It may take the Reconciliation Commission years to extract the truth from our recent tragedy. The bogs of history seldom provide easy passage, and here — where snarls of alliances, betrayals, ceasefires, detentes, and episodes of savage, internecine violence between armed factions of concerned parents, film buffs, TV watchdogs, comic book manchildren, mainstream feminists, offbeat feminists, Afro-feminists, evangelicals, fraternity members (or “fratties”), obese radio personalities, hardliners who decried discussion of anything other than serious topics, “like the Middle East or world hunger or something,” and the much-feared preteen twerksquads require careful untangling — the footing is even more treacherous.
But the early consensus is this: America, primed to explode by a period of divisive pop culture, was set ablaze by a brazen, depraved act of provocation.
It came on Friday, September 6th, 2013 — now known simply as Miley Friday. On that day, Warner Bros. “proudly” announced that Miley Cyrus, fresh off her “convincing portrayal of an adult musician with a healthy sexual appetite” at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, had been selected to appear as Catwoman in the eagerly anticipated Batman vs. Superman. Actor Ben Affleck, whose casting as Batman engendered the type of vicious nerd-on-nerd attacks which were to become achingly common, was quoted as saying he “warmly welcomed” Cyrus to the cast. He added that he, “like everyone else in America,” had watched So Undercover over and over again on DVD and was thrilled to work with its ingenue. In a paragraph buried in the same press release, Warner Bros. disclosed that the character of Superman would be cut from Batman vs. Superman to allow Cyrus more screentime to “flesh out” her character.
The reaction from fans was swift and acrimonious; the reaction to the reaction from fans by other fans was even swifter and acrimoniouser.
Kip Kathy, a Wall Street broker, witnessed first-hand the financial chaos wrought by that day’s announcement — and the ensuing four-hundred-sixty-three day market slide that erased hundreds of trillions of dollars of American wealth. He escaped much of the war in what he calls the “nightmarish hellfort” of his 6-bedroom, 5-bath neo-colonial in Danbury, Connecticut. In his words:
“My first month on the trading floor was the Crash of ‘87, and I sat on the board of Lehman in 2008, so I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve got scars. But I’ve never seen anything like the drop after they announced that Affleck/Cyrus picture. People could just smell the danger coming, big stinky whiffs of it, so they took what they could and ran.
I had heard from my buddies on the board of Time Warner that they were about to announce something big. Something that they might catch a little flak for. I thought maybe they were going to cast Lady Gaga as Robin or something, but Cyrus…if I had known they were going to pick Cyrus, I would have done something. You have to believe me — I would have done something.
What? Do you think I just pranced away from all this? I lost my boat! And my other boat! I got hurt just like everybody else from this thing.”
[Mr. Kathy chokes up. He sips from a glass of twenty-two-year-old Pappi Van Winkle reserve rye and inspects the well-tailored sleeves of his Zegna suit until he regains his composure.]
“Just like everybody else.”
In the weeks and months that followed, reports of mass defriendings, spontaneous slut-shamings, and indiscriminate flame wars carried out against innocent bystanders deluged the networks. Stung by a December 28th editorial in the New York Times, in which the paper claimed that the Cyrian gambit was intended to deflect attention from Time Warner Cable’s continued refusal to pay for rights to NFL Football, Warner Bros. hatched what would prove to be a disastrously offensive public relations offensive.
In May, the world’s media flocked to San Diego’s Comic Con where Zack Snyder, director of Batman vs. Superman, would make his first public appearance since the beginning of the conflagration. An alert and combative Snyder, ensconced behind thick panes of bulletproof glass and dressed in what appeared to be the battle armor of General Zod, the villain from his own Man of Steel, offered no quarter:
“My loyal people! There are an evil few who skulk among you, insurgents sent by the Big Satan Paramount Pictures to spread lies and foment dissent about our great Film! Shut your ears to their hideous untruths!
Now, yeah, about the movie. We wanted to do something different, something unexpected for the fans. I thought long and hard about this. Sure, we’ve had a couple of White Catwomen. We’ve also had a Black Catwoman. But have we ever had a White Catwoman whose face is painted like a Black Catwoman? It’s the best of both worlds and it’s something that can only be done by an actress like Miley. And just to add to the verisimilitude of the piece, Miley is gonna be surrounded by, like, ten large-rumped African-American women at all times. They won’t say anything, of course, but their message will be clear: ‘we her Pussy Posse. You don’ mess wit’ ‘dat.’
Snyder’s speech marked a gory escalation in the fighting: the Battle of Comic Con had begun. San Diego burned. Chaotic, sectarian strife erupted throughout the country. Cara Silverman, a twenty-six-year-old graphic designer from nearby La Jolla, was one of the earliest victims:
“I was at work when they came. There were about fifty of them in nude-colored spandex led by a crazy-eyed woman who said she blogged for Jezebel. Their tongues hung at weird, tortured angles like one of Dali’s clock faces. They said that someone in the office had disrespected Miley. We all ran — I must have tripped over a rock or a body because I suddenly was on the floor.
I’ll never forget how they moved. It was not like humans move. They turned around and — oh God, it was like they had a brain in their hips like a stegosaurus — twerked towards us. I shut my eyes and prayed that they would think I was dead.”
As anti-Afflo-Cyrian forces pushed towards Warner Bros. headquarters, the Studio, despite dire warnings of “red lines” from the international community (with China and Russia the notable exceptions), unleashed its doomsday weapon: the film’s first teaser trailer. Rebels melted in horror as a blackfaced and kitten-eared Cyrus, wearing little more than twerk-ready leather shorts and an underbosom-exposing T-Shirt that read “I <3 Pussy,” clawed wildly at the air and parts of her own anatomy as a Ben Affleck voiceover intoned that “things shooore have changed since Selinah Kahle came to Gahtham.”
In those dark, grisly days, neighbor turned against neighbor; friend against friend; brother against brother. No one knows this better than actor Casey Affleck, Ben’s younger brother. Now in treatment at Ravenwood State Mental Hospital, Affleck spoke about the last time he saw his brother:
“You think you know what fear is? Fear is a herd of husky geeks in XXL Green Lantern shirts charging at you. Fear reeks of Diet Dr. Pepper and a mother’s basement and regret. I became intimate with fear that day. The herd surrounded me. Said, ‘Look what we got here. If it ain’t an Affleck brother. The one that acts good.’ You try reasoning with these people. They were Kilmerites for Chrissake. Can you imagine how insane you’d have to be to want Val Kilmer to be Batman again? Have you seen him lately?
You can’t blame me. You can’t blame me for giving Ben up. It was me or him…me or him.”
For better or worse, the subsequent Siege of Time Warner, the Trial of Billy Ray Cyrus, and the glistening, onscreen orgy of the 2014 VMAs are now lodged in the American consciousness. But what lessons can we draw from the early days of the conflict? Kip Kathy, the arch-capitalist, sees it as a failure of American vision: “you think the Chinese would have put Affleck in the Batsuit? Hell no. They would have given it to Damon. Those communist bastards sure know how to make money.”
But for Cara Silverman, the victim of the twerk attack, it is a hopeful one: “Maybe we can come together and start really listening to each other now. And if a celebrity in an absurdly skimpy outfit has a bad performance, maybe we can all agree that it’s not because she’s a slut, but rather because she’s just a really bad performer. I’d really like that.”
She paused before adding, “Also, we should probably never use blackface.”