This is the first post in a three-part series related to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” song and video.

Robin Thicke’s #Blurred Lines the catchy, infectious, runaway hit of the summer, has become inescapable, infiltrating our cars, our gyms, our television programs, and just about any context in which either clueless or thoughtful people discuss popular culture.


Unrated version:

Edited version:

The song has been criticized for being “rapey,” with its “I hate these blurred lines…I-know-you-want-it/But you’re a goooood girrrrrrrl” chorus and individual lines that make creepy promises worse than that:  “I’m a nice guy but don’t get it confused, you getting it,” or “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two,” for example. (These lines are delivered quickly, in the T.I. part of the song).

Fans would say this last line is a joke, it’s hyperbolic, so relax!  But this is not a parody video, it is the original, and it is now part of our mainstream culture. As Jean Kilbourne and others have taught us throughout the decades, these lines are never isolated jokes – they exist in a social context, and they take their power from it. In her book Vagina, Naomi Wolf (2012, p. 216) reports that at “a liberal, anything-goes Massachusetts state college—after a discussion focused on the campus culture of drunken anonymous sex, colloquially called “hooking up” – an anguished student health counselor stood up and asked me what I could do to help her with a terrible problem she was seeing: the number one medical issue young women presented in her clinic was, I was amazed to learn, anal fissures.”

Wolf goes on to say these female students reported that the “men on campus expected that kind of sex because of porn.” She then reports she had the same experience at a “buttoned-down, highly religious Mormon university in the Midwest, but this time anal sex was used to allow girls to ‘maintain their virginity until marriage.’” So T.I.’s promise actually resembles the lived experiences of the aforementioned college students, and that’s why we should talk about these kinds of representations with young people. They deserve to know where such ideas come from, and who they privilege and harm.

Thicke says the song empowers women with lines like “that man is not your maker” and its intent is to liberate women, presumably from their sexual inhibitions.  He also says he doesn’t understand the backlash given the fact that his wife, whom he’s loved since he was a teenager, gave him some of the ideas for the video. Obviously this is silly logic, but it is used habitually to help people get out of tight cultural situations involving historically under-represented or under-respected people – (e.g.,  “a black person said it, it’s not racist,” or “a woman said it, it’s not sexist").  On this topic, the lines are clear, women are just as capable as men of being sexist. And the between-the-lines defense of “I’m not really that guy, give me a break” doesn’t hold water either. From the safety of your happy marriage, you objectify and speak in rapey tones to young women, even though that’s not really you? Hmmm, does that make the implications of your song and video better, or worse? 

The song has prompted all manner of responses, in part because of its manifest content, in part because Thicke literally claimed that the makers of the song were “empowering women,”* and most recently, of course, due to Miley Cyrus’s graphic performance of it with Thicke at the #VMA2013. In the next couple of days, I’ll focus specifically on two responses. The videos I’ve selected represent radically different philosophies of feminism and cultural criticism, and illuminate the problematic elements of the light and cheesy-sounding song in their own stylized and parodic ways.

* Here’s a link to Thicke’s interview on The View, a shamelessly positive celebration of him and the song:

Coming Soon … Part 2, a gender-bending parody of “Blurred Lines…”