Blurred Lines: I just can’t even

Well, let’s just dive in. Have you heard this song, Blurred Lines? It’s being called “the song of the summer.” Have you seen the video? There are two versions. One features topless models only wearing flesh toned thongs. The other version features the same models wearing underwear and clear plastic. Here is the edited, slightly suitable for work version.

I’m not going to link to the explicit version. You can go find it on VEVO (it’s been banned from YouTube) if you want to see it.  I draw the line at having naked breasts on this blog. For now.

I just got back from being out of the country for three weeks, and this song exploded in my absence. I listen to the radio a LOT. I spend at least an hour a day in my car, and I spend that time listening to the radio. So suddenly I was hearing this song a lot, and then I saw the music video and WHOA. I’m potentially a little late to the party here, as people have been all over this song (and video)  from a number of angles, but I want to weigh in because I think it’s so relevant to us here at Sassafrakas.

I want to make something clear: I think the song and both of the videos are problematic. One of the main lines of the song is “I know you want it,” which is something that  people say about victims of sexual assault. The rest of the lyrics aren’t any better. There are a lot of arguments here. People say that song is meant to be fun, that the video is sexy, that it’s not intended to be taken seriously. It’s certainly catchy. The “clothed” video features mostly naked women dancing and gyrating around with three fully clothed men. The explicit version shows a LOT of nipple and ass.

In an interview with GQ, Robin Thicke shared his point of view:

People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”

I have a lot of trouble with the idea that it’s fine to degrade women in a very public piece of “art” if you are respectful in your personal life.  That is kind of a crazy argument. It’s like the idea is that degrading women is the correct state of the universe, and he’s doing everyone a favor by not doing it all the time?

It’s hard to know the mileage on this. I really don’t have a sense of who Robin Thicke is as a performer or a person. This video is certainly over the top, but the point of it is all unclear. He seems to be halfheartedly saying that he is trying to make a point about how society objectifies women, but the point basically seems to be “objectifying women is FUN.” At least on some level I think that all of this was SUPER calculated to stir everyone up and get the song and Robin Thicke a lot of attention. But it could just as easily be that everyone involved just doesn’t get it. It can be hard sometimes to see  beyond your enthusiasm and intentions to the actual influence of your creation.

There are a number of parody or cover versions of this popping up all over the internet. This Bill Clinton one is silly, and this Vampire Weekend cover is cool. So far, my favorite of the bunch is this: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/07/24/mod-carousels-fresh-take-on-a-popular-rape-anthem

This gender swapped version actually seems to do the best job of anything I’ve seen of turning the conversation on its head. How do we feel about this song and (video) when it’s men dancing around wearing makeup in tiny thongs? If you venture into the scary world of comments on this version, the answer is that some people are in on the joke, but a lot are annoyed and even angry. And it’s very interesting that men clad in thongs wearing makeup snagged an age restriction for this parody version.

A big theme across this conversation is that the people who are objecting to Blurred Lines are being called buzz kills. People are saying that there is nothing problematic here, and that if you are offended you are an idiot who is needlessly stirring up trouble.  I don’t think that Robin Thicke is the whole problem here, or even this song particularly. They are symptomatic of a bigger issue: that a lot of people don’t get how this is degrading, and can be triggering. However, we cannot keep handing out free passes for this kind of crap. It’s not ok for powerful men to keep saying that they didn’t realize that they were doing something degrading, or that in this case they were having fun being degrading. We just can’t.

It’s a damn catchy song though.

-Charlotte always, always has a song in her head and for the last 48 hours it’s been Blurred Lines.

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3 thoughts on “Blurred Lines: I just can’t even

  1. I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about this song and the reactions to it. I do wonder if people would be rallying against it to the same extent if not for its including “I know you want it” in the lyrics.

    There’s the deeply thorny issue of intent going on here that doesn’t have simple answers. Shakesville articulates admirably why intent doesn’t magically mitigate the consequences of what’s said (http://www.shakesville.com/2011/12/harmful-communication-part-one-intent.html), and there’s certainly material in “Blurred Lines” that can be triggering. And of course (most) people don’t want to inflict relived emotional pain on someone who just wanted to listen to the radio.

    On the other hand, there are women out there who *do* identify/ agree with/ enjoy Thicke’s stated intent behind the song, which is that the back and forth of flirting, being (consensually) pursued, playing the game, and sexual chemistry can be a lot of fun! Sometimes it’s enjoyable to remember that we are social and sexual animals full of hormones and pheromones and other moans when there is spontaneous physical attraction to a stranger. And it seems a little… is slut-shamey the word? to immediately label any work that celebrates when pursuit and ambiguity and guesswork are pleasurable and exciting as part of rape culture. I feel like that removes the possibility of a woman’s agency to be a willing participant.

    Thicke doesn’t help his case with the lyrics “I know you want it,” but I don’t think there’s anything in either the video or the lyrics that implies lack of consent. Second-guessing of oneself and what one is “supposed” to be/ want/ do, yes, but that is still quite different from violation. That being said, Thicke shouldn’t really be surprised by this reaction.

    I think a lot of what complicates discussion of misogyny and rape culture is that, as human beings, we consistently have to hold in our heads simultaneously the facts that we are intellectual beings worthy of respect AND that we are absurd warm-blooded animals that sweat and poop and have nipples and often want to bone. Those are two extremely different ideas and difficult (not impossible) to reconcile. We will never be perfect in navigating that, but I agree that it’s our responsibility to be conscientious of how our lived experiences differ from each others’ and do our level best to try to not hurt each other, with or without intent.

    Then again, maybe I am wrong about all of this! Horribly sexist things can still have catchy tunes! Women can be willing participants in patriarchy too! I told you my feelings were mixed.

    All that aside, I really don’t understand at all the double-standard of the gender-swapped version getting an age restriction slapped on it.

    • Lucinda, I think you make some really great, important points. There is totally a reverse argument of the one that I made, that women should get to dance around in tiny underwear whenever they want, and that we should celebrate their sexuality. However, personally I think this video comes down on the wrong side of that, in that the women are sex objects more than, you know, women. In one of the things I linked to, the female director of the music video talks about directing the women to look at the camera to put them in the power position, which I think gets across a little bit, but it doesn’t feel strong enough to me. I also think that some of the other song lyrics are sort of gross but I’m not quite sure where they come down on the consent issue that “I know you want it” opens the door to.
      I also think that you make a good point that if any woman wants to claim this good girl wants to be an animal attitude/ music video/ song for herself, than she totally should be free to do so, without being shamed for it. But it doesn’t seem like something a man like Robin Thicke should be able to assign to you. I don’t know. Obviously this is complicated thing, and I think it’s really interesting to puzzle through our reactions and some of the different facets of the is

  2. Pingback: Blurred Links- Further news and thoughts | Sassafrakas

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