Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Making a song and dance won't blur sexist lines

In a body-blow for aspiring twerkers everywhere, student unions across the country have decided to ban the biggest hit of 2013, Blurred Lines by gormless R&B artist Robin Thicke (the clue is in the name). The controversial song – which has been widely accused of excusing rape – is a sad and sleazy effort, with an undertow of sexual aggression.

It received its most notorious outing at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, when Miley Cyrus (below) gyrated ("twerked") lasciviously against Thicke while doing unspeakable things with an outsize foam finger.

This tedious pantomime of anti-eroticism predictably caused outrage, as it was designed to do.

Thicke tried to defend his nasty song by claiming it was actually a paean to feminist empowerment (though he didn't quite use those words). Still with me?

Now student leaders have had enough, deciding that no undergraduate, while three sheets to the wind on Bacardi Breezers, will be permitted to lurch round the dancefloor to the outrage that is Blurred Lines.

The University of Edinburgh started the trend, which has since been followed by at least 20 others, including Leeds, Brighton and University College London. There have been calls for Queen's University to join the boycott too.

Kirsty Haigh of Edinburgh students' union says that it took action because the song "promotes a very worrying attitude towards sex and consent". She adds that the ban is "about ensuring that everyone is fully aware that you need enthusiastic consent before sex. The song says: 'You know you want it.' Well, you can't know they want it unless they tell you they want it."

All perfectly true, all very well-meaning. But as these earnest youngsters may learn as they get older, censorship is rarely the answer. And that – not Miley Cyrus's flaunted rear, or Robin Thicke's sleazy cheesiness – is the real point here.

First, it fails on practical grounds. Stopping students from hearing Blurred Lines on university premises does precisely nothing to change deeply engrained attitudes to female sexuality, rape or the principle of consent.

Are male students presumed so utterly witless that simply hearing someone repeatedly mumbling "you know you want it baby" automatically turns them into sex fiends? Conversely, does the removal of this song from union playlists reduce harm to women? Of course not: the suggestion is absurd.

Banning this song is an empty gesture which will have zero impact on the young people it is intended to influence. Besides, if undergraduates don't get to listen to that one, there's plenty of other thoroughly misogynist music to choose from: the R&B genre, in particular, is littered with lyrics casually demeaning women – or worse – and many of them are far more explicit and objectionable than Thicke's embarrassing little ditty. So do you ban all those ones as well?

And why stop there? The next step could be banning books you don't like. Will Nabokov's masterpiece, Lolita, be for the chop because someone thinks it encourages paedophilia?

What worries me is how quickly these student leaders reach for the censorship button, how effortlessly they give in to the impulse to simply wipe out stuff they don't like. There's an enduring myth that young people are naturally open-minded and tolerant of views that they don't necessarily share, but in my experience the opposite is frequently the case.

When you're in your teens, or early twenties, the moral universe often appears a straightforwardly black-and-white place, which can be effortlessly divided up into good or bad, right or wrong.

It all seems so delightfully simple. The complexities of life – those dense and shifting grey areas which resist easy moral classification – tend only to reveal themselves to you as the years go by.

Or they should do, anyway. Our increasingly infantilised culture means that many people never leave their emotional or moral adolescence, going through the decades still clinging – more firmly than ever, in some cases – to the same old blinkered certainties.

This manifests itself in a childish intolerance which seeks to stamp out or squash anything that doesn't fit in with their own view of how the world should be.

Blurred Lines is a repugnant song and Robin Thicke is a swaggering fool.

But it's only by talking – not petulantly shutting him up with a prissy-face ban – that we have a chance of challenging what he has to say.

Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines is misunderstood, the song is about my wife 

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