I’ve been hearing a lot–like a LOT–about the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” lately. Is it misogynist? Is it just pop culture fun? Should I watch the music video, in which he is apparently surrounded by half-naked women and creates a banner that cites the size of his own genitalia? Could I watch it ironically, just to know what I’m talking about? Does a tune’s catchiness make up for lyrics that posit that “good girls” who say no just actually want a man to “take” them?
You know where I come down on this? I don’t care how catchy it is. I don’t want to find myself in that “guilty pleasure” area that other feminist bloggers are finding themselves in. I’m lucky enough to not have heard the song yet, and while I can admit that I’m curious, I’m also unwilling to add one “View” to the YouTube video that so many people find offensive to women. I don’t think it’s worth me hearing the full song if it means he gets one more penny in royalties than he’s already making. Because what if I hate it? What if I decide that I would never want my money, any of it, going to this guy? If I get it on iTunes, I’m paying him. If I listen on Spotify, he gets…I dunno, a fraction of a cent? It might seem insignificant, but if millions of people listen “just to see what the hype is about,” that fraction adds up. I don’t tend to listen to the radio much, and I’m not really interested in changing my habits because of a guy who potentially argues for date rape.
They say that “no press is bad press.” Honestly, that’s how I feel about this. Regardless of whether or not I think the song I haven’t listened to is good or not, by encouraging people to watch the video “ironically” or in order to know what the problem they’re up against is, it’s adding views to this video, which the record companies are going to view as impressions and as encouragement. I work in marketing. I know how this works.
I just read an analysis of the Kayne West album “Yeezus” by four different female critics. They all agreed that many lyrics were extremely problematic, while at the same time expressing admiration for the musicality, the strength of the bass line, the pure joy of listening to a well-curated rap song.
Maybe it’s just me, but as someone who has never been able to separate lyrics from music, as someone who has always paid attention to the actual words being used, I have a hard time with glossing over lyrical misogyny in favor of a rockin’ tune.
I love rap as a genre. I think it’s an incredibly powerful form of self-expression. And in trying to educate myself about the history of rap, I have a very hard time continuing to listen to people who talk about women like we’re some lower species, only good to satisfy sensual needs. Political rap? Rap about social issues? I’m all over it. R&B about feelings, about being a person, about feeling like you are terrible but hoping someone will see you as wonderful–I love it. It’s the minute you go the easy route and shoot down women that you lose me, especially when at the same time you hold your mother up as some kind of saint figure. You realize she’s a woman too, and that when she was your age, men had the same attitude towards her that you do towards ladies? Have you heard of the Whore-Madonna Complex?
News flash: All women, including your mom, are just people with flaws and merits.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth about what to do with art that you love (guiltily or not) that happens to carry a message you don’t agree with. I feel this way about most Disney movies. These films posit heterosexual romance as the ultimate goal for women, never touch what happens beyond “getting the guy,” and often promote very problematic solutions to winning a man (transformation, a la “The Little Mermaid,” where she gains legs and literally loses her voice, or even in “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty”; Stockholm Syndrome in “Beauty and the Beast” (because the man keeping you from meeting anyone else and threatening you is actually a big softie inside), for example). I have loved Disney movies since childhood. I’ve made wonderful memories at Disneyland and Disney World. I know people who have worked for these organizations who still love them. I also know that there are some proto-fascist policies within these organizations, that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite who blackballed his voice actress from “Snow White” from working again because he wanted to preserve the fiction that Snow White was “real,” and that, honestly, he and I would not have gotten along if we had met. I certainly feel as though I operate in a strange space when I feel like watching “Pocahontas” (she and John Smith never had an overtly romantic relationship) or “Mulan” (at what point do we say, “This is trying to showcase another culture,” and at what point do we say, “This is racist”?).
This goes back to often feeling humorless as a feminist/LGBT person or ally/person of color or ally/person aware of ableism. All around you, people are saying, “It’s not that big a deal.” It’s not a big deal that Chris Brown is being celebrated once again, despite having brutalized a girlfriend who for some reason has gone back to him. It’s not a big deal that this artist says things that seem misogynistic, since he just had a daughter, so clearly he doesn’t mean it. It’s fiction, can’t you appreciate that? It’s a persona, can’t he get away with it?
I enjoy Eminem. I enjoy “South Park.” I enjoy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Family Guy,” most mainstream comedians, and a whole host of other “non-PC” media. I don’t think certain topics should be entirely off-topic for comics or for activists. I just don’t want to financially support what I know I’m going to viscerally disagree with. Even if I’m not buying the record but instead watching on YouTube. I trust other people who have looked at this and described it for me. I don’t need to hear or see this stuff to know it’s not for me. I don’t need to be put into this limbo position of enjoying elements but hating the overall message. I’m allowed to abstain.
So no, I don’t want to talk about how catchy this song or that song is despite its attitude to any given minority group. There’s plenty of music and art out there that doesn’t hate on anyone, and I’m more than happy to spend my lifetime consuming that and making my own, inclusive art. I just don’ t have time for your terrible media anymore.