Robin Thicke: British Universities Won't Play His 'Blurred Lines' in Their Bars and That's a Problem
I know, I know. We're all sick to death of hearing about Robin Thicke and his "Blurred Lines."
But five British universities have decided to ban the song from campus bars, reminding us once more of the song's troubling implications for women.
Even if you find the song raunchy, misogynistic, and just plain awful, you still need to question institutionalized censorship as a solution.
I can't believe I'm saying it: Robin Thicke's song deserves to be played.
I'm a feminist. I don't like Thicke's song. Yet, I'm troubled by this decision. I agree with Planet Ivy editor Lucy Draper, who writes: "Silencing voices is counterproductive. Rape culture is a very serious issue and as such, conversation about it needs to be opened up, not silenced."
Think about it: When was the last time you solved a problem by denying its existence?
Last week, I was out at a Pittsburgh bar with a couple of girlfriends when "Blurred Lines" came on the jukebox. "Owww. Everybody get up!" I cringed. Shook my head. Tried to tune it out.
But my friend, chuckling, started a conversation about the song: "I can't believe how crazy-offended people are getting about this! It's just a song,there's nothing wrong with it!" My other friend, barely paying attention, nodded nonchalantly in agreement. I had to respectfully disagree. I explained why I think the song is, indeed, offensive to women. Their response? "But so is almost every other pop song!"
They have a point there. Just check out this list of 10 songs whose sexual politics are more troubling than "Blurred Lines." I mean, Thicke's lyrics are far from respectful: "You the hottest bitch in this place/You wanna hug me/What rhymes with hug me?!" Gag. But what about Snoop Doggs' "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)" from his 1993 debut album? "I know the p***y's mine/,I'ma f**k a couple more times/And then I'm through with it/ there's nothing else to do with it/Pass it to the homie, now you hit it/cause she ain't nuthin but a b**h to me." Wow.
My friends's ambivalence about Thicke's song is unfortunate. But it invites the opportunity for productive conversations about pop culture's portrayal of women and our collective tendency to automatically accept the legitimacy of that portrayal. The fact that "almost every other pop song" objectifies women doesn't make Thicke's song okay. Instead, it proves how much we need to reconsider how we portray — and what we accept in pop culture portrayals of — sexuality and human relationships.
However, if we can't talk about offensive material, we'll never convince anyone of the need to change. Critics of censorship have suggested that the song's controversy has actually just made it all the more popular. Indeed, scandal compels.
Sam Bradley, features editor for the University of Edinburgh's student newspaper, The Student, writes that Edinburgh University's student union banned the song as a unilateral decision, based on the union's "zero tolerance" policy about sexual harassment. Bradley told me that the union made the decision on its own, without public consultation.
"In fact, we wouldn't have known about the decision had they not asked a DJ specifically not to play the song," Bradley told me via e-mail. "They didn't publicize [the decision] at all."
To me, that's the biggest problem with the ban. Some people think we can quietly remove the song from our consciousness, and forget about all the hurt and offense it's incited. Kirsty Haigh, vice president of the student union, justifies the ban, saying there's been an "outcry, especially on social media" about the song. But outcries are not necessarily bad things in the long term.
I'm hopeful that if enough offended people speak up about this song, the general public will gain a better understanding of what's wrong with it. That means that, eventually, we'll connect with some of those individuals who've remained ambivalent up to now. We'll persuade them that rape culture is too serious to joke about. And we'll start hearing less of the music that promotes it.
Leeds University's refusal to comment on its ban of the song adds to the problem. Banning a song is not a quick fix to rape culture. The song sucks; and I'm saying that as a feminist, a human being, and a fan of pop music. However, instead of running away from our feelings, we need to keep having conversations about Thicke and the words that come out of his mouth (he says the song's "a feminist movement within itself" - huh?).
Because it would be even more dangerous not to.
What do you think of the bans in Britain? Let me know on Twitter!