I’m still working my mind around the full media artifact that is “Blurred Lines.” I find the video offensive. On its face, it features three fully clothed men objectifying and fetishizing naked women (unrated version available here) who seem to be complicit at best. The discrepancy between active and passive consenting is best summarized in a tiny “STOP” sign resting on a woman’s backside as she poses on her knees with a face of seductive surprise.
I was inundated with posts about how the song promoted sexual violence and rape towards women. The title alone was common parlance for justifying things like date rape, and the phrase, “I know you want it,” was featured prominently in the chorus. In watching the video, I understood where these attitudes were coming from, but the beat was so catchy. I began to feel a guilty pleasure when the song was stuck in my head, or I danced a little while waiting in line. I decided to read the lyrics independent of the video.
The lyrics are nonsensical and generally innocuous; there are some rough sex references, but that’s not uncommon. Robin Thicke is singing to a woman who is (ostensibly) not happy with her current boyfriend and that she should leave him for Robin Thicke, but she’s a “good girl,” so she won’t cheat on her boyfriend. Robin Thicke’s response: You’re really a bad girl because you like nasty sex and your boyfriend won’t give it to you, “I know you want it…” I think the most valuable version might be featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.
Sounds like standard pop lyrics to me. However, this narrative was not presented at all in the video, and the video was the most prominent component of the song. Therefore, many used the hook and the video’s imagery to criticize Robin Thicke, who responded on BBC’s Radio 1 to say that the song is about the lyrics, and any reference to rape or violence towards women is “ridiculous.” This, for me, begs the question: Should Robin Thicke be held accountable for the messages that come across in the video, even if they were not originally intended in the lyrics? Somehow, as an artist, the artistic composition (the song) continued his celebrity narrative of a respect for women, but the video, which (without a doubt) promotes the objectification of women, should be viewed independently of the Robin Thicke brand?
Furthermore, the discrepancy between these two components of the song (the audio and the visual) also demonstrates the discrepancy Americans have towards accepting things that are bigoted (e.g., racist, sexist, homophobic) based on their medium. This is not to say that the medium is the message; in this case, the messages are clear, but are different across mediums. We are constantly bombarded with images of objectified, impossible female forms; they are nameless, often faceless, bodies plastered on the buildings, buses, television, movies, and magazines; they value women based on their physicality, and promote the objectification of the female form independent of the woman within.
The director, Diane Martel, who is also responsible for Miley Cyrus’ recent twerking, claims that the video was originally conceptualized to empower women. She claims that the women are empowered through their sexuality and the men follow these women around. This attitude of empowerment through physicality, or the Marilyn Monroe School of Feminism, only perpetuates this detachment and disregard for the ability, intelligence, and individual contributions of women, which will only continue to raise generations of girls that would rather be pretty than smart.
- I think that this video from IllDoctrine in 2008 is applicable here. How to tell people they sound racist [sexist]. Most importantly, focus on what they did, and how what they did was racist [sexist].
- With this weekend’s release of Smurfs 2, Smurfette continues to set back the accomplishments of women in the same fashion she did when I was a child.