the Vote to PETA support.
Which would explain, in part, why Cyrus' camp reacted with vitriol toward those who would call her VMAs move a "stunt." Representatives told Mashable that MTV didn't even know what Cyrus had planned.
That could also be why homelessness' moment in the sun turned into another moment in the sun for her, as she stood awkwardly and stagey in-frame of the honorees platform. Cuts to Cyrus crying profusely certainly added drama to Jesse's statements, but also fed skepticism. This, from the young woman whose orbit is around her own image, to the degree that merchandise is manufactured to match that long, unruly tongue.
Of course people would side-eye that moment. It's a damned shame it diminishes her motive: to make good come out of her fame, for a cause that affects more that a million and a half young people in America. Perhaps of the millions of people who watched the VMAs, many hadn't given a second thought to those who suffer unwantedly from homelessness.
(And guess what? Some homeless are criminals. Some are recovered criminals. Or mentally ill. Or abused. Or addicts. Or recovering addicts. Or victims of poor Child Protective Services or broken homes. Some are down on their luck. And many want and need help. Understand those needs more at My Friend's Place.)
Miley Cyrus spent the last year trying to convince people to lighten up, to have fun with her brand of pop, to expect wild things to come from her mouth/Twitter/Instagram/concert. The careful Miley Cyrus business is a multi-million dollar business -- maybe the backlash came from the notion that the brand hadn't vetted and prepared for the moment when Cyrus actually tried stepping back from the mic?