I know you’ve heard this song, whether you realize it or not. It’s been at the top of the charts all summer and I will admit it is pretty catchy. I’ve even sung along with it without even realizing what it was about. And then this article caught my eye: “Blurred Lines,’ Robin Thicke’s Summer Anthem, Is Kind of Rapey.”
Wait…..WHAT? What exactly was I singing along with? So I googled the video. And then I googled the uncut video. And then I got pissed. There was so much that annoyed me; the fully dressed men telling the naked women how much they “wanted it” as well as the the innuendo regarding rape, drugs and even bestiality. But the pomposity of this Robin Thicke…. a man so full of himself he feels the need to spell out in balloons just how well he is endowed, grossed me out the most. He is the embodiment of that sleazeball who tries to sneak up and dance behind you and your girlfriends in the club.
I have been struggling in my mind all week trying to nail down some sentiments on this. Turns out, one of the ministers at my church, Reverend Nathan Ryan of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, had just offered a reflection on it last week. I am sorry I missed it, because boy, it would have been timely. But he was kind enough to email it o me tonight after I posted an article about the song on Facebook. Nathan perfectly sums up what is wrong with the song, the attitude and the acceptance of such attitudes about women and sex.
Nathan has graciously agreed to allow me to share it on my blog. Thank you Nathan. You are yet another reason I know I am in the right place and among the right people at UCBR.
Here is the full context:
Blurred Lines Reflection
by Reverend Nathan Ryan
I tried every different way to not write a reflection on this song. I saw that the Macklemore song, Same Love, was number 10, that’s the song we used at the Pride Service in June, and I toyed with choosing that one.
When I talked with Steve about the song I picked he asked me if I was sure that I wanted to take that on. Maybe I should have listened to him. I met with the youth last week to ask which pop songs they found challenging. They had a lot of good answers, but I didn’t heed their advice.
I asked Facebook if they could find anything redeeming about this song. Most of the responses were “It’s fun to dance to” and “If you can ignore the words it’s a fun song to sing.”
So to start with, this song is the number one song on most charts right now, and officially the song of the summer, whatever that means It is called Blurred Lings and by the artist Robin Thicke. He is the son of Growing Pains actor Allen Thicke, but I digress. So that you are more familiar with the song, here is the intro.
If you notice, there are no words. That is because I had a hard time finding words that were appropriate to share. Some of the more timid lyrics include “You’re a good girl, can’t let you get past me, you’re far from plastic, I hate these blurred lines. I know you want it.” It continues on for quite a while essentially telling the woman that because she is attractive, she should want to have sex with the singer.
The real challenge for me in this song is not that it is overly explicit. It isn’t. It’s not that it describes an overly shocking or vulgar view of women. Its misogyny is just subtle enough to allow it onto the Today Show, and commercials, and into our day-to-day lives. And maybe that is the part of the song that I find the most offensive – that it is reflective of where we are as a culture – that it reflects how our commercials and media and art make women two dimensional flat characters, how it tells women that their value is based on their looks.
This song has been widely criticized. The song tells women what they want and comes close to advocating forcing it onto them. In no way does this represent a consensual interaction between genders. It casts women as the objects of a male-centric desire. It certainly is not the description of a healthy relationship like those we teach in OWL, our comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.
I want you to hear loud and clear from this pulpit that no woman, or man, should be treated or spoken about as is done in this song. This song taps into a part of our culture that is not holistic or healthy. It is a highly commercialized, refined processed down pop music designed to sell the status quo.
This years theme isn’t “Whats wrong with the world” or “Tell us things to be unhappy with” or “listen to Nathan rant about the failings of popular culture.” It is “Going Deeper.” It means exploring questions like: If this song is so bad, why is it number 1 on the charts? Why talk about it here? What is the religious challenge of this song?
I don’t believe in a secular world that is separate from the religious world. I believe that both cultures work off of each other. I decided to reflect on this song because it is challenging.
A church and a religion worth its salt doesn’t just focus on the good in the world, or it doesn’t just condemn the bad, but it takes it all in. It would be easy for us to preach each week about how to see the world as good and its flaws as something like “part of God’s plan.” We could tell you that everything will be ok, but we will have failed you when you get that life altering diagnosis, or when someone you love dies.
If we don’t give you the tools to go into the world Monday through Saturday, if we don’t equip you to look at the world from a religiously holistic perspective, we aren’t doing our job. And this song right now is all over our world.
The creator of the song, Robin Thicke,was asked about this before a performance on the Today show. He defended his song as fun and playful. He said “For us we were just trying to make a funny song. Sometimes the lyrics can get misconstrued when you are trying to put people on the dance floor.”
He then continues to say “that’s what great art does. It stirs conversation its supposed to make us talk about what’s important, what are the relationship between men and women. If you listen to the lyric, it says, that man is not your maker. It’s actually a feminist movement. It’s saying that women and men are equals. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a good girl or a bad girl, you can still have a good time.”
It’s going to be hard for me to ever stretch my definition of feminism or equal rights to encompass this male view of women. But he does bring up two good points. First, this song illustrates animportant value to religious progressives – freedom. When he says that man is not your maker, he is saying – and yes I’ll ask you to ignore the hypocrisy of a man telling a woman this – that a woman should be who she is, and not because a man wants her to be that way. Second, this song is saying that we need blurred lines between what it means to be good and bad.
Last week in New Orleans I was trying to describe to some youth the flawed mathematical formula for good and bad. Do you know this formula?
You take the positives and subtract the negatives and find out your total moral equivalency. Take this song: This song is fun, and danceable, and has a good beat and gets stuck in your head. Lets put those on the positive side of the ledger. It is degrading, simple, musically generic. When you total that, depending on the weight you give to each of those issues, you might get a positive two or a negative three on the song’s morality.
But that math formula does not work for Unitarian Universalism, and going deeper illustrates that. No person is entirely good or bad. No person should be stuck in a box. It ignores their humanness, their complexity. We rob each other when we distill people to good and bad, black or white, man or woman.
That is the blurred line of this song. Goods and bads don’t negate each other. Both exist at the same time. This song is both fun to dance to, and it is degrading to women and I’ll add men. The challenge of this song is to see people as both good and bad, to define them neither entirely by their sins nor by their greatness, to see them as fully human.
So if you enjoy this song, great, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it is also degrading and dehumanizing. Both of those realities are alive in this song. And we are spiritually strong enough creatures to have both of those realities live at the same time.
Now, if you want a good laugh and apt comparison, check out the parody of the video here: