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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Issue with “Blurred Lines”

Published: August 23, 2013
Section: Opinions

While I was at my favorite sub shop picking up dinner, I was irritated to hear the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke come on the radio behind the counter. Before I even had time to think about how much the song irritated me, the muscled man making my sandwich grumbled, “I hate this song with a burning passion.” I don’t know whether the sexist, degrading lyrics are what caused that man to loathe the song, or if it was simply the melody itself. Regardless, it was refreshing to hear.

It seems that the world has mixed reviews concerning the single that has gained the title of longest-running No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 this year. While the song held No. 1 spot on iTunes’ top selling singles list until dropping to No. 2 this week, listeners’ responses vacillate between love of the music to outright disgust at Thicke’s lyrics and methods. One iTunes reviewer states, “Albeit catchy, I can’t support a person who actively tries to degrade women and then defends himself for it. I don’t care if it’s his choice as an artist and trying to be ‘edgy’ doesn’t cut it. This song, and the intent behind it, is sick and a huge disappointment to what could have been a good song.”

The lyrics to the song are disturbing; some of them so much so that it is uncomfortable putting them in print, much less having children hear them on the radio. Some of the less risqué lyrics compare women to animals, claiming that the singer “tried to domesticate” the woman to whom he is singing. This is upsetting because it puts the listener in the mindset that it is okay to treat a woman as less than a man. It puts forth the claim that women need to be tamed, that women are subservient and need to be controlled. In this day and age, it is abhorrent that women and men still are not perceived as equals.

Another line of the song says, “The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty.” This claim simply feels downright creepy. It attempts to validate the notion that if a woman so much as touches a man she is consenting to sex. It provides listeners with the false belief that something less than verbal consent is acceptable. The song also choruses the line, “I know you want it.” This seems to undermine a woman’s refusal of consent, implying that “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” It is reasonable to say this song condones rape culture, and that is despicable.

The first time I heard “Blurred Lines,” it was in a commercial for Beats Pill, a portable stereo by Beats by Dr. Dre. At the time, I did not know the song, I did not know that Robin Thicke was actually in the commercial and I did not know that the commercial was a parody of the song’s music video. My initial reaction was horror; why was it necessary to sexualize a non-sexual product? Why do women need to parade around nearly naked to sell stereos? Why turn a simple product into something phallic? When I saw the actual music video, I was equally horrified.

The “Blurred Lines” music video comes in two forms: the regular version and an unrated version. I found it disconcerting enough that in the regular version women were seen, barely clothed, draping themselves all over the men singing and rapping. Some women weren’t even clothed at all, just concealed by arms or animals. One woman’s only clothing is a nude-colored thong. Yet, the unrated version takes it a step further. In nearly every scene of the unrated video the women are topless and wear only a nude-colored thong.

Another problem for me, evident in both versions of the video, is the statement, spelled out in balloons, that “Robin Thicke has a big D.” I fail to understand why a musician needs to proclaim this to the world. All this statement serves to do is propagate the age-old, self-esteem hazardous myth that size matters. The video seems to promote false ideas of what both men and women should look like.

Women have been grappling with the media’s image of what they should look like long before the advent of Photoshop. We see nearly all there is to see of the women in the music video. What many people fail to see is the effect this has on young women who see this. It presents the false notion that the women in the video are the norm in terms of body size and shape; it teaches young girls that if they do not look like the models then they are not worthy of love and attention. That is unacceptable.

The models’ nudity gives men and boys the same idea: that all girls should look like the women in the video. In this sense, it could cause men not to appreciate all women, regardless of their outward appearance. In addition, the way the men drape themselves all over the women gives the impression that men are entitled to do so. I sincerely hope that this song gives no person the idea that they are entitled to access any part of another person without his or her consent. Each of us is our own person and we have the right to our own personal space. Finally, if the women are nearly naked, why aren’t the men? Why is it okay for the men to be dressed in dapper suits, while the women parade around in their underwear? If clothing is a sign of status in this video, no woman could appreciate the message.

Thicke’s record label did not support “Blurred Lines” right away. They didn’t understand it and had no desire to support it. They didn’t pay for the music video; though, after seeing it, they jumped on the bandwagon. What shocked me was the simple fact that a woman directed the music video. Diane Martel, who has directed numerous music videos, sought to gain attention for Thicke with the video. She said, “I think if … we do a funny, silly video with topless girls, everybody’s going to have to know who Robin Thicke is.” She certainly succeeded in gaining him attention, though I cannot comprehend how the video is any way funny or silly. Yet, this has been Thicke’s idea of the video as well as the song. The way he views it, both he and Pharell Williams, co-writer and singer in the video, are happily married, making them the perfect people to make fun of the numerous taboos in the video. Thicke recognizes that the video is derogatory toward women, yet, amazingly, he finds no fault with it. As Elizabeth Day of the United Kingdom’s Observer has said, the video is “eye-poppingly misogynist.”