‘Blurred Lines’ presents rape culture as art

by Catherine Wyatt

Thicke - Pat David‘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.

“What this song promotes is an extremely constricted view of women’s sexuality defined entirely by the male singer”

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

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7 Responses

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  1. Lexie
    Oct 12, 2013 - 09:40 PM

    I can’t believe miley cyrus’s wrecking ball video (where nudity was used to represent vulnerability) recieved more dislikes than robin thicke’s blurred lines video (where nude women were used to make the point that women’s only purpose in this world is to please men). I strongly dislike both, but I’d have to say that wrecking ball is a lot more appropriate than blurred lines.

  2. KingCheese92
    Oct 12, 2013 - 09:42 PM

    In my opinion, Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’ provides more ground to a type of conversation about rape and it’s played on the radio. I believe people just like to complain.

    • Catherine
      Oct 12, 2013 - 09:47 PM

      This song was picked because it was topical / what everyone has been arguing about. But yeah, I totally agree that any song with this sort of content is inappropriate. At least the Blurred Lines song has started people thinking about lyrics, and other songs can be condemned too.

      • Gladstone
        Oct 14, 2013 - 06:50 PM

        Ooooh would you just please fuck off?! Rape Me is not promoting rape, and is not ‘inappropriate’ (on that note, just saying something is inappropriate is a vacuous and banal argument – inappropriate why? and for whom?).

        According to Wiki (a relatively spurious source but fairly trustworthy) this is the meaning of Rape Me:

        ‘Kurt Cobain conceived “Rape Me” as a life-affirming anti-rape song. He told Spin, “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.'”

        Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad stated that “Rape Me” seemed to deal with Cobain’s distaste of the media’s coverage on his personal life. While Cobain said the song was written long before his troubles with drug addiction became public, he agreed that the song could be viewed in that light. Cobain also stated in a 1993 interview that Rape Me was a song meant to be so blunt that no one could misinterpret its meaning.’

        Nirvana lyrics are known for being intentionally odd and meaningless (see: Smells Like Teen Spirit – ‘A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido’, etc.).

        Furthermore, why is it a good thing that people are looking for songs to condemn now? I’m no Ukipper, but purposefully searching for songs to feign moral outage about is ridiculous and hysterical.

        • Catherine
          Oct 14, 2013 - 06:57 PM

          Well I havent personally heard the song Rape Me, and I hope I explained why Blurred Lines was inappropriate. I didn’t say we should deliberately search for songs, but that I think its good that people no longer give the music industry blanket acceptance, and that people feel able to critique songs they find offensive.

  3. A concerned mother
    Oct 14, 2013 - 10:55 AM

    Hey, cool, another really unique critique about Blurred Lines

    • Catherine
      Oct 14, 2013 - 01:20 PM

      We were asked to write about this as something topical. I agree that A LOT of people have written about this recently, largely holding a similar opinion, but if it’s important, I don’t see the point in being unique for the sake of it if this is my opinion, and as something I think is harmful, I don’t see anything bad about having one extra voice speak out about it 🙂


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