Blurred Lines

This 4th of July, after eating a good amount of brisket and rosé and layer cake, I felt too full to write but awake enough to click through vapid entertainment news headlines. These Hollywood stories have largely devolved into something even dumber than stories on the rich and beautiful—re-posting famous Tweets. The Tweet gaining traction (trending? ugh) that night was from @jtimberlake, sharing the music video for his new single, “Tunnel Vision.”

“Be ready, it’s explicit,” the Tweet warned before the link. Back in my day, Britney Spears dancing kind-of suggestively in a schoolgirl outfit caused a Bible-shaking uproar, so what exactly is passing for explicit in the music summer of 2013?

britney-spears-hit-me-baby-one-more-time-video-GC
HIDE YO WIFE, HIDE YO KIDS!!

Apparently, “explicit” is now “completely naked.” And no, not the thong-and- bikini-top naked of the quaint millennial hip-hop video. Full-frontal, YouTube-barred, Greek-statue naked.

The women, at least. The men are still impeccably dressed from head to toe.

o-JUSTIN-TIMBERLAKE-TUNNEL-VISION-ARTWORK-570
Noseboob. I’m so confused.

Video available at: http://vevo.ly/Nyk5Nu

Justin’s video is seven minutes of monochrome shots with art-snob lighting, cut between a button-up shirt and tee-clad Justin Timberlake, shuffling around white space, and immaculately-sculpted solo model/dancers. The women, only wearing the teensiest of G-strings, writhe in slo-mo and fog, doing that Victoria’s Secret model pose where they cover their nipples with their elbows as the wind machine sends their long hair billowing back.

So, this is a thing? I wondered, and a quick click over to Google News let me be the last to know that Robin Thicke kicked off The Summer of Nipples with his video for “Blurred Lines,” also banned from YouTube still running on Vevo. This song has been playing incessantly every time I get in my car, and it has joined Taylor Swift’s “Trouble” and Fun’s “Some Nights” on the Lists of Songs I Will Turn the Station or Leave The Muzak-Piping Store To Escape. I know you can’t listen to any pop music without swallowing a thick dose of misogyny, but Thicke’s lyrics are what I like to call “kind of rapey.”

I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

It seems uncomfortable; a man insisting that he knows a woman he’s ogling in a club wants to jump his bones in the bathroom. Being so cavalier about blurred lines when politicians are trying every dirty trick in the book to eliminate a woman’s jurisdiction over her own body also leaves a bad, Axe Body Spray-like taste in my mouth. “But it’s got a fun beat!” is the common defense. And I can’t even line-dance, let alone cut loose, so I just shrug and don’t add it to my iTunes library.

Video available at: http://vevo.ly/W0OCcA

The video, however, makes it even worse. Thicke and “Featuring” credits Pharrell and T.I., strut against a sparse set in dapper suits as three naked models walk in circles, bite their lips, and hump a taxadermied dog. The men grab and grope at will, as the women stare directly into the camera lens, tugging on a strand of hair and licking their lips. At one point a woman stands idly by in front of a silver balloon arrangement that informs us “Robin Thicke Has a Big Dick.”

klassy
Gift tag to women: You’re welcome. Sincerely, God.

Although Justin Timberlake keeps his hands to himself, the inexplicably nude women are still spreading in front of the spelled out lyric “You know you like it” while Timberlake’s face is projected onto their stomachs and chests. Thicke and his ilk may be less arty and more blatant, but the message is the same spelled out or subliminal: You’re mine, bitch.

It’s too one-sided to be funny, and lacks the eroticism to be powerful. Women’s bodies, in all shades and sizes, are beautiful. It is not shame that makes me object to these videos. What makes me queasy is who is in charge here. The men are singing and wearing the designer, powerful clothes. The women own nothing about themselves. Their beauty exists to satisfy the men’s egos and cravings. The naked women are in a constant state of vulnerability and availability. “I’m just standing here on this set. Come grab me.”

“You know I want it.”

And this objection to objectification might make me sound like a prude. Like someone who can’t understand art. Like someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in her own skin and has a case of sour grapes. But then Thicke comes out in defense of his product, telling GQ (yeah, this just keeps getting better) that “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.’”
And I don’t feel like the oversensitive cynic anymore. It’s our culture that is antiquated, unable to embrace what real sexuality and bodies and confidence look like. And for this fresh not-on-TV MTV generation, it’s the same smoke signal bullshit we’ve been seeing and hearing for decades. Now with hashtags.

6 thoughts on “Blurred Lines

  1. The problem is even if they are lampooning hypersexualization, they’re not doing it in enough of a ludricrous way. Most people will not get the joke. Then it just becomes another music video putting women down. The director is an idiot. Women in a position of power? They’re being groped. They’re naked. The lyrics are “rapey.” The singer himself said it’s degrading. She’s part of the mass of women who’ve been fooled into supporting their own subjugation. Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset. Anyone seen that Southpark episode? Hits the nail on the head for this subject.

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  2. In keeping with the theme and if you want to see someone do this lampooning right, I am still a huge fan of Reggie Watts — “Fuck Shit Stack” (http://vimeo.com/13897452), where he pretty much makes a clear caricature of some forms of rap/hip-hop music with its vulgar text, violence, glorification of materialism, and hyper-sexualized images of women in their videos (at 2:03). . . and he does this while being grammatically, culturally, and comically on point.

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  3. Interesting…I have yet to watch the Timberlake video, but I have seen parts of the Thicke one (on an iPhone) and my initial impression was that he was making fun of hyper-sexualized, “sort of rapey” videos. It’s just TOO ridiculous to believe; I’m going to re-watch it with your essay in mind.

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