Some clarity on Blurred Lines

We're late to weigh into the Blurred Lines controversy because our conclusions seemed obvious. The dispute started with a campaign launched by a concerned Whitehorse woman who wants CKRW to stop playing a song she finds offensive.

We’re late to weigh into the Blurred Lines controversy because our conclusions seemed obvious. The dispute started with a campaign launched by a concerned Whitehorse woman who wants CKRW to stop playing a song she finds offensive. Such is her right, and it’s hard to see why some residents think that the sort of clothes she wears has any bearing on the merits of her arguments.

The radio station, meanwhile, is well within its rights to reject her plea. CKRW’s producers have obviously concluded that many of its listeners prefer to hear the song. If you disagree with them, turn the dial.

Yet there remains the small matter of what the song is about. Seeing as a considerable number of people – including representatives of the territory’s women’s groups – seem to be labouring under the delusion that Blurred Lines is a song that condones or encourages rape, we feel compelled to note that this view is not actually supported by the song’s lyrics.

Critics have described the song as “rapey” because of singer Robin Thicke’s repetition of the phrase, “I know you want it” – a line that rapists have been known to utter. But, as Slate’s Jennifer Lai has best explained, that’s certainly not what the song is about.

“Someone who says ‘I know you want it’ is probably overly cocky and presumptuous as hell by assuming you/she wants ‘it,’” she writes, “but nothing about ‘I know you want it’ is saying ‘I know you want it, and I’m going to force you to have it’ or ‘I had sex with you and you didn’t consent, but I know you wanted it.’ Yes, ‘I know you want it’ could be said by a rapist – but so could ‘Do you want to go to a movie tonight?’

“If you want more proof that the repetitive ‘I know you want it’ chorus isn’t creepy, let’s do a closer reading of the other lyrics. The end of the chorus goes: ‘The way you grab me/ must wanna get nasty/ go ahead, get at me.’ The last part, ‘go ahead, get at me’ very clearly kills any ‘rapey’ vibe. In fact, he’s putting the ball in her court by telling her to make the move and not the other way around.”

So what do the song’s blurred lines refer to? Lai offers several suggestions, but concludes it’s probably about “getting mixed signals from a lady who you think might be interested in doing the deed – then letting her know exactly where you stand so she can make the next move – if she wants.”

Blurred Lines is no ode to feminism, make no mistake. The singer’s overture “just let me liberate you” is bound to raise the response from some women that they’ll liberate themselves, thanks much. And its explicit descriptions of rough sex will probably shock or upset some listeners – provided they’re able to actually comprehend the dirtiest bits, as they’re spoken at high speed. But this is all unexceptional by the standards of much of today’s popular music – especially hip-hop and R&B, the genres to which the song belongs.

Some critics insist that even if the song is not about rape, it’s still dangerous, in that rapists could hear the lyrics and assume it validates their twisted world views. But imagine if we took this reasoning seriously.

Another of today’s hit songs describes a high school student going on a school shooting spree. We can also agree such mass shootings are horrific – so we suppose that means CKRW had better drop Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People from its playlist to start.

And consider older hits. Sting, you may recall, sang a famous number from the point of view of a stalker. We can all agree we don’t want to encourage stalkers, so the station had better drop Every Breath You Take from its list, too.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Artists often sing about the world in cryptic, indirect ways, and adopt personas that do not necessarily reflect their actual views. Artists are also sometimes simply crass. If we successfully boycotted every song open to misinterpretation, there would likely be a lot of dead air on the dial.

None of this is meant to explain away the alarming number of sexual assault that the territory sees, which is treble the national average. The territory’s women’s groups have good reason to continue to stress the importance of being clear about sexual consent – clearly, it’s an issue.

But it seems silly to go bonkers over the decision of CKRW to air a song when its lyrics are plainly being misinterpreted. Exaggerated claims only erode one’s credibility – why not save the outrage for something more worthwhile?