Every summer we get to indulge ourselves in dozens of new, sparkly pop songs. They dash up and down the charts, their videos and melodies pervade our radios, newsfeeds, and televisions all in the hope of being the big hit of the summer. The song we’ll all remember.
Perhaps the song that’s stirred up the most controversy this year (and by that measure beat the controversial competition, sorry Miley) is “Blurred Lines.” “Blurred Lines” is an oddly languid pop song with barely discernible lyrics by Robin Thicke, featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams. However, upon some investigation and help from the video, it becomes apparent that it’s a song about a man speaking to a woman who has previously not been encouraged to express her sexuality or desire. The speaker urges the girl toward her desires, and generally encourages her to go with her instincts, which presumably will result in him getting laid. The song repeats references to these “blurred lines,” but it’s unclear what that is exactly referring to. Don’t get me wrong, this song is in no way feminist, it’s a pretty typical, fantasy-driven pop song. There are certainly things to find irritating about it (who does this guy think he is? Why does he get to do the liberating?) but it’s not worthy of all-out feminist frenzy.
Today I had the good fortune of reading a “feminist take down” of the song and anyone who would dare enjoy it by Elizabeth Plank at Policymic. While the article was logical, it was also predictably belligerent. Ms. Plank takes great offense to the assumption on the part of a male speaker that he might know what a woman wants, even if that assumption is liberating. Further, the video is offensive because the women (models) are partially clothed while the performers are fully clothed, also the women engage in overt, objectifying behaviors.
She heavily cites an interview with Robin Thicke where he (somewhat misguidedly) confirms that the video is degrading to women, and maintains it was “making fun” of something. Perhaps Robin Thicke doesn’t have the delicate hand to negotiate unspoken humor about the objectification women in 2013. She further cites comments make by the video director, Diane Martel, a woman, who denied that there was an issue. Of course, as far as Ms. Plank and the feminist take down is concerned this woman’s opinion is irrelevant, despite actually producing the material. Diane Martel is, after all, only a woman working in music industry, can’t imagine what she would know about sexism! Finally, the article references comments made by one of models in the video, Emily Ratajkowski, who expresses her ideas that women’s bodies on screen can be empowering, that the video was playful, and that she thought it was confidence-inspiring. It’s a fine example of post-postmodern feminism illustrating that some women’s opinions are valuable, some clearly aren’t. In this case, the women who produced the object do not have valuable opinions about it.
The introduction of the model is particularly interesting. When she’s introduced into the article, this parenthetical comment appears: “Emily Ratajkowski (who I wouldn’t recommend looking at unless you’re ready for a dramatic drop in your own self-esteem.)” Wow. I think it’s really crucial, while discussing how visible women’s bodies are being leveraged in a sexist way in a pop video, to emphasize that people should not look at Ratajkowski because she’s so pretty she’ll destroy your selfconfidence. Don’t even look at beautiful girls. Their existance in your field of vision is sexist, and they’re going to make you feel more insecure. One comment that boils a woman down to her appearance alone is all it takes to devalue an entire position.
Effectively, what is emerging from a lot of criticism of the song and video in various places is a total inability to grasp satire. The video involves a stuffed dog corpse, T.I. brushing someone’s hair, Robin Thicke sexily eating an ice cream cone. It involves a lot of silly dancing and not a lot of sexy touching. No actual nudity, no simulated sex acts, no grinding, there’s alcohol – but no women consume it, no violence, even playful, toward the women, while Thicke gets slapped at one point. There are nun-chucks and string of sausages though, clearly a piece of cultural commentary to be taken very seriously. The lyrics voice a little more violence; some hair pulling, and rough sex. At one point T.I. says: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” which is a pretty brazen thing to say unless he’s referring to an enormous dildo, and yes, it’s questionable, but it’s not enough for this outrage.
In thinking about what the “blurred lines” refer to, the general consensus seems to be that dangerous area where men have a hard time extracting consent (awful), but could also refer to the “blurred lines” between the “domesticated”, “good girl” the woman in the song is expected to be, and the “animal” she could be in the speaker’s fantasy.