Belfast Telegraph

No blurred lines over free speech and Queen's ban

By Gail Walker

Well, at last someone has seen fit to draw the line ... It's easy to dismiss the decision of Queen's University students' union to 'ban' Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines as trendy playground politics.

Indeed, QUBSU has been accused of some kind of savage attack on free speech, an act of draconian repression and small-minded busy-bodyness.

But I, for one, think that the students' union should be congratulated on their decision.

Critics are quite right, this is about free speech. And free speech involves the right to say 'Not in my name'. That is all the QUBSU decision means: they will not have the broadcasting of a song 'ambivalent' about rape on their premises.

And let's not pretend that Blurred Lines is not three minutes of hatred. Degrading to women? Thicke (below) readily agrees with his critics: "People say,''Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?' I'm like, 'Well, 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."

What a pleasure? Is that meant to be funny? Is being respectful to women such a chore that you need a little break from it now and again? Not only does it hate women, it has a very bleak view of what constitutes male sexuality.

The subliminal message of Blurred Lines is at root a horrible one – no doesn't necessarily mean no and respecting women is basically a pain in the neck. It is a disgusting message, an evil one and one that needs to be disagreed with every fibre of our beings, individually and as a society.

There is no great issue at stake here. Is this an artistic statement? Nope. A political idea? Not really. If the sentiments of Blurred Lines were featured in a magazine dedicated to ambiguous, possibly non-consensual sex, would a shop (or we as a society) be wrong for refusing to stock it?

Of course not, the very idea is ridiculous. QUB students' union is merely deciding the atmosphere that it wants set on its premises.

That's because we live in a democracy. The shocking thing about the decision is that it took students to point out the obvious.

This paean to the pleasures of degrading and (potentially) raping women is deemed okay for all our major media outlets – Radio Ulster, U105 and a screed of commercial radio stations: 'Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you/He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that/So I just watch and wait for you to salute/But you didn't pick/Not many women can refuse this pimpin'/I'm a nice guy, but don't get it if you get with me'.

That's okay? I mean really? Or does the spinelessness of the mass media indicate that we live in a moral vacuum?

It bears repeating that the right to free speech is not absolute. It is hedged with many limitations: libel and public safety to name just two obvious curbs.

But there are others, such as incitement to hatred, racial abuse and national security. We may disagree about individual cases, but few disagree about the broad prescriptions.

I wonder would there be any outcry if Thicke's No 1 hit – like so many R&B/hip-hop songs – was rabidly homophobic, or incited hatred against a religious minority? Of course, there would – and quite rightly.

But hating women and/or abusing women/being ironic – call it what you will – is a matter for philosophical nitpicking.

Of course, censorship is often shown as ludicrous in hindsight: political efforts like Paul McCartney's Give Ireland Back to the Irish and The Sex Pistols's God Save the Queen were accorded greater import by the fact the Establishment tried to stifle them.

And sometimes it's just baffling – Cliff Richards' Millennium Prayer, or John Denver's Rocky Mountain High (yes, honestly).

Of course, in the area of sex the two great causes celebres are Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg's Je T'Aime and Frankie's 'hedonistic' Relax. However, neither advocated forced sex and hurting women. Je T'Aime advocated the virtues of speaking French and moaning a lot and Frankie the importance of relaxing during sex (if you want to go to it).

The Queen's SU decision was not some kind of puritan anti-life, anti-joy, anti-sex sentiment (things which must be a hard sell to your average student).

No, it was a withdrawal of support for a particular song, a song which just because it's catchy doesn't mean that it isn't morally repugnant and horrible.

Worse, it is a song filled with hate – hateful in its sentiments towards women, hateful in its callous objectifying of women and hateful in its advocacy of violence towards women.

And saying so isn't a negation of free speech. On the contrary, it is its fulfilment.

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