Why is pop culture obsessed with celeb 'catfights'?

Miley Cyrus wanted to make a good point about industry double standards but all anyone heard was "catfight!"

Miley Cyrus wanted to make a good point about industry double standards but all anyone heard was "catfight!" Photo: Ethan Miller

Have you heard the news? There's a new catfight in town.

Yup, this time around, Miley Cyrus has "hit out" at Taylor Swift in an interview with Marie Claire. Get a load of this searing attack: "I don't get the violence revenge thing," Cyrus said of Swift's Bad Blood video. "That's supposed to be a good example? And I'm a bad role model because I'm running around with my titties out? I'm not sure how titties are worse than guns."

You may have guessed by now that I'm being facetious: there's nothing in Cyrus' considered examination of entertainment industry double standards that says "catfight" to me, but that hasn't stopped the celebrity media from whipping itself into a frenzy about this latest girl-on-girl hate crime.

Taylor Swift to Nicki Minaj: "It's unlike you to pit women against each other".

Taylor Swift to Nicki Minaj: "It's unlike you to pit women against each other". Photo: Getty Images

It comes mere weeks after Nicki Minaj's alleged clash with Swift: you know, that time Minaj was busy making some good points on Twitter about how the MTV VMAs often overlook black women when Swift barged in and assumed Minaj was subtweeting her.


The media went nuts. The Independent called it a "catfight"; it wasn't a discussion, it was a "feud" and a "Twitter clash"; they weren't conversing, they were "trading barbs".

If you somehow found a way to turn all the coverage of Minaj vs Swift and Cyrus vs Swift into a 12" record, I'm pretty sure it would play the sound of a dude making a "bitchy cat screech" noise. (Which someone on YouTube could then AutoTune into a cover of Swift's Bad Blood.)

Writing in The Guardian during the coverage of Minaj's Tweets, Nosheen Iqbal astutely skewered the media response: "The wider reporting of the story has since twisted what is a valid conversation – about what makes a white artist outstanding, and why a black artist isn't allowed to compete on the same terms. The coverage has reduced the debate to a catfight between two massive female stars, where Swift is the winner, taking down another woman who needs to know her place."

(Hey, remember when, in Vanity Fair, Swift recalled something Katie Couric had told her? "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women"? No, me neither.)

This is how it is in 2015: if a prominent woman happens to make a valid point about another woman's work, it is automatically painted as a catfight, bitch fight or feud. Worse, the guts of the statement or conversation is ignored in favour of drumming up an audience for this peculiar bloodsport that only seems to exist within the confines of tabloid media.

Hence, this week we find ourselves reading about Cyrus' alleged sledging of Swift, rather than considering whether she has a point: why is the fact that Cyrus is often pictured nude or in a state of undress considered more "scandalous" or worthy of debate than the fact Swift's Bad Blood, with its cast of unattainable supermodel bodies and cartoonish violence, was considered an instant feminist classic?

More insidiously, these "clashes" are often framed by way of lip service to feminism --"Noted feminist Miley Cyrus has a crack at Taylor Swift"-- as though all women should support each other and live in a fairyland named Sisterhood where we sing Helen Reddy songs every night.

Any "feminism" that doesn't involve regular time for reflection, and which can't handle criticism, is not a feminism I want any part of. Imagine if, instead, these quotes and interactions were highlighted as "debates", "discussions" and "conversations".

And, aside from anything else, the breathless response to these "fights" suggests a very limited frame of reference: clearly, these content-mongers have never seen a real cat fight, such as that evergreen exchange between Oscar Wilde ("Do you mind if I smoke?") and Sarah Bernhardt ("I don't care if you burn"), or literally any knock-down brawl between Alexis Carrington-Colby and Krystle Carrington on Dynasty.

Go do your homework, celebrity media, and then we can talk.