Regarding the video for his hit song “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke has said that they “tried to do…everything that is completely derogatory towards women.” This has been interpreted as everything from satire to complete seriousness, but one thing that’s certain is that Thicke has made waves among a number of people who feel that his work promotes sexual assault. Many find lyrics such as “you know you want it” to be promoting nonconsensual sex, and his videos, featuring nude women alongside clothed men, seem to reinforce male power and dominance.
In light of this, Boston University’s Humanist Society created a petition to cancel Thicke’s upcoming March 4 concert at Agganis Arena. “Having Thicke perform is a political statement that is out of touch with the realities of sexual violence and Boston University’s own history,” the members argue.
I think they’re right.
I’ve read something like 30 interviews with Thicke over the last few days, and things never fully add up when he’s talking about “Blurred Lines.” One moment, the song is about his wife; another, it’s satire. He has said that the song caused controversy only “for extra religious people.” While I am a person of faith, I can think of some Humanists who might dispute that.
I’m pretty sure what happened was that Thicke and his cowriters wrote a song with assault innuendo without thinking about it—because he doesn’t have to think about it. As a male of privilege, the fear and physical and emotional trauma of sexual assault aren’t real to him. Here, the people whose voices most deserve to be heard are those of sexual assault survivors themselves. Project Unbreakable has created a photo blog with survivors displaying what attackers told them while they were being assaulted; a haunting number of those words echo Thicke’s lyrics. When asked if “Blurred Lines” promotes rape, Thicke replied, “I can’t even dignify that with a response; that’s ridiculous.” I’m not sure Thicke can tell sexual assault survivors that his words don’t sound “rape-y,” when, frankly, they do. Sexual assault survivors deserve more.
Earlier this year, President Obama prioritized combating sexual assault. The task force he commissioned found that about 20 percent of students—one out of every five—are sexually assaulted during their college days. And BU has its own sordid history surrounding sexual assault. After two star hockey players were arrested, President Robert Brown’s commission found that a culture of nonconsensual “sexual entitlement” was indeed present on the team. Last year, the Daily Free Press got in trouble for making rather sickening light of sexual assaults after an anonymous writer at XOJane called them out. The DFP isn’t officially linked with the University and the hockey team isn’t the entire student body, but these kinds of incidents say something about BU’s culture. Sexual assault is a major problem for BU. It’s certainly poor judgment, then, to allow an artist with such public controversy about promoting nonconsensual sex to perform on our campus.
In talking to the Daily Free Press, BU spokesman Colin Riley said that this concert is just part of Thicke’s tour. It was scheduled through Agganis; BU didn’t solicit such a controversial figure. But by allowing him to rent Agganis, the University is implicitly adding its approval—a slap in the face to both survivors and those who have worked to make change a reality.
BU needs to make a clear stand and continue the conversations about sexual assault on our campus. Start by canceling the Robin Thicke show. Continue having constructive conversations about who we will be as a university. And in the future, we need to think more deeply about our decisions, respecting and seeking justice for those who have been harmed by the systems of oppression that have allowed rape to remain a part of our culture. A sexual assault survivor says it best: “Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ strikes at the core of the perpetuation of patriarchy through pop culture. It describes a scenario in which a woman becomes a sex object for a man, which is the baseline of rape culture. The song is a description of nonconsensual sex—rape. I think if BU is serious about healing its rape culture, they will cancel this concert.”
Alicia Cameron (STH’14, SSW’14) is a member of the School of Theology’s Christian Activists United for Social and Economic Justice; she can be reached at email@example.com.
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