Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ Is Sexist, But J.T.’s ‘Tunnel Vision’ Is Not?

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Robin Thicke is being called a sexist. ‘Blurred Lines’ is getting a lot of flack for the lyrics and nudity in the video. A lot of people feel like the lyrics promote date rape and coupled with the video, many feel like Robin Thicke is very sexist. I never thought the lyrics were about date rape and whether or not women, who presumably can think for themselves, collecting a pay check for showing their bodies is promoting sexism will always be an inconclusive and polarizing debate.

Let’s look at the lyrics for ‘Blurred Lines.

OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don’t need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker

To me, this sounds like, a woman’s boyfriend/husband wants her to be a housewife or servile type when really, she’s a bit of a free spirit and probably into kinky sex. Folks are up in arms because he says, “I know you want it,” over and over again and to some people that equates to rape? However, I would argue that in the context of the song and the rest of the chorus, you’d know that Robin wasn’t forcing himself on her.

I know you want it
I know you want it
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

If she is grabbing at him, then we can only assume she is a willing participant. The song never sounded to me like Robin was sexually assaulting anyone, so much as viscerally sexualizing a woman who has been denied that kind of attention from her current partner.  Then there’s the video.

The video to me plays up the tongue-in-cheek attitudes of the men who are acting as cat callers. Everything to me from the models eye contact with the camera, their playful behavior and the ridiculous hashtags tell me this video is supposed to be funny and not instructive. Even the music is sonically light hearted. T.I. dances for jebus’ sake. I read this as the women being cognizant and desirable and as the men sort of making fools of themselves to get their attention. Is ‘Blurred Lines’ sexist? I am not sure, it depends on what kind of lens you’re looking at it from and whether or not you think any woman who is naked is sexist.

Diane Martel, the female direct of ‘Blurred Lines’ told Grantland, “I wanted to deal with the misogynist, funny lyrics in a way where the girls were going to overpower the men. Look at Emily Ratajkowski’s [the brunette] performance; it’s very, very funny and subtly ridiculing. That’s what is fresh to me. 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.”

I agree with her analysis. It’s supposed to be funny, self-aware and embarrassing for the men.

Justin Timberlake’s ‘Tunnel Vision’ video is essentially a less good, supposedly more artsy version of the same idea. What’s interesting to me is that while Robin Thicke’s nude version of ‘Blurred Lines’ was immediately taken down from Youtube for being pornographic, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Tunnel Vision’ was allowed to stay on despite having the same amount of nudity.

A Youtube representative said of ‘Tunnel Vision,’ “While our guidelines generally prohibit nudity, we make exceptions when it is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context, and take care to add appropriate warnings and age restrictions.” So Robin Thicke’s video is porn and Justin Timberlake’s video is art?

First of all, ‘Tunnel Vision’ starts off with lyrics very similar to Robin Thicke’s, “I know you want it.”

I know you like it, I know you like it
I know you like it, I know you like it
I know you like it, I know you like it
I know you like it, I know you like it

WTF is the difference? In both cases the men are presuming that he knows what the woman wants more than she does.

I wrote a song for you, I wanna sing to you
But every time I’m close to you, the words wanna come out, but I forget
It’s so strong, it’s so strong, it’s so strong

I can’t deny it, and I won’t try it but I think that you know
I look around and everything I see is beautiful ’cause all I see is you
And I can’t deny it and I stand by it, and I won’t hide it anymore

The song can be read as Justin Timberlake pining for someone so much that they seem like the only woman in the room. However, it can also be read as the way men perceive women’s bodies: they objectify them. The songs use of naked female models dancing around in “mood lighting” only emphasizes this. In ‘Tunnel Vision’ Justin is confessing that he is objectifying a woman. It’s an admission that he is distracted by her appearance to the point where he can’t speak to her, which bears the implication that he can’t listen to her either. 

‘Tunnel Vision’ is about the male gaze and so is the video. The only difference between Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke’s songs is that Justin admits he is guilty of objectifying women, while Robin Thicke jokes about sexually liberating them. Does admitting that you are sexist or have misogynistic tendencies give you a free card to behave that way?

Now, personally, I don’t find either video to be offensive, however I think if the Blurred Lines’ lyrics and video are questionable then so are ‘Tunnel Vision’s.’ In both videos the women are nude but the men are not. In Justin’s video the women writhe and move more seductively than the women in Robin Thicke’s who have personality and who are allowed to respond or have a say in what’s happening around them. In ‘Tunnel Vision’ the women are there with the only purpose to be admired. They aren’t participating in the actions of the video so much as they are just there to be looked at. In my opinion, the women in ‘Blurred Lines’ have more freedom and autonomy than the women in ‘Tunnel Vision’ who are just beautiful bodies without minds, which is essentially objectification.

It should be noted that with all the accusations of Robin Thicke’s sexism, he has been saying some pretty obnoxious things. Recently he said this, which is a reasonable response, all things considered, “I can’t dignify that with a response/ That’s ridiculous … For me, it was about blurring the lines between men and women, and how much we’re the same. My wife is as strong as I am, if not smarter and stronger. And she’s an animal too, and she doesn’t need a man to define her. The song is really about women are everything that a man is, and can do anything a man can do.”

I do buy this interpretation because the video is about female sexuality. Yes, it’s about some horny dudes but it’s also about how a girl can feel confined by the good girl/bad girl (or the lady on streets/freak in the sheets) dichotomy of presenting herself as less sexual because that’s what we are taught to do and that’s what men want, when she is really a freak in the bed. However, of course this is all a male fantasy but to me it’s not all that degrading.

However before he said this about the video, Robin Thicke told GQ, “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, well there you have it. I personally believe that he just doesn’t understand the concept of the male gaze and what is degrading. Is Robin Thicke sexist? I am not sure. He seems to say whatever he needs to say at the time. In a men’s magazine he loves “degrading” women, when faced with criticism, it’s about sexual freedom. Is Justin Timberlake sexist? I have no idea, he seems to just be mimicking Robin Thicke’s aesthetic in a way he thinks is more high brow. Either way it is hard to determine the lines between pornography and art and sexual freedom and sexual objectification. What do you think?

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