Ronan Farrow went to college. Miley Cyrus, however, did not. That's the only conclusion one can make from his recent W profile on the pop singer, in which it seems his goal from the beginning was to make her look stupid.
Miley Cyrus is not the college-educated, virtuous role model of our time. She grew up as the daughter of a famous country singer and then spent her adolescence in the Disney incubator. Cyrus has continuously been shielded from real interaction with the outside world. She tells Farrow she likes to stay hidden in her Los Angeles mansion and rarely leave. (“I never leave the house,” Cyrus says. “Why go to a movie? I’ve got a huge-ass TV.") So it's not surprising when Cyrus comes out of a conversation about politics and classic literature with a Yale-educated former State Department employee like Farrow (also, a Rhodes Scholar) looking like the less intelligent of the two. But after reading through his alternately condescending and vain interview style, he certainly comes across like the bigger jerk..
Farrow admits at the beginning that pop music is "not his scene." But when the two start talking about classic literature and cinema later in the piece, Farrow is clearly in his element. Cyrus says she asked Diane Martel, director of the "We Can't Stop" video, to “just completely, like, drown me in new movies and books and art," after her breakup with Liam Hemsworth. "I lived in Nashville, where that shit isn’t accessible," she tells Farrow. So far that plan is going accordingly: Cyrus recently watched Days of Thunder, Tom Cruise's 1990 drama about a NASCAR driver, three nights in a row. I do not consider it outlandish to assume Ronan Farrow does not care about movies like Days of Thunder. But when Cyrus tells Farrow she recently watched the 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire, the pop princess finally entered his scene. She didn't fit in:
“I’m Blanche to a T, complete psycho,” she burbles cheerfully. I stare at her. I literally cannot imagine anyone less like Tennessee Williams’s fragile, lost Blanche DuBois. “Every time I watched her,” she goes on, “I was always like, ‘That’s me!’ ” If Cyrus is a Vivien Leigh performance, it’s Scarlett O’Hara in the early scenes of Gone With the Wind. She’s impetuous, beautiful, smarter than many give her credit for, slow to listen, quick to talk, adept at using her sexuality to her own ends.
That was the moment when Farrow's apparent motivations were seemingly laid bare. I'm trying to find out how much Miley Cyrus knows about The World. Farrow also references James Joyce's Ulysses within the first five paragraphs. But there are other moments, smaller ones, when the contempt Farrow has for talking with a quick-tongued 21-year-old Southern girl really shines through.
Farrow, the former UNICEF and State Department employee, seems particularly disappointed when Cyrus won't talk about politics with him. Not even weed, a cause near and dear to her heart. (“I just love getting stoned, she says.) You can sense his excitement when they start talking about aliens, only for Farrow to be thrown a curveball:
When she tells me that at Thanksgiving with the Cyrus clan her brothers “literally got in a fight over, like, aliens,” I ask, “Immigration?”
“Yes. So he’s just—”
“Where did the family land on that?” I ask.
“Well, my older brother is obsessed with all those documentaries that have been banned. My brother’s convinced it’s the government not wanting us to know about aliens because the world would just, like, freak out—”
“Oh,” I say, realizing there’s been a misunderstanding. “Literal aliens.”
“—and so my younger brother is like, ‘That’s completely bogus.’ ”
“Tell your brother I worked for the government and saw no aliens.”
“I’m not so sure,” she says, telling me she once saw suspicious lights in the sky in the Bahamas. “My dad told me it was a satellite. But the way it zipped off was really weird.”
“I think it was a satellite,” I offer.
The one place Farrow does concede Cyrus some intellectual superiority is music. But, even then, in this space where Cyrus has Farrow outmatched beyond his wildest dreams, Farrow quickly makes himself the center of attention:
Music is the one context in which I witness Cyrus listening exquisitely, deeply, wholly. When I tell her that I’ve worked as a singer-songwriter, she asks to hear my collaboration with a musician whose material she has covered. She clutches my phone’s tinny speaker to her ear for three and a half minutes. “This chorus is dope,” she says, her head nodding to the beat. “’Cause the verses are more poppy but cool, and the chorus sounds so old-school…” In a few minutes of music, she asks me more questions than she has in hours of conversation: about lyrics, melody, inspirations.
The piece ends on a hokey condemnation of this dumb girl we've met over the previous several thousand words and how she doesn't read books like the ones Ronan Farrow prefers. She certainly would not understand his Ulysses reference, that's for sure. We're supposed to take away that Ronan Farrow is smart and Miley Cyrus is not. Why? Because Farrow needs to remind everyone about his intellectual credentials ahead of his MSNBC debut, even when he's covering a pop star for W. Miley Cyrus seems like she's doing fine for a 21-year-old, all things considered. You can't argue against the girl's priorities. “You know, I’ve made my money. If no one buys my album, cool. It’s fine. I’ve got a house, and I’ve got dogs that I love. I don’t need anything else,” she tells him.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.