I’m not sure I can remember a song ever being banned from my student union back in the early 90s. No one had any complaints against the likes of Nirvana, Mariah Carey or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
It seems almost unprecedented to have students stirring up anti-sentiments against a song. They’re usually known for making a stand against student fees, green issues or capitalism. After all, students are generally known for their tolerance of culturally questionable artistry. They don’t tend to align themselves with prudish views or push for restrictions on art or music or film. No one batted an eyelid when it was announced that Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) would be appearing nude in a West End theatre show, for instance. The most risqué cultural offering of my era – the film Basic Instinct – was not met with any student protests.
So, why the furore over a song? Countless rap artists churn out similar obscene or misogynistic lines in their songs, although their hits tend not to reach the high end of the charts.
I think therein lies the difference. We have grown to expect shocking or outrageous content from rap, heavy metal or punk. Their music is considered edgy and way out for those particular consumers who enjoy uber-raunchy or violent styles. It’s not mainstream.
But Thicke’s song is targeted at the masses. For those of us who enjoy tapping along to a cheery tune on the radio or the giggly pre-teens bopping along to poppy beats at a sleepover. We don’t expect misogyny over breakfast or sexual mixed messages as we stroll through the aisles of Asda or Top Shop. And many female students find it doesn’t sit well with them on the student union dance floor, either.
Having seen the video for this number one hit song, I have to agree. It’s not so much the nudity that is offensive, rather Robin Thicke’s lack of it. While he swaggers around fully-clothed, acting like a modern-day emperor or supermodel, the young women are depicted as mindless playthings for his amusement and pleasure. The lyrics he repeats make light of the issues surrounding sexual limits and mirror real-life scenarios of abuse or rape.
“You know you want it” is a phrase that carries varied connotations depending on context. Used as an advertising ploy to sell chocolate or a smartphone, it would seem quite reasonable and utterly harmless. Placed in the context of casual flirting or dancing as a pretext for going further sexually, it’s totally abhorrent. Particularly when one considers the countless young people subconsciously absorbing this message into their heads – at a time when they should be learning to say ‘no’ to unwanted attention or predatory types.
Regrettably, the more media attention is stirred up over this song, the more downloads and views it gets. As with the banning of most things, it tends to have the unintended consequence of raising the said banned item’s profile. Which, of course, is what Thicke and his directors planned all along. In an interview in GQ earlier this month, he was quoted as saying: “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women.” He’s certainly succeeded in that.
While claiming that – since he’s married – it’s okay for him to act this way and that it’s just fun and nonsense, Thicke has revived the classic case against censorship – namely, humour. If something’s funny, surely people should just lighten up and quit complaining about standards? Yet, as the lines of decency continue to fall ever lower, I wonder if in a few years certain pop stars will enact similar music videos featuring semi-clad children.
Admittedly, there are lots of women who are not bothered by Blurred Lines, but maybe they’re not the ones who’ve experienced their boundaries being trampled on, or even suffered assault as a result of those very same lyrics in the song.
Whether the universities who’ve banned his song will do more to raise issues of misogyny and inappropriate content or simply increase sales of the song remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure: it’s important not to merely accept a rapid decline in cultural standards, simply writing it off as harmless entertainment. If the banning of Blurred Lines results in students and the media discussing these issues openly, then maybe that’s progress.
For once, it’s good to hear that those outside the Church are the ones raising an outcry against objectionable stuff in the entertainment industry. As Christians, for too long we have been known for what we are against than what we are for. But it’s my firm belief that if he were transported into today’s culture, Jesus would speak out against the devaluing and objectification of women in the media and defend the vulnerable.