Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blurred Morals

A month or two ago, driving alone on my evening out, I heard for the first time the new and catchy pop song penned by Robin Thicke.  I'm sure you know the song I'm talking's hard to miss it these days.  I couldn't understand a single lyric during that car radio rendition, but I was bopping around the driver's seat as I drove because the music was rhythmic and fun and upbeat.  I had no idea who sung the song, or even what it was called, until a day or two later when I clicked on a Jimmy Kimmel version of a song that people were posting all over YouTube.  It was called Blurred Lines.  Hearing it for the second time, I still understood virtually nothing of the lyrics (I'm a little slow in that department) and I thought it was a really cute song, especially when accompanied by a group of men playing children's instruments in that Kimmel version.

But I began to wonder a bit about it because the words that I did catch were "b*tch" and "I know you want it."  That prompted me to do a google search for the song's lyrics...and after that, I decided that, despite the catchy tune that still echoes through my head, I didn't want to be a party to that song any more.

To be honest, the lyrics struck two specific and different chords in me:

First, some of the lyrics just didn't make sense to me...and that bothers this English-loving, grammar-conscious, mostly-well-spoken woman.   For example, the first few lines say "...If you can't hear what I'm trying to say...Maybe I'm going deaf, Maybe I'm going blind, Maybe I'm out of my mind."  So, how does that make sense?  If you can't hear what I'm trying to say then maybe I'm going deaf or blind?  Huh?  Later on in the song, he repeats other lyrics that just don't make sense:  "...Can't let it get past me/You're far from plastic/Talk about getting blasted/etc..."  Again, huh?  Seriously, dude, it you're going to admit to writing lyrics, at least have them make sense.  Mr. Thicke has been very vocal of late in expressing how incredibly much money he has spent on mood altering drugs; I'm thinking that he would be wise to invest his money elsewhere because let's be frank, it's not just his mood that is being affected.

The second thing that bothered me quite a lot more was the more obvious (to anyone familiar with the lyrics) and controversial aspect of the song:  It's hard to imagine how the lyrics could be interpreted in any other way than the objectification of women and sex, and the paternalistic stereotyping of both.  It's just gross on this level, from my perspective.  It shocks me that we have, in so many respects, come so far in our society in the celebration of women and the pivotal role we play in society...and yet we allow ourselves to be subjected to popular song lyrics that throw all of that progress into the toilet.  Seriously.

For example:

"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,
Hey, hey, hey...."

Since when do I need someone to liberate me, and why would I be looking to a man to domesticate me (whatever that means)?  Do I not have a voice to be able to speak to these issues myself?  And if by animal, he is referring to women as sexual beings, well of course that's in our nature - it's part of God's creation of us, male and female.  And yet these lyrics make it seem as if our sexual nature is something animalistic (and thus, by implication, bad?), or something that needs liberating rather than an inherent part of who we are as women.  I don't get it.  And why on earth would the writer of these lyrics assume to be the man to know so much about me and what I, as a woman, want, and to assume that he should do the liberating?  There's also something annoying and demeaning about the juxtaposition of a woman as domesticated vs animalistic in nature.

How 'bout this lyrical treat?

"What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest b*tch in this place..."

Really?  It's still ok for men to be objectifying women like this, to be judging them this blatantly on their appearance, and it's still ok for a man (I refuse to call him an artist) to be celebrated for this kind of perspective?  And it's really ok for men to call women b*tches?  Have we not progressed at all beyond the 50's?

And then there are these oft-repeated treasures:

"I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
But you're a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty..."

Over and over we must hear the line "I know you want it, but you're a good girl..."  Assuming that 'it' refers to sex, in what way does wanting it in an appropriate context make me a bad girl?  And if I don't want it, then the answer's clearly a 'no' and there's nothing blurry about that either.  What on earth is blurred other than the songwriter's sense of appropriateness?

There are other lyrics that I find just as bad and worse and even more explicit - I shudder to think that society's children are listening to these words.  And let's not kid ourselves by thinking that the message of this song isn't subliminally sinking in!  Music has a huge influence on the culture of our day, and this song barely falls short of glorifying violence against women.

I have also heard that there is an unrated version of the video for this song in which the male singers are fully clothed and the accompanying models are topless (as in naked from the waist up) and essentially present for the amusement of the men.  Topless.  Present for the amusement of men.  I don't even have words to say how much this offends me.  How much longer do we have to wait for this kind of misogyny to be intolerable?

Who are we as a society that this song has become one of the longest running hits on billboard charts this year?  I get that it's a very, very catchy song - I was drawn in myself, until I began to understand and then read the lyrics.

Should this not concern parents of boys and young men who hear Mr. Thicke singing about something that sounds, at the very least, like the objectification of women and, at its worst, remarkably like an affirmation of non-consensual sex?  Should this not concerns parents of girls and young women, who are referred to as "bi*ches" and who are objectified throughout the song and about whom men are told to think that good girls really still do want sex regardless of what they say?  Hmm...doesn't sound much different from the definition of rape.

The fact that we as a society have brought honour to this song and wealth to its creator by jacking it up to the top of billboard charts, quite frankly says something about the blurred values and morals that we as a society live by despite our apparent progress.

We like so often to think that there are a lot of gray areas in society.  In our efforts not to offend anyone, we have come to believe that there's not really a right or wrong to be had and that it's all a matter of one's personal, private perspective.  Well, that's simply not true and the bottom line for me is this:  If the popularity of this song is an indication of the morality of our society; if the lines of our values are truly so blurred; if our view of women is really still so archaic and demeaning and offensive and paternalistic...I'm alarmed.  This is not ok.  There are no blurred lines here:  It's not ok.


  1. Yup. This is why I am perfectly happy to have my kids listen to only "kids" music. Forever. Like you, I do not always immediately catch what lyrics are saying and need to focus a lot on hearing anything more than the melody. I could do a long, long, rant about "today's music", but I won't. I want to, but I won't. I will instead, keep my kids' heads buried in Raffi; Peter, Paul & Mommy; Classical Kids; and other very, very, carefully selected "quality" music.

  2. Last night, I also found the video for his song (the sanitized one, where the women are [scantily] clothed). I'm not sure it was a good idea to watch because it made me boiling mad. I'm still simmering.

    So THAT's the 'clean' version that millions and millions of kids are watching?? Unbelievable. No wonder there are problems in society if this is what's being condoned. Though the women are somewhat clothed, there are a few shots where one is clearly naked and simply covering up her breasts, and other scenes where the bottom of her breasts are showing beneath her top. And the thought of a man looking at my daughter the way these men look at the women in the video makes me shudder - such leering looks assessing the worth of a body based only on appearance and gyrating hips.

    Come on women!! Is this all we're worth? Why are we letting men treat us this way, look at us this way and talk to us as if we're merely demeaned objects and worthy only of their indulged pleasure.

    Come on, men!! This isn't what it means to be a man either! Don't stand for this crap because it's how your daughters and girlfriends and wives and mothers are going to be treated.

    I just don't understand why our society as a whole accepts this kind of crap. I really don't. Why can't we have great, catchy tunes like this one where the words are also edifying and appropriate in both word choice and meaning.

    Sorry for the rant, caught me the morning after!


  3. Hey Ruth, you're making me glad that my radio is usually tuned to CBC (when it's not on some sports station!) and I'm not forced to listen to the kind of totally immature drivel that is much of pop music. The portrayal of women in pop culture is 99% awful, and it's so freaking pervasive that I don't know how we can avoid picking up those values/worldview. I guess we just trying to deconstruct it with our kids and introduce them to different ideas. And fortunately, we're not limited to kiddie music only... when I listen to Arcade Fire or Sarah Harmer or the Weakerthans or Imogen Heap... you get the point, there's many, many awesome bands out there that have so much more going on and who don't completely insult our intelligence. I'm so far from being a teenager that I hardly take note of what's going on in pop culture, but soon enough our kids will be there, in the "thicke" of it. So I'm glad you're mad and taking it on!

  4. There ARE many, many awesome bands out there that have faaaaar more going on! Thank goodness. Although I'm not a huge fan of the Weakerthans (though, granted, I don't know much of their music...but I admire their lead singer's incredibly square shoulders!!), I really like listening to Arcade Fire and Sarah Harmer (great picks for Canadian indie types and I loved, a few years back, when Arcade Fire performed "Wake Up" with David Bowie!). And when it comes to Imogen Heap, well, that's a whole 'nother story (even though she's not Canadian) - I think she has an amazing and utterly unique voice, her lyrics are usually pretty awesome, and the skill she brings to mixing her own stuff is incredible...I LOVE listening to her (songs like "You Know where to Find Me" and "First Train Home" to name a couple).

    It's gotta be embarrassing to a guy like Robin Thicke when he compares his own lyrics to those of someone like Imogen Heap. For example, just a few lines from her "Wait it Out:" (sung so beautifully)

    "Where do we go from here? How do we carry on?
    I can't get beyond the questions
    Clambering for the scraps in the shatter of us collapsed
    It cuts me with every could have been."

    etc etc

    Thanks Tammy...and feel free to suggest the names of other're waking up my music senses again with the refresher course on music I love!


  5. Oh, and I love all of the instruments that Arcade Fire travels around with - they're very talented!!


  6. Oh- don't even get me started on the way Miley Cyrus danced with Thicke at the VMA awards. DISGUSTING. THIS is what our children see? I think it is so sad that crass sexuality has become such a norm that singers like Miley and Rhianna keep going for more and more overt shock value to get attention. We listen to a lot of Gypsy Kings and Great Big Sea around here in an effort to shield them, but they certainly come home with stories from school. I just hope they have enough self assurance that they don't feel the need to objectify themselves to get attention but rather gain self worth based on their talent, kindness and personality. Unfortunately the discussions are already starting. My 4 year old asked me the other day if you have to have "big soft boobies" to be sexy. SHE's 4! Sigh.

  7. I'm not sure what came first the scantily dressed females in videos or the scantily dressed females at the mall. My friends of teenage boys used to complain all the time about how the girls dressed at dances. "Do their mothers see them leave?" As the mother of a teenage girl I had to answer "Yes, we do and you don't know how many hours and tears go into picking modest clothing that said daughter will change when she leaves the house." If I had to do it over I would have banned TV and homeschooled her from ages 10 to 16. I think the blurred lines are about putting girls portraying themselves as sexual beings when really they are not ready. The visual image gets the boys stirred up but get told No touching. As a man Mr. Thicke is complaining about this demand on his self control. It is pathetic.
    Music? It's all 70's and 80's for me! When "Wake Up Maggie" by Rod Stewart was considered terribly risque!

    1. Yeah, bring back the 70s and 80s music any day - totally agree...and yes, too funny about how Rod Stewart was considered 'on the edge!'

      Hugs, Missy!