The song ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke has provoked considerable controversy due to its supposedly misogynistic lyrics and music video. The University of Edinburgh’s student union, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), has gone as far as banning the playing of the song on any premises they control.
This is in spite (or because) of the song’s success. It has sold in excess of ten million copies worldwide and has topped charts in nine countries. It is also the longest-running number one of the 2010s in the US, topping charts for almost 13 weeks. It is now not far from being the longest-running number one of all time.
Thicke’s song has proved controversial due to its apparent objectification of women. The music video in particular (featuring naked models being molested by Thicke and his mates) has been accused of being based on crude misogyny.
Kirsty Haigh, EUSA Vice President of Services, explained to The Independent: “The decision to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ from our venues has been taken as it promotes an unhealthy attitude towards sex and consent. EUSA has a policy on zero tolerance towards sexual harassment, a policy to end lad culture on campus and a safe space policy – all of which this song violates.”
The ban is part of EUSA’s policy to “End Rape Culture and Lad Banter on Campus”. Established March last year, the policy seeks to fight “myths and stereotypes around sexual violence” and “misogynist views”. This is to be achieved through a combination of aggressive social pressure and censorship.
The specific targeting Blurred Lines over other similar songs seems arbitrary. For example, recent hit ‘Talk Dirty to Me’ by pseudo-rapper Jason Derulo, concerns how you can exploit women regardless of what language they speak, because “booty don’t need explaining”. The targeting of a particularly successful song suggests that this is more about posturing than results.
In fairness, Blurred Lines may have worrying overtones. The lines “I know you want it; I hate them lines” can apparently be read as an attack on a fixed, black & white understanding of sexual consent. This may not be the intent of the lyrics, but it remains possible that someone could interpret them as that.
According to the censoristas, hearing the song can inspire people to imitate what it may or may not endorse. This is akin to saying that listening to Prodigy causes you to commit arson or that Marilyn Manson is responsible for killing sprees. The idea that music determines one’s opinion of rape is ridiculous.
It is also unlikely that censorship will do much. EUSA controls venues located in four buildings in Edinburgh. They are unable to affect what other establishments play and have no control over what students have on their i-pods and computers. They also have no relevance outside of the university. The impact on the song’s airplay will be minimal.
EUSA have actually managed to increase the song’s publicity and, if anything, the ban will make it more, not less, attractive. The song now looks controversial and edgy, whilst EUSA look like unintelligent, puritan bullies. Precisely because overbearing moral crusaders tell people to do something, they will do the opposite.
If the aim was to alter cultural attitudes by making the song look unacceptable and out of step with moral opinion, then it has already failed. Censorship is never a good tactic. It will not achieve its goals, and it may severely damage the ends it was supposed to achieve. It is always better to employ non-coercive means.
Criticism, debate and ridicule are all superior tools. In this case, ridicule could have worked particularly well – the video is much more risible than it is offensive, and anyone who emulates smarmy Thicke’s effected swagger will never be in a position to commit date rape anyway. Instead, EUSA have decided that they prefer being figures of fun themselves.