Oh, Robin Thicke. I know the odds of you reading this are one in a million, but wherever you are, know that I’m shaking my head at you and sighing. Repeatedly.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve seen the controversy swirling around Thicke’s new music video for the song “Blurred Lines.” How it’s the most misogynistic video to emerge out of the swamp that is VH1 since the dawn of time immemorial, how “kind of rapey” it is, and my personal favorite headline on the subject, “Robin Thicke’s New Video Is Horrible, Misogynist Bullshit.”
But thanks to my awkward leave of absence from the world of American music videos, I didn’t actually get to view the video in its entirety until this morning.
And today, I’ve got 99 problems, and Robin Thicke is all of them.
Let’s not talk about how irritatingly catchy the song is, because that’s not the point. The point here is, we have four and a half minutes of three fully clothed men following at least half a dozen women dressed in white plastic and flesh-colored thongs around, whispering in their ear, rubbing their faces against their feet, and murmuring repeatedly, “you know you want it.” There may or may not be a repeated segment with one of the women twirling around a rope of sausages like an Indiana Jones whip.
The scary part? This is in the VH1 version. There’s an unrated version.
What? Is this real life?
Now, anyone who has ever even toyed with the idea of being a feminist (and for the record, anyone who can pass this simple test pretty much is a feminist, whatever you call yourself) can see what the problem with this video is. I don’t know if I need to say it, but I will, for the sake of being thorough.
Showing three-quarters-naked women in plastic wrap riding bicycles backwards and basically humping a giant stuffed dog is not art. This is soft-core porn. Not even that soft, really. It’s another excuse to take women’s clothes off and look at them like sex toys, and anyone who thinks that this is breaking any new ground in music videos is not paying attention. But it’s a shock when an artist is just so blatant about it.
The source of the other 98 problems I’m having with Robin Thicke at the moment stem from his response to accusations of misogyny, sexism, and implied rape in his video. (For the record: if you have to say “you know you want it” eighteen times in the same song, she doesn’t want it. And if you take it, that’s rape.) Let’s look at the slap in the face that Thicke seems to think is an appropriate response to these claims:
“The idea was when we made this song, we had nothing but the most respect for women… We had no idea that it would stir this much controversy. We only had the best intentions.”
“I think that’s what great art does — it’s supposed to stir conversation, it’s supposed to make us talk about what’s important and what the relationships between men and women are. If you listen to the lyrics, it says, ‘That man is not your maker.’ It’s actually a feminist movement within itself. It’s saying that women and men are equals as animals and as power. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good girl or a bad girl, you can still have a good time.”
Let’s repeat that last bit in bold italics for the sake of clarity.
“It’s actually a feminist movement within itself. It’s saying that women and men are equals as animals and as power.”
Sorry, but no. It’s actually not saying that.
What it’s saying is that women’s power comes from the ability to stimulate desire in men, and men’s power comes from being able to seize that desire. Especially if that desire comes coated in plastic and rides a bicycle in place for no particular reason.
The video’s director, Diane Martel (oh my God this video was directed by a woman), has this to say defending her “work of art” against those overly sensitive people who think this is degrading to women:
“I wanted to deal with the misogynist, funny lyrics in a way where the girls were going to overpower the men… It also forces the men to feel playful and not at all like predators. I directed the girls to look into the camera, this is very intentional and they do it most of the time; they are in the power position. I don’t think the video is sexist. The lyrics are ridiculous, the guys are silly as fuck. That said, I respect women who are watching out for negative images in pop culture and who find the nudity offensive, but I find [the video] meta and playful.”
You know what would put women in power? Possibly not treating them like sex objects or having them play with strands of sausages while sticking their tongues out.
The biggest problem here is this. Okay, let’s take Thicke and Martel at their words that this is supposed to be some kind of feminist statement. Hang with me here. If this is supposed to be ironic and playful and tongue-in-cheek, I literally cannot think of a worse way to go about it. Here’s what I imagine the thought process would be like in such a meeting:
“You know how women are constantly being objectified and over-sexualized in the media?”
“Yeah, you know what, I’ve noticed that.”
“You know what would be a good way to draw attention to that and flip the power dynamics set up by patriarchy?”
“…Let the women dominate the men? Or maybe do a video that’s not about someone trying to force sex out of someone else, because that not only reinforces the fact that women are only good for giving men pleasure but also helps contribute to rape culture?”
“No, silly! Make the women even more objectified and over-sexualized! People will totally tell that we’re being ironic and socially aware when we give them exactly what they’ve been told they want to the nth degree, right?”
“You’re a genius! Clearly this is why you work in Hollywood!”
I exaggerate, but only slightly.
If treating women like walking, not-talking sexual objects ripe for the taking by any man who can whisper suggestive comments in their ear for five minutes straight is a feminist movement, then I think I need to get myself a new mission in life. Fortunately, I don’t think feminism will take this bait and welcome Robin Thicke with open arms.
No matter how many times he tells us that “we know we want to.”