Hey, you guys! Your summer jam is probably rapey and gross!
I’m talking about Robin Thicke, of course, and his ultra-problematic (and problematically catchy) single, “Blurred Lines.” The title itself is a master class in subtlety.
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When I say problematically catchy, I mean that a lot of people loved the song so much they didn’t catch (or chose to ignore) the misogyny rife within — until, of course, THAT VIDEO came out. Described as “a disturbing wonderland of male privilege,” by CBC Music’s Andrea Warner in this excellent analysis, the clip features naked models in flesh coloured thongs, dancing around a (fully suited, natch) Thicke, canoodling with PETTING ZOO ANIMALS. Which makes it truly horrendous when Thicke sings, “OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you/But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature/Just let me liberate you/You don’t need no papers.” This whole video IS about domestication/women’s bodies as playthings/degradation.
In her piece, Warner also points to Rick Ross’ “U.O.E.N.O.” — which includes such barftastic rape culture-enforcing bon mots as: “Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it” — and Kanye West’s new single “On Sight” — which includes the following love poem to his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian: “Took her to the ‘Bleau, she tried to sip the fountain/ That when David Grutman kicked her out/ But I got her back in and put my dick in her mouth” (Aw. Who said romance was dead?) — as examples of “a new kind of misogyny, a deliberate and task-oriented degradation and objectification of women that’s far more disturbing than the casual, inherent misogyny of generations past.”
I completely co-sign that, but I’d also add that the casual, inherent misogyny of generations past is also VERY DISTURBING in that it has completely desensitized a generation to this “new” (but really old) brand of misogyny. Yeezus et. all are young guys who grew up respecting their mamas. These are young guys who should know better. And yet, as Warner also points out, they still feel it’s their right to degrade women, perhaps because popular music has always a long legacy of degrading women. Which makes it very easy to hide behind excuses like Because music! or Because art! or Because creative expression!
A listening public has also been desensitized to it — see: the collective shoulder shrug of “that’s just the way it is” or “don’t listen to it, then.” The Rick Ross example is an extreme because the outcry was measurable. Other examples, like Kanye and Thicke, are still pretty easy to ignore — and ignore them people have; “Blurred Lines” continues to dominate charts and Yeezus is a critical darling that will doubtless top Best of 2013 lists. In other words, we’re disgusted — we’re just not disgusted enough to stop consuming it.
No one likes it when their favourite song/band/artist is criticized for being misogynistic because they think it’s a reflection of them. As an obsessive music fan, I get that; what you listen to and who you are feel inextricably linked. But instead of acknowledging the problem like grown ups — “Yes, this song has issues but I still like it and I will probably do squats to it at the gym at some point” — many people jump on the defensive: “I doubt these guys ACTUALLY hate women,” or “chill out, it’s just a song.” Well, no. Songs, like anything else pertaining to culture, do not exist in a vacuum.
Pro-tip from me to you, Robin Thicke apologists: listening to a song that’s inherently misogynistic doesn’t make you a misogynist or a shitty person. You know what DOES make you a shitty person? Pretending that misogyny/rape culture doesn’t exist so you can enjoy your summer club jam.
Jen Zoratti blogs about feminism and pop culture at SCREAMINGINALLCAPS.com and writes about music in a variety of other places. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.