Wallace Wylie

‘Blurred Lines’ and the Banality of Male Sexuality

‘Blurred Lines’ and the Banality of Male Sexuality
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By Wallace Wylie

I’m going to be honest here, I initially tried to ignore the criticisms of ‘Blurred Lines’. After ‘Get Lucky’ I was hungry for another pop smash and ‘Blurred Lines’ seemed to fit the bill. Then I picked up on the rumblings of discontent. According to one commentator the song was “kind of rapey” and played around with ideas of consent. After a few listens I couldn’t deny the song’s inherent creepiness, yet it seemed to me that deciding whether or not the song was an endorsement of rape (I don’t think it is) was not the only thing up for discussion. As far as I can see, the song seems to revel in some very dubious and also thoroughly predictable elements of male sexuality, and worst of all it does so with an unshakable sense of self-assurance.

Some people may question why anyone would be upset in the first place. Didn’t Odd Future build their career with songs about rape? Yes, but there’s a vital difference. Odd Future knew they were courting controversy. It was part of their appeal. Same with an artist like G.G. Allin. His intent was to shock. Robin Thicke seemed totally unprepared for any criticisms of ‘Blurred Lines’. It didn’t even occur to him that anybody would be upset. He genuinely believes the song is sexy. Say what you will about someone like Eazy-E but I’m betting he didn’t pen ‘Nutz On Ya Chin’ because he thought it would bring a little romance to the evening. Part of the problem with ‘Blurred Lines’ is that it unquestioningly accepts its own worldview. It doesn’t think it’s controversial. The song overflows with the confidence of the straight male who is perfectly secure with his place in the world. Yet in doing so it betrays a narrow-minded, regressive, and unimaginative idea of human sexuality.

First off, the lyrics are not sexy. Not in any way, shape, or form. Thicke’s idea of sexiness is getting “blasted” and smoking some weed. We already have a problem. Here is a song that thinks it’s ‘Kiss’ by Prince but is in fact ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk’ by Jimmy Buffett. Why exactly does Thicke want his lady friend to get wasted? So she can lose her inhibitions. So she can let go of the “good girl” that stops her from truly enjoying sex and tap into her inner animal. So basically Robin Thicke’s sexy, playful song is about taking a “good girl”, getting her drunk/high, and then fucking her. No mention of the pleasures she will receive. Nothing about 23 positions in a one night stand. She’ll be wasted. She’ll have sex. One thing’s for sure, Robin Thicke knows she wants it. Is it rape? Perhaps not, but it certainly doesn’t sound like seduction. It sounds like bad sex. It sounds like a man getting off on the idea that a “good girl” finds him attractive. It sounds like a man with some very clichéd views about what women, and men, want from any given sexual encounter.

Why exactly does he want a “good girl” anyway? What is a “good girl”? This aspect of the song seems to tap into one of the most overused and objectionable ideas about female sexuality. A woman is either a virgin or a whore. A good girl or a bad girl. Many men want good girls because it gives them a feeling of conquest and power and because the idea of a mature, sexually experienced woman terrifies them. ‘Blurred Lines’ revels in the idea of the male liberator who frees the frigid woman by getting her wasted and fucking her. Deep down, that’s all she needed. For some reason many men approach the idea of female sexuality with the one thought that women are too uptight. They need to let their hair down. They need to let themselves enjoy things. Things like sex. The problem can’t lie with the man or his limited technique. If the woman would just relax she would enjoy a man taking charge and giving her what she needs. The man knows that ultimately she wants it.

We are at the point where (I hope) rape is seen as repugnant by the majority of men and the idea that, deep down, women desire to be raped is met with real disgust. Yet the idea that a straight woman desires a masculine man to take control and simply give her a good, hard seeing to is one which continues to have credibility. Even though Morrissey claimed that he spent his teenage years in the feminist section of his local library he still felt the need to include the line, “It took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead, to really, really open her eyes” in The Smiths’ song ‘What She Said’. It passes for wisdom and insight to insinuate that the conflicted female merely wishes to give up control and be used as an instrument for male sexual satisfaction. Only through female surrender can either party achieve true fulfillment.

(continues overleaf)

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11 Responses to ‘Blurred Lines’ and the Banality of Male Sexuality

  1. Tim Clarke August 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Excellent essay. Great work, Wallace.

  2. Tim Footman August 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I was thinking of writing something about BL and the attached controversies but you’ve made all future criticism redundant. Superb stuff.

  3. RB August 27, 2013 at 3:56 am

    I think you’re looking at this song WAY too closely. Yes, these are ideas out there that this song could bring up but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here…I think the critics are losing the forest for the trees. As a former “good girl” who waited a long time to get in the game I hear this song more as what is going on each of the characters’ heads. It grasps onto the conundrum that a “good girl” can have-that she may want to get nasty with somebody AND at the same time not want to taint her reputation. I think this dichotomy of two feelings and thought seems to baffle men…”If you wanna have sex, then just have sex”…Which is the male’s part in this song. “You’re huggin on me so you must want to get nasty?”…and she probabably does but she’s saying No because she may not want another notch in her belt. A girl can both want to keep a reputation and be highly sexual (kinky wild even). This may be a naive way of looking at it…but can’t a guy wish a girl to get drunk so she’ll fuck him and not necessarily want to rape her?

  4. RB August 27, 2013 at 3:58 am

    PS I haven’t seen a video or the performance with Miley Cyrus…just basing on the song itself.

  5. Dan August 27, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I can’t decide whether I agree with this or not. I’m all for the targetting of men as predatory facilitators of regressive sexuality – I was practically standing up and cheering through the middle of paragraph two to the middle of paragraph 3 – but you seem to conveniently pick and choose when to make a sweeping generalisation about a gender and its mores and appetites and when to apportion individual consciousness to a subject. Blatantly (sadly? inevitably?) some women ARE turned on by #THICKE and his storebought crass besuited sexual persona and some are not – and some are indifferent and some are too busy fabricating parts for our laptops to give a fuck – but your write-up excludes those voices and their agency. The line ‘I know you want it’ – your reading of it seems too willing to bend it to your ‘heng – it’s as near as the song gets to an actual blurred line, operating somewhere between hope and truth and NLP and fantasy and something darker.

    And letting Eazy-E off easy because he’s a clown seems a bit too in hoc with the canon, the guy from NWA is cool to do that but this other guy can’t tread in the waters of idiot sexuality because he’s not as proficient.

  6. Paul Nelson August 27, 2013 at 7:37 am

    We shouldn’t expect pop music to be banal? That’s part of its appeal, right, or we’d be talking about Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Thelonious Monk, Carla Bley, Steve Reich, &c &c &c. In other words, what do you expect?

    P.S. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzGvJ_sssJg

  7. Jim August 28, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Although it’s a really good article, the only point of contention is The Smiths line. Morrissey’s lyrics were mostly dry irony and sardonic humour, so there’s a good chance that was tongue-in-cheek.

  8. Brett Lyman August 29, 2013 at 2:48 am

    fantastic piece, among the funniest and best spiels i’ve read in months, but taking Morrissey’s lyrics at face value (when he’s exhibited a very clear facility for writing from the POV of others, ESPECIALLY those who most certainly don’t share his value system) seems a strange idea. if “What She Said” is actually not a feminist anthem (which it is, just like all those early ’60s films he/we love so much are satire and not reportage), then what on earth could one make of “Bengali In Platforms”? anyway, that point aside, WELL FUCKING DONE.

  9. Wallace Wylie August 29, 2013 at 5:33 am

    I was planning to avoid commenting, but I want to make something clear. I don’t like Odd Future and I absolutely loathe G.G. Allin. Pointing out that these artists knew very well they were being offensive is not excusing them, it is merely differentiating them from Thicke who clearly didn’t envisage any controversy. His lack of awareness represents a problem all on its own.

  10. John Fellow August 29, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Good article except for the Morrissey paragraph, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. As an earlier comment noted, Morrissey often incorporates different point of views – including, for which he is very celebrated, shifting between perspectives of gender and sexual identity – and in this very precisely selected song he is channelling the character in ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’ by Elizabeth Smart.

  11. Wallace Wylie August 29, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Look, if Morrissey is famous for anything it’s not revealing anything about what his lyrics refer to. I think it is simplistic in the extreme to suggest that because two of the song lines are almost direct quotes from “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept” then he must be channeling the main character. I’ve read “By Grand Central… ” twice and I see no connection with the song “What She Said”. It seems more like his attempt to compare theory versus practice, or the pleasures of reading with the pleasures of the flesh. I certainly don’t see how it could be ironic. I could tell you exactly what to make of “Bengali In Platforms”, which is the single most unpleasant and ugly thing Morrissey ever recorded, but I don’t have the time right now.

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