Growing up Black in Australia in the 80s and 90s means that I am heavily in to R&B and Hip Hop, even though I consciously think about the representation of women, sexuality, materialism, violence and more in much of this music. Guilty pleasure, sometimes I just want to switch off and enjoy. Exhibit A: My love for Robin Thicke since his first album, despite his very obvious Black fetish.
Driving back from Adelaide earlier this year, I heard Blurred Lines for the first time – Robin Thicke’s world famous, maybe even infamous, song. I instantly looked up the film clip and felt a little weird – my immediate reaction was fear to the way the women were being degraded in the clip – watching it made me feel degraded. I then instantly googled news on the clip and found that it had been banned almost everywhere. I discovered that the female Director had the idea for the models being naked in the clip and other creative concepts. I made a “hmmmm” noise, put it aside in my mind and decided to enjoy the song musically. Cognitive dissonance, if you will.
Fast-forward a few months and the song is now topping the charts around the world. A friend posted up this quote from GQ (source: http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-feed/2013/05/robin-thicke-interview-blurred-lines-music-video-collaborating-with-2-chainz-and-kendrick-lamar-mercy.html#ixzz2YEJT6z4i):
We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, “We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.” 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.” After the video got banned on YouTube, my wife tweeted, “Violence is ugly. Nudity is beautiful. And the ‘Blurred Lines’ video makes me wanna…” You know. And that’s the truth. Right now, with terrorism and poverty and Wall Street and Social Security having problems, nudity should not be the issue.
WRONG Paula Patton (I loved you in Precious, by the way) and Robin Thicke – this kind of nudity IS an issue, because it IS a form of violence. By Thicke’s own admission (despite GQ’s disclaimer that it’s all one big joke – *rolls eyes*) the clip sets out to degrade women…you know, because he and others in the clip are normally gentlemen and they are poking fun at it.
…and this is where I get even more irritated with the rationale used to dismiss the voices of pop-culture-dissent. It’s one thing to do the usual “oh it’s not degrading, it’s flirty and fun”, but it’s a whole other to go “I’m such a good guy and I wanted to do the polar opposite and degrade women”. As a White guy in what pop-culture now calls R&B (Urban, even), what is Robin Thicke really saying here?
The genre of R&B was long ago taken over by White consumers with their fetishised fantasies of what ‘Black’ culture is (See here: http://aamerrahman.tumblr.com/post/53978736048/white-rapper-faq & here: http://aamerrahman.tumblr.com/post/54317063776/white-rapper-faq-part-2). For both White men and White women this has meant the degradation of women and a projection of what they think Black women are like and how they think we should be treated. Just check out any Iggy Azalea performance where Black women, dressed scantily and dancing in a hyper-sexualised manner, are used as backdrops and props to her performance (e.g: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtISXcPbu6s) or this clip with Justin Timberlake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raB8z_tXq7A (yes, that is a chain around Ciara’s neck).
For me, I think that Thicke has discovered the tried and tested pop-culture formula: take a Black genre (eg. Rock n Roll, R&B/Urban, Hip Hop, Blaxploitation) and insert gross hyper-sexualised, violent projections of what you think Black Culture is. Then, get a White person to be the front man – White audiences will lap it up. Just check out the Rolling Stones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D57RhqHK8Vg – “White girls they’re pretty funny, Sometimes they drive me mad, Black girls just wanna get fucked all night, I just don’t have that much jam“.
Initial reports on Thicke’s clip for Blurred Lines were that the Director was the one with creative direction over the content of the film clip. Now we have Thicke on the media circuit implying that he was involved in the creative direction. To me, it just seems like a marketing ploy – White guy needs to make it big in R&B/Urban so let’s get him to take on the hyper-sexualised fantasy that the market has of how Black people live. The sad thing is, the ploy has worked all too well.