Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Hate These Blurred Lines

Am I allowed to like "Blurred Lines"?

I ask this because in some circles on the internet, it's akin to endorsing date rape. With idiotic politicians by the truckload making equally idiotic comments about women not being able to get pregnant from rape, states desperately trying to pass laws, in clear violation of Roe v. Wade, prohibiting all types of abortions, and straight males crying, "Misandry!" every time someone (usually a woman) tries to raise awareness about these issues, this has been a hot topic in America since last November's presidential election. As hard as it is to believe in 2013, rape, whether forced or casual/acquaintance, is still a major issue and needs to be discussed in all facets of society--even pop culture.

Enter "Blurred Lines," the monster hit from the white Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, rapper T.I. and producer/singer Pharrell. Even before I heard the song, I heard a lot about the controversy surrounding it: "He endorses date rape! He hates women! The models in the video are nothing but sexual objects!" "Wow," I thought, "This song must be absolutely vile. I need to listen to it right away!" And then I did. And then I wondered what everyone had lost their minds about. All this hoop-la over this? I understand that every issue needs a whipping boy, a pop culture phenomenon that detractors can cry out and say, "Here! This is why our issue needs attention!" Most notably, the Columbine shooting was blamed on South Park, violent video games and Natural Born Killers instead of, you know, our crazy gun culture. If it had been released a year ago, I doubt "Blurred Lines" would have been perceived as grossly offensive as it is. The song just happens to be a victim of being released at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Personally, I don't think "Blurred Lines" is all that bad, particularly as I listen to the song more and more. Maybe I'm going deaf, maybe I'm out of my mind, but the songs makes me want to get up and bust a move, particularly when my favorite lyric "You the hottest bitch in this place!" comes on. "Do you really think any girl would fall for that line?" someone (snidely) asked on Twitter after I quoted it for the fourth or fifth time. No, probably not. I mean, I wouldn't fuck anyone simply because they dropped that line on me. But I would certainly be flattered and thank them for the compliment. And I don't think Thicke & Co. intended for that lyric to be a pick-up line, either. If anything, it feels like a parody of songs like "Back That Thing Up" which use lyrics like "You a fine motherfucker, won't you back that thing up?" as a deliberate come-on. If anything, it fits in with Thicke's defense that "Blurred Lines" is tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken seriously. Not sure if that comes across since so many people have taken offense to the song, but at least it beats Thicke's other defense that the song is actually about female empowerment. Nice try, Robin. Any song in which a woman needs a man to liberate her is automatically not about female empowerment.

The only lyrics in "Blurred Lines" I felt could conceivably be troublesome were the "I know you want it, I know you want it" chants and the line which the title derives from, "I hate these blurred lines," but even they felt unworthy of all the negative attention they were receiving. In both cases, I can see why detractors find them offensive. "I know you want it" is a phrase often used by men to get women who have already declined to get them to sleep with them. The "blurred lines" could be referring to the point between a woman saying no and a man trying to convince her to change her mind; namely, at what point is he allowed to keep asking before it crosses into date/acquaintance rape? In the context of the song, though, I don't believe either connotation is correct. "Blurred Lines" is written entirely from Thicke's perspective. The woman in the song never gives an indication either way whether she wants him. This is important to note because it forces two extremely different interpretations of the song: the Date Rape Interpretation and a far different one. In the latter context, the "blurred lines" could refer to the fact that the woman, for whatever reason, can't express her desire for sex. Maybe she does want to sleep with Thicke, but she's afraid of coming across as "easy" or a whore. So, she plays coy, shamelessly flirting without giving away the goods, because that's "acceptable" for women to do. Thicke hates these blurred lines women are stuck in when it comes to their bodies and desires, how they are forced to tone down what they want for fear of going against society's image of a good girl. When he chants, "I know you want it," he's referring to sex, yes, but he means it in a general way, not that she necessarily wants it with him. She may not even be impressed with what he's offering. No, he's not empowering women as he wants us to believe, but he's certainly calling attention to this discrepancy.

When I first saw the uncensored video for "Blurred Lines"--the one where female models walk around topless while the fully-clothed men dance around them--I wasn't nearly as offended as many others were. While I get why some were uncomfortable with this interpretation of the power roles in the video, I agree with this article that it merely tip toes the line of bad taste, never quite crossing into blatant misogyny or skeeziness (the author of that article does a fantastic job explaining why it may not be as bad as detractors claim, the social implications of this line-touching may not be so great). From the shot where the model's feet rub all over Thicke's face or how "Robin Thicke has a huge dick" is scrawled on the wall, the "Blurred Lines" video is pure trash through and through. For me, it works and makes "Blurred Lines" one of the most memorable videos of the year. Give me naked ladies in pure trash like this over whatever the fuck Justin Timberlake was trying to accomplish with his "Tunnel Vision" video.

A couple days ago, I found an excerpt of this smart interview with one of the models from the video, Emily Ratajkowski. In it, she mentions that the models were "directed to have a sort of confidence, a sarcastic attitude about the whole situation." I watched the video again with this new perspective and understood what she was talking about. For the most part, the models look disinterested in what the men are doing. Although this disinterest could easily be misinterpreted as objectifying the women, I see it as the women having the upper-hand. "Impress me," they seem to be saying as Robin, T.I. and Pharrell dance around them in a silly manner, trying (and failing) to get their attention. And, much like the song itself, we're not really sure whether they are impressed or not. But, in a certain way, the women hold the power in this video.

This post is not meant to change minds or belittle anyone's opinion. If you believe "Blurred Lines" is about date rape, I can definitely see where you are coming from and don't mean to belittle the issue. I just wanted to get my opinion out there so people know where I'm coming from when I defend this song, especially in the wake of the Miley Cyrus VMA performance she shared with Robin Thicke. I noticed that if you disagreed with the slut-shaming of Miley, you had to denounce Robin Thicke's equally damning performance. If you thought Miley was inappropriate, you had to completely ignore Robin Thicke either because Miley was the crazy one or because, hey, it's no big deal that a man was acting just as lewd as she was. No, we can't let Thicke off the hook, particularly since Miley was getting all the negative press. But what either of them were doing was not that bad (At least from a sexual stand point. Racially, I'm not sure anymore). It's not an either or thing, people. We can like Miley and "Blurred Lines."

Maybe? Man, I really do hate these blurred lines.


Marcy said...

So glad you're blogging again, James. Your refreshing pop culture commentary has been sorely missed by this girl.

While I find Blurred Lines to be a merely catchy song that doesn't really deserve analysis at all, your insights are always welcomed. I think the model's interview gave me an entirely different perspective on the video, too, and to an extent, the song itself.

I kind of dismissed whatever misogyny Blurred Lines possessed when it first came out, until one of my male friends asked me if I found the "hottest bitch" line offensive. I suppose females can look at it either way--they can be completely offended, or they claim "bitch" as a word of female empowerment, as Fey and Poehler did in retaliation to criticism about Clinton being a "bitch" in the 2008 election. Whatever.

And we can talk the shit out of this song, but at the end of the day, it's also just a club anthem celebrated by drunk boys and girls who--excuse me if I'm wrong here--probably wouldn't mind being objectified after ten shots. We can go ahead and make the argument that many Top 40 songs have misogynistic undertones and are, also, kind of "rapey." I think a lot of the rapey accusations toward Blurred Lines is due to its controversial video (and that music video did exactly what Thicke & Co. wanted to achieve--give the song more attention), but come on, it's not like it's MORE rapey than Enrique's "Tonight" or MORE misogynistic than Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise."

There are a lot of stupid, terrible things in pop culture that people can go ahead and choose to be offended by because they feel like it perpetrates a certain attitude that is demeaning toward women or blacks or astrologists or janitors, but everyone will eventually get over it and everything will be okay. Because there are a lot of stupid, terrible things outside of pop culture to be upset at--not to say that pop culture doesn't have an enormous impact on society, but it is certainly not society's most powerful villain.

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