Overanalyzing "Blurred Lines"/"Can't Stop", just like every other damn person

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Overanalyzing "Blurred Lines"/"Can't Stop", just like every other damn person

I know I’m about two months late to the conversation, but I don’t think “Blurred Lines” is rapey. The blurred line being referred to isn’t whether consent is given or not, but rather the confusing prospect (for a guy) of an interested woman who is worried about tarnishing her “good girl” image by doing it rough with a guy.

To me, this is the story this song is telling: A guy and a girl know each other, well enough that he knows how her ex treated her. He tells her he thinks they should hook up, and not just hook up but that rough sex is exactly what she seems to want, even if she hasn’t articulated that per se. He encourages her to “get at” him, if she’s as interested as she thinks he is. He tells her she is “far from plastic,” meaning she shouldn’t put up a façade of disinterest. She makes some reference to “getting plastered” (see the chorus). I take this couplet to mean that she is doing the thing where you pretend to be drunker or more stoned or whatever, as an excuse to do what you would otherwise be too afraid to do. At the end of the song, they smoke a joint, and it’s their “beginning.”

Everybody quotes the line “You know you want it,” to illustrate that it’s rapey (as in the male is projecting his desires onto her), but if you take the narrative of the song, I think he is just stating an opinion. After all, she’s sticking around long enough to hear this entire monologue from him, and smoke the J he offers. The music part of a song evokes a club or party—actually, some kind of brightly lit place with people. Even the music video is (nakie ladies aside) rather innocuous: balloons, silliness, the men ogle but don’t touch, the women do the handling of the men, and are naked or mostly so but still seem comfortable and confident. I think people get offended about this song because the man is kind of cocky (see the Slate article that explains it better than I can), but he still gets the girl. The woman in the song enjoys it, wants to hump the kind of guy who offers “something that will tear your ass in two.” We find it repugnant that a guy like that can get the girl, but the @ss wants what the @ss wants.

Now, placing this song in context with the VMA performance, and it’s like Robin Thicke has gotten exactly what he wished for: Miley Cyrus acted the part of a sexually strong woman. But instead of celebrating her expression of sexual confidence, we get mad because she’s not acting like a “good girl.”

Poor Robin Thicke gets blasted because he’s older and should know better—well, yes, but if you watch the video you can see he’s singing and she bends over in front of him and grinds up on him. He looks like he’s being a good sport about it, grinding back politely (the interesting intersection of hip hop culture and Canadians)—he doesn’t grab at her in any way, and just looks like he’s just hitting his marks. He’s a cog in a larger marketing machine.

As for Miley Cyrus, more, uh, nasty (truthfully, I think the whole thing she has going on is gross and tacky) than this persona she has on right now is that her performance was horrible—poor singing, poor dancing, and the usage of black people as props. She is an entertainer, a performer, and to me she scored low on both those accounts. What's difficult is that Miley (as many female entertainers do) has placed her body as the site of provocation, so any commentary on her work necessarily includes commentary on her body. What Miley sings about and the way she performs becomes who she is, whether true or not.

To her credit, she is living exactly as she sings in her song: saying what she wants, doing what she wants, forgetting haters, etc. No difference has been made between free choice and acting irresponsibly and selfishly, or the difference between sexy and sexual, or provocative and tacky. Miley lives at an unfortunate time in history where we have to go to even greater lengths to shock people; in a few years, entertainers will have to perform naked with monkeys and snakes coupling in order to make a dent in people’s consciousness. Her job was to get attention, and she did that effectively, to whatever detriment to her as a person. She is also just a cog in a larger machine, as much as she thinks she is being an individual.

Both these songs are about free choice, but to very different effect. In “Blurred Lines,” it seems like the woman in the song has to get over her internal hangups to embrace her sexuality. In “Can’t Stop,” it’s doing whatever you want, no matter what anyone says. When those two songs meet, they are just dissimilar enough  to become a commentary sex in modern pop culture.

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