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Robin Thicke and self-entitled creepiness

So, I’m not what you’d call a regular listener to radio. I did, however, encounter Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” when it came out – and found it not only a repulsive song, musically, but also morally. I think we should care about what goes into our creative endeavours, but maybe I’m just a crazy person.

Anyway, with the release of his new song and album, his put his creepy factor into a new gear. I was not impressed; and hate the normalisation of viewing women’s rejection as some kind of game or challenge. I wrote more about it over at The Daily Beast.

Comments

  1. Gerard O says

    Robin decided to have a Q&A on Twitter a few days ago using the hashtag #AskThicke, and as you’d expect got absolutely hammered. Well worth a look in case you missed it.

  2. Edward Gemmer says

    Criticism of art is one thing – not a huge fan of trying to make personal attacks against the creator of said art. It’s difficult to do based on some of the personal stuff alluded to in the song, but still, it’s an easy line to cross and once one does they start saying all sorts of ignorant things.

  3. m0fa says

    A bad pop song is not a crime. I just down loaded the lyrics, had a look…I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. The lyrics are tame, no worse than your typical piece of pop crap coming out of America. So called ‘gangsta rappers’ have far worse lyrics to their songs.
    A far more obvious sexist song is ‘All Men Are Pigs’ by Studio Killers…I don’t know if the members of this band are male or female…it doesn’t matter, it is still a sexist song but not worthy of criticism (apparently) because it is sexist towards males. Back to Thicke’s piece of crap…tell me which lines are unacceptable…he repeats “I know you want it” 2 dozen times…it that his crime!??! Plenty of artists have sung those types of lyrics before Thicke…Robert Plant, Jimmy Hendrick, Mick Jagger etc. He also uses the word ‘bitch’…oooh we are going to have to put some soap on Mr Thicke’s tongue.

  4. says

    Would you say that “no means no” should be a general principle or do you consider this situation (romantic or sexual etc.) to be a special case, if so, why? Obviously we must respect the other person’s decisions but if that is taken that no attempts to change someone’s mind are acceptable then what does that say about salesmen trying to convince a customer to purchase something? Or about trying to get a friend to do some activity together?

  5. John Horstman says

    Obviously we must respect the other person’s decisions but if that is taken that no attempts to change someone’s mind are acceptable then what does that say about salesmen trying to convince a customer to purchase something? Or about trying to get a friend to do some activity together? [emphasis added]

    I’ve mentioned this a number of times in discussions of rape culture, positioning it as an intersection of misogyny and hostility to female sexuality/sexual agency with a larger cultural problem that celebrates exploitation. We see it with capitalism, positioning ultimate “success” as owning (the right) stuff so you can make money from other people’s work without working yourself, we see it with a greater concern for marginal gains in convenience that are damaging the planet’s ability to sustain us, we see it in every enactment of our hyperindividualism (thanks to historical Liberalism and contemporary Neoliberalism) that treats individuals as abstracted agents instead of contextualized people with social positions and relationships and effects on our environments and other people.

    Basically, that salesperson trying to convince you to buy something you don’t want (and our advertising these days is far, far worse on this count than the pressure plied by salespeople in person) is engaging in the exact same kind of behavior, and it is similarly unethical. So are your friends, if they do that, and if it’s common for them to refuse to take your preferences at face value, consider that they might not actually be very good friends. Possibly they’re not very good people at all. This isn’t to say that trying to change someone’s mind is never an acceptable course, but that it is always ethically problematic to some degree. The degree often depends on the kinds of persuasion employed, the (contextual) power disparity between the people involved, and any number of other contextual factors. When we’re engaging with peers, especially friends – with whom we’re unlikely to have a serious power disparity and who clearly are concerned for our well-beings – something like an, “Are you sure?” following a refusal of some social event is unlikely to be especially problematic. Asking fifty times, every single time one refuses an offer, is a much more serious issue.

    Perhaps in a given case, there are other ethical considerations that outweigh the attempt to override someone’s agency – I would argue that religious belief falls into this category. The harm caused by religious belief is bad enough to warrant imposing on the agency of other people in minimal ways. Sexuality isn’t really a SPECIAL case (or not more special than any other specific class of cases), it’s just a case that has a number of contextual considerations that can’t be universalized to all cases (but are shared with some others). The big one* is that it involves, necessarily, transgressions of bodily autonomy – anything where you’re engaging with someone else’s body does so. When these transgressions are not consensual, they are violations. Consider the difference between getting stabbed in the arm with a large needle by a stranger on the street and getting stabbed in the arm by a doctor in order to receive a shot you have requested, or the difference between being indoors when you want for shelter and being indoors when you don’t want becasue you are incarcerated. Both these examples include transgressions of bodily agency (the first is a transgression of bodily integrity and the second is a transgression of bodily autonomy in the form of the restriction of freedom of movement), and assault and unlawful imprisonment are both considered rather serious crimes, certainly far worse than false advertising (lying in a particular commercial form of persuasion, when lying in the course of persuasion and commercial persuasion are not generally illegal), largely on that basis. Of course, the fact that there are much worse ways to violate someone’s agency than plying coercive social pressure doesn’t suddenly make that behavior unproblematic; I’m only expanding on this to point out why sexual interactions aren’t different than other cases in that all cases depend on their particular contexts.

    At any rate, the short version is that trying to persuade people is indeed always wrong, it just may be less wrong than the possible alternatives, and it’s probably less wrong than violating someone’s bodily integrity or autonomy. I seriously doubt there has even been an ethical question that didn’t involve some competing interests and therefore competing ethical principles; almost nothing that actually happens in the real world (as opposed to context-free abstract thought experiments) is going to be able to be neatly addressed by some absolute, universal rule (e.g. the exceptions to ideas like “never lie” or “never kill” should be obvious to anybody who bothers to give them five minutes of serious critical thought).

    *The other big one is the degree to which we insist on constructing and essentializing sexuality as a SUPER IMPORTANT aspect of identity, social position, and normative behavior. Nobody gets than bent out of shape if someone is pressuring them to go on a bike ride (though it can easily become harassment if it’s repeated over and over), and likewise no one is that insistent about getting one to go on a bike ride. When is the last time someone forcibly held someone else on a bike and made zir pedal or drugged someone to make zir easier to coerce into riding bikes when ze didn’t want to do so?

  6. John Horstman says

    @m0fa #4: You can’t have anti-male “sexism” in mainstream American culture, becasue men are not disempowered as a class on the basis of maleness. “Sexism” (and racism, heterosexism, classism, etc.) describes SYSTEMIC norms of marginalization or oppression based on gender (be that biological, social, self-identified, perceived, whatever); it’s entirely possible to have anti-male bigotry (of which that song may be an example), but unless that becomes normalized and institutionalized, it’s not sexism.

  7. Josephus brown says

    @4:
    Also, “blurred lines” was on every radio station, but I’ve never even heard of that band you named.

  8. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    mofa @ 4

    A far more obvious sexist song is ‘All Men Are Pigs’ by Studio Killers…I don’t know if the members of this band are male or female…it doesn’t matter, it is still a sexist song but not worthy of criticism (apparently) because it is sexist towards males.

    It’s an obscure song by an obscure group that gets (I’m going to hazard a guess here) roughly zero top 40 radio play. You’re not going to see Studio Killers performing at major awards shows, being interviewed on mainstream television etc. Nobody is criticizing them because nobody has even heard of them, much less praised them.

    And they don’t have a sexist culture reinforcing the ideas in that song which, if you look at the lyrics, is barely even coherent. It’s anomalous. It doesn’t even begin to approach being representative of views held by society at large.

    TL;DR: false equivalence.

    Back to Thicke’s piece of crap…tell me which lines are unacceptable…he repeats “I know you want it” 2 dozen times…it that his crime!??!

    In response to being told that by the fictional woman the song is about that she doesn’t, in fact, want it? Sounds pretty unacceptable to me, if not actually illegal.

    Plenty of artists have sung those types of lyrics before Thicke…Robert Plant, Jimmy Hendrick, Mick Jagger etc.

    This has what exactly to do with the price of tea in China?

  9. AMM says

    I can’t believe people are actually debating whether it’s okay to try to “get her to change her mind.” It should be obvious that it’s (a) counterproductive and (b) — well, to call it unethical is like saying rape-murder is “naughty.”

    If your SO — or even just a friend — breaks up with you, there’s no “getting them to change their mind” at that point. None. Regardless of what led up to the break-up, by that point, it’s irreperable. (“He’s dead, Jim.”)

    Once things have gotten to the point that the other person says “we’re through,” any attempt to get them to change their mind is just additional evidence that they were right to break up with you. Especially if your “attempts” consist of saying how much you want them and how you know you’ll get them back anyway — that’s downright threatening. If you’re a man saying this stuff to a woman, she’s going to be wondering if you’re going to break into her house some night and kidnap or kill her.

    I actually think Robin Thicke knows this. I don’t think he expects to “get her back” with his creepy songs. The songs are just his way of harrassing and humiliating her for having the nerve to not do what he wants her to do; rather like revenge porn.

  10. sinned34 says

    I like the song, but not the creepy “what i got you gotta get and put it in you” lyrics. Thankfully, Weird Al has a parody of it called Word Crimes, and now I can listen to the song and laugh instead of being disgusted by rape culture.

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