by Catherine Wyatt
‘Blurred Lines’, released this summer, has faced controversy over its lyrical and visual content. Sex and nudity sell, however I believe this becomes unacceptable at the point where the sex can be described as non-consensual, and the nudity not merely gratuitous, but degrading. The lyrics and accompanying video of ‘Blurred Lines’ achieve both of these feats, setting it apart from what might be considered an unfortunate norm of the music industry.
The sex being sold in this song is not inspiring, egalitarian or sensual like sex should be, but narrow and non-consensual. What this song promotes is an extremely constricted view of women’s sexuality defined entirely by the male singer. He decides what the woman in question wants (‘but you’re an animal / baby it’s in your nature’), blaming desires on her (‘what do they make dreams for / when you got those jeans on’).
Some have accused this song of endorsing rape culture, namely the idea that rape can be the victim’s fault, perhaps because of their clothing, or actions. Thicke’s repeating motif of the song can certainly be interpreted in this way, with the narrator seeing a blurred line of consent which he interprets as a ‘yes’ to sexual activity.
These lyrics, which seem to endorse the idea that ‘no doesn’t always mean no’, means that the accompanying uncut video takes on an alarmingly chauvinistic edge. At first glance the video seems ridiculously over the top: naked women are holding lambs, riding bicycles, sometimes wearing pieces of plastic that don’t look altogether comfortable.
It could be seen as an exposé of the chauvinism it portrays. Indeed, the director Diane Mantel said in an interview that when she directed ‘the girls to look into the camera…they are in the power position.’ However, this is lost with the distinct power difference between naked women and suited men. Thicke himself disregarded any complex idea about the video being satirical when he said ‘what a pleasure it is to degrade a woman, I’ve never gotten to do that before’.
All of these criticisms have been well documented, and in this way an inadvertent benefit of the song has been to open discussion about what is appropriate and what is unacceptable. However, a feminist parody of the video performed by Australian law students, in which the gender roles were reversed, was initially removed by YouTube for its inappropriate sexual content. This was despite the men wearing boxer shorts, whilst the original video featuring topless women continued to rack up millions of hits. The parody ‘Defined Lines’ vocalises the main criticisms of the original: ‘what you see on TV / doesn’t speak equality / it’s straight up misogyny’.
I am sure that Robin Thicke does not seriously endorse sexual harassment, and neither would the majority of listeners. But that’s where the real danger lies. When the subtle enforcement of rape culture is dressed up as art, as just another scantily clad woman in a music video, another song about sex in an industry saturated by them, worrying ideas about rape, sex, and the objectification of women permeate culture. When unnecessarily dangerous lyrics are hidden behind what is an extremely catchy tune, the message that the song gives appears more acceptable.
My least favourite lyric of the song is ‘just let me liberate you’. Whilst not as violent as ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’, this line sums up the major problem of feminism today. There is an assumption that all sex is liberating for women, because they have choice. A common response to the ‘Blurred Lines’ video is that the women chose to participate. What this fails to appreciate is that no woman chose to be born into the current culture that degrades and harasses them as the lyrics in the song demonstrate, a culture which affects and pressures young men too. I did not choose the way that this song, and the culture it belongs to, will affect the way I am treated and viewed as a woman in the future.
Photograph: Pat David