If you haven’t heard the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines,” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, or seen the video, then you need to get out more. Seriously. Last month, the song broke the all-time radio audience record at 242.65 million listeners, and the videos — an unrated version featuring naked ladies dancing around, and a cleaner version in which the same ladies dance around with some clothes on — have a combined 136 million views on VEVO.
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid “Blurred Lines,” then wait for your eyes to adjust to the light of day and watch the video below. Fair warning — it’s explicit as all hell. (You can watch the clean version here if you’re squeamish.)
Pretty catchy, huh? Surely the song of the summer. And how about those naked ladies?
Now here are the first few results that appear when I do a Twitter search for “blurred lines rape”:
“When a bar plays a song that promotes rape culture (Blurred Lines) I will leave. And so should you!”
— Carl Krebs (@Carlkr) August 8, 2013
“I'd have to say that Blurred Lines is the greatest summer date rape song ever made.”
— Sarcasmic (@Sarcasmicfiend) August 8, 2013
“The song "blurred lines" is totally about rape. Why are radio stations still playing it? Oh yeah we live in a society that glamorizes rape.”
— Panayiota Bertzikis (@panayiotab) August 8, 2013
The song’s critics argue that its lyrics endorse a no-means-yes attitude and that the “blurred lines” of the title fall between a woman’s consent and the absence of her consent. Rape, in other words.
Further investigation reveals a petition with nearly 21,000 signatures urging that MTV withdraw the three Video Music Award nominations “Blurred Lines” has received, arguing that the song’s “blatant objectification of women and promotion of violence against women” are grounds for a boycott.
Robin Thicke responded in a GQ interview, saying that the video is tongue-in-cheek, the lyrics have been “misconstrued,” and that as three married men, he, Pharrell, and T.I. were just trying to be as outrageously taboo as possible in the video. He added that he’s always respected women.
The song doesn’t strike me as particularly rapey. To me, it’s just a regular old song about wanting to bang some girl you’re looking at, and it’s not even close to as risque as lots of others. The video’s eye-catching, yes, but I feel like the nudity’s the real eye-catcher; it’s unexpected and jarring and outrageous. The clothed version reminds me of a slightly more bizarre, less sexy George Michael video.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s just say that the lyrics do actually refer to having sex with a woman without her explicit consent, even though I don’t necessarily agree with that assertion. We’ll leave it to the rest of the Internet to split hairs line by line.
In other controversial news this week, a small GOP PAC called The Hillary Project drew fire for its “Slap Hillary” game, in which the player virtually slaps an animated Hillary Clinton into a googly-eyed stagger every time she speaks. They’ve refused to remove it from their website despite objections from women’s organizations decrying its portrayal of violence against a women, particularly in order to punish her for speaking.
The game itself is pretty dumb, and I think they probably only created it for the attention they knew it’d garner, but for the sake of this argument, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and take on faith that their motivations were purely spiteful in nature and not at all attention-whorey. They wish they could slap Hillary Clinton, and so they created a game to simulate the experience.
Why’d I even bring that up? This is a music blog, right? Well, after examining the “Blurred Lines” controversy, I was reminded of the “Slap Hillary” game. In both cases, someone is being accused of perpetuating a culture of rape and/or violence against women by portraying those things as acceptable. In both cases, fundamentally, women are objecting to women being treated badly. I understand that.
The other thing that these two discussions have in common is that in neither case was a woman actually raped or slapped. You could make a case that the women in the video were actually objectified, but “objectification” isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can nail down in a court of law. (Then again, neither is “misogyny” or “inability to love.”) Instead, the acts in question — hitting a woman in the face, and having sex with a woman without her explicit consent — took place virtually, on a pixelated screen or through the implication of a song’s lyrics. To experience these things, we have to imagine them. The only place Hillary Clinton gets slapped in the face is in the player’s mind.
Is it okay to slap Hillary Clinton in the face in your mind, with or without the aid of the game? Is it okay to have sex with women without their explicit consent in your mind, with or without the aid of a suggestive music video?
Our entertainment is fantasy. Through literature, film, television, music, video games, and art (if you’re a fancy-pants), we imagine different worlds in which anything is possible. We inhabit those worlds in our minds in a way that can seem very real. Who hasn’t mourned the death of a favorite character on a TV show? Who hasn’t been overcome with emotion while listening to a favorite song? Who hasn’t felt nostalgic for a time in which they never lived because of how that time has been portrayed in film?
At the same time, we also imagine things independently of our entertainment — say, in traffic during rush hour in LA, how you might imagine plowing a tank through the sea of cars stretching before you, cackling maniacally as the bones of their drivers crunch beneath you. Does that mean you genuinely want to hurt those people, just because it felt good to think about it? If you kept thinking about it, and society was telling you it was okay to think about it, would you feel more tempted to do it?
The point that I’m meandering my way to is that entertainment is fantasy, which takes place only in our minds. All of it. Does it even make a difference if “Blurred Lines” is about rape or not? I mean, do you remember when Eminem came out with “Kim”? It was a graphic fantasy depicting the violent murder of not only a woman, but a four-year-old kid, too. A fantasy. Eminem’s ex-wife Kim and her stepson are alive and well. Did enjoying that song make you want to kill anyone? Did it change your opinion of whether killing someone is acceptable? It’s more likely that it helped you to understand better why someone might want to kill their ex-wife, but understanding a person’s motivation doesn’t translate automatically into acceptance of their actions.
Maybe it’s because I’m a product of rape culture and I’m so brainwashed that I can’t even see that I’m part of the problem. But neither “Blurred Lines” nor the “Slap Hillary” game strike me (no pun intended) as supportive of a culture that condones violence against women.
“Blurred Lines” is a sexy fantasy. It’s sexy because whether we like it or not, it’s sexy to think of having sex with someone who pretends not to want to. (The key words are THINK OF and PRETENDS. Nothing real is happening. No one just had sex when I wrote that sentence.)
“Slap Hillary” is a mean fantasy. It’s mean because hitting anyone is mean, not just hitting Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton didn’t get slapped, and I don’t think she or any other woman is any more likely to be slapped because of a pointless Flash game. I don’t think any man is more likely to rape a woman because of a song that says, “You know you want it.”
Maybe I’m just a rape culture apologist. Maybe watching that video or listening to that song or playing that “Slap Hillary” game added one more layer of validation to the misogynistic armor of some asshole somewhere. Maybe I give people too much credit for being able to discern what’s real and acceptable and morally right from what our entertainment and fantasies and the intertwined two portray. Maybe I just have a big crush on Robin Thicke and would be willing to twist all of my flimsy principles to defend him.
What do you think? In any case, are you tired of hearing “Blurred Lines” yet? Also, do you feel like slapping anyone?