“Everybody get up now”
It’s the song that polarised the world. One group who fell absolutely in love, and the other group who fell absolutely in hate. But it also sparked another feeling – a feeling that victims of sexual assault would much rather forget. This song was Blurred Lines. Sung by Robin Thicke, it reached Number One in many countries around the world, including Australia. The song was paramount in highlighting rape culture and misogyny within society. Now one year on, we look back at the impact of Blurred Lines on popular culture, and if there was any change at all.
“I hate these blurred lines… I know you want it”
To analyse the effect that Blurred Lines had on rape culture, it is important to first understand the lyrics. Mohadesa Najumi, writer for “The Feminist Wire” defines it as such:
“Rape culture is the condoning and normalizing of physical, emotional and sexual terrorism against women and girls and marginalized subjects. It is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable.” (June 9, 2013).
It is fair enough to say that we live within this rape culture. The rate of sexual assault in Australia is double the global average, with 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 20 men sexually assaulted. Furthermore, these crimes often go unpunished. Only 1 in 6 victims report their sexual assault to the police. If sentenced, the average jail time for these perpetrators is 5 years. In feminist discourse, there is an assumption that rape is committed as a result of enforced masculinity and defined gender roles within the active/passive stereotype. This is where Mr Thicke comes in.
“Nothing like your last guy, he’s too square for you/He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that”
Blurred Lines was conceived as a party track by Thicke and Pharrell, both experiencing a slump in their careers. Phonically, the track is laden with percussive beats and has an infectious groove, oozing with Pharrell’s signature production. As you delve deeper, however, the problem is revealed. Thicke stated in his interview with the BBC, “We started acting like we were two old men on a porch hollering at girls like, ‘Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!’”… “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections and everything that is completely derogatory toward women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’ So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, ‘Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”
When asked by the BBC about his new Number One being donned as a rape anthem: Thicke answered, “Yeah I think they should all – I mean, I can’t dignify that with a response, that’s ridiculous.”
“I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two”
Listening to the song, the sexism is almost as obvious as the boobs in the music video. Three beautiful models stare into the camera while three 40-year olds ogle and sing about sexual dominance. The “traditional” roles of male and female are heavily defined as the musicians “catcall”, while models dance with vacant expressions on their faces; solely for the benefit of the men. How did the world miss the song’s intention, which is now so glaringly obvious? Why was it Robin Thicke’s intention to degrade women, and objectify them in such a way that made it uncomfortable? Have we been so desensitised to sex that it took one lone blogger to highlight the offending lyrics? These questions cannot be answered unfortunately. However, despite this desensitisation to sexual violence, there have also been some positives in light of this decade’s most controversial song.
“He was close, tried to domesticate you/but you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature”
In the aftermath of Blurred Lines however, not much has changed. We still consume such sexismon an almost daily basis through film, TV, music and other marketing. But, we’re much more aware. At times, we even try to limit this consumption. For example, numerous universities in the UK have outright banned the song from their social events – a move criticised by Thicke himself. Our awareness of rape culture and sexual assault has also been highlighted by the numerous anecdotes and picture stories that have flooded the internet since April 2013. Here, survivors talk about their experiences for the world, contrasting the “playful” nature of Blurred Lines. While we do live in a rape culture, Blurred Lines has brought on a new generation of overt critics who respond against such misogynistic attitudes in a clear and direct way, and will continue to do so. .