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Why We Shouldn’t Ban Blurred Lines

Blurred Lines

I think Blurred Lines is a horrible song, let’s get that out to start with. Its lyrics appear to condone date rape and the song’s ‘I’ seems to think that if he doesn’t like what someone is saying/doing, he can interpret their words/actions however he wants (“I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it”. And how exactly do you know that Robin, are you a professional in body language? Or did she use semaphore? If it’s all the same to you, I’m going to stick with actual vocal communication).

The video objectifies women and presents nakedness as a legitimate way of men holding power over them – note how all of the men keep their clothes on and, for the most part, stay stood still gazing whilst the women dance around them. It’s also just a lazy, bland video. The song is uninspired and driveless and singing “what rhymes with hug me” does not let you off for being unable to actually think of something that rhymes with “hug me”. I find it offensive – to women, to the art of music videos, to rhyme – but that’s no reason to ban it.

No-one has a right to not be offended. Otherwise, we’d all be able to keep ourselves in our own little worlds, never challenged, never challenging anyone else, just comfortable with whatever it is we feel right now, never hearing or seeing anything to contradict it. And I’m sure there are people who would be offended by all the opposition to Blurred Lines: Robin Thicke, for example, or perhaps people who think that calling women domesticated female animals is fine, and using “pimpin’”, the act of selling people’s bodies for profit, to describe a relationship is affectionate. How should we go about protecting those people from offense?

Here’s a list of things that I find offensive:

– All of those other misogynistic song lyrics. Let’s take an example from Niggas in Paris: “Come and meet me in the bathroom stall and show me why you deserve to have it all”. Shall we ban that too?

– Songs/films/TV shows that make cheap jokes about Christianity. I imagine banning those would be even less popular.

– Jessie J’s desecration of thousands of years of musical advancement.

– People who shove past you in clubs without even trying to apologise or minimise drink spillage. Perhaps marked pathways with a designated arsehole lane are in order.

– Is this getting silly now?

There is an argument for banning offensive material where it might actually cause harm – I wouldn’t want Blurred Lines played to young children, men or women recovering from abuse, or the recovering abusers, for example. I am, however, unconvinced that the song is genuinely harmful to the general public; no-one is going to hear it and think date rape must be okay. It’s a symptom, not the cause and tackling the symptoms in such a way is an expensive, time-consuming illusion of progress.

There’s no reason to ban things that are merely offensive – that comes dangerously close to censorship. This is a university after all, a place of ideas, debate and, hopefully, intelligent individuals who can hear something they disagree with without feeling the need to immediately shut it up. It’s neither mine, nor the University’s, nor the Union’s place to force our opinions on others. We can try and convince them, yes, and I hope we will, but that’s not the same thing. So let’s debate, let’s argue and if at the end of that the DJ in Venue decides they don’t want to play the song, then great.

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  1. With you on the not banning things just because they’re offensive part. Where I have to disagree is that songs like this aren’t harmful to the ‘general public’.

    Most people probably (hopefully) don’t think date rape is ok, but Blurred Lines contributes to a media environment which trivialises the problem. How exactly do we dismantly rape culture without continually challenging misogynistic stuff like this? Equally, I think to say it’s just a sympton is naive; the whole thing is a self-perpetuating cycle.

    Having said all of which, I still agree that there’s probably no point banning it – if nothing else, the one surefire way to make something massively popular is to ban it.

    • You’re right about it being a self-perpetuating cycle. I think what I meant by symptom is that it’s a relatively surface area of that cycle, and I’d worry that a nice headline grabbing ban would distract attention from more important battles for too long (in a kind of, ‘well you managed to get Blurred Lines banned, what are you still moaning about?’ way). The media environment would remain largely the same.

      I’m also not convinced a ban would really constitute a challenge. It seems too blunt, too much like not having a comeback in an argument so punching the other person instead. In the end that’s always more self-destructive than it is helpful.

  2. I think the idea that we should not take stands against things merely because they, themselves, exist within a plethora of other instances of offense or, specifically, sexism – is a lazy and blinkered way of approaching these situations.

    This reminds me of that article on the Page 3 campaign last year – seeming to argue that the efforts to start tackling normalised sexism (like Page 3) are not only fruitless, but apparently futile in the wider feminist movement because bigger, more prominent issues to do with sexism in society exist and are constantly at work. What happened to starting somewhere? Moving towards discussing whether the university should stop Blurred Lines being played is about the university taking a social stance. In the long run such a stance would be significant.

    Also, comparing misogyny and sexism to trivial dislikes and everyday offences, like dancing in a club, completely undermines how powerful, dangerous and destructive gender inequality is as an active and habitually accepted part of society.

    And if you admit that you would not want children or vulnerable members of society to hear the song, you must in part be admitting that the song exists largely as a ’cause’ of misogyny – not just a ‘symptom’ of it, as you seem to suggest it is.

    • Throughout the article I repeatedly ‘take a stand’, in the very first line for example. There are plenty of ways to take a stand without grossly heavy handed, blanket action. Banning one song would set a precedent for that ‘plethora of other instances of offence’. Who would you have decide what gets banned and what doesn’t? What would their agenda be? What level of allegory, metaphor or irony would be acceptable in a song dealing with rape? The lines would, funnily enough, be rather blurred. My list of other offences (absolutely none of which I compared to misogyny and sexism) was meant to demonstrate the problems inherent in that approach, with a little humour. I would reverse your statement – a ban would be lazy and blinkered; arguing through the issues is careful and considered.

      See my above comment re your second paragraph. I’ll just clarify that I think the individual song is a symptom, whereas the lyrical culture that it is part of is a cause, if that distinction makes sense. Blurred Lines is very much a symptom, but only a small component of the cause. Tackling symptoms with such brutish remedy as a ban would, I feel, be a superficial and unsustainable way to continue.

  3. Just want to bring you up on some points in your article. You suggest it would be harmful to survivors. Without correlating that to the fact that there are students in our union who are survivors , and this is where a ban would be helpful. the song is hugely triggering . and a good night can still be had by all without this one song being played !

    • Point taken. What I think I meant, or would revise myself to mean, is that I’m unconvinced this one particular song heard in a few instances would be harmful to the vast majority of people – whereas a lot of the debate around it seems to have suggested otherwise. If there’s any reasonable way to protect the few people for whom it would be harmful, like rape victims, then that’d be great but a blanket ban is going too far. It sounds like an insensitive thing to say, and I hope you don’t interpret it that way, but there has to be a point at which those people take responsibility for their own safety (as far as triggers are concerned). I imagine there’d be a lot more triggers in a club than Blurred Lines, not least some of the other songs playing. Personally I might very much like it if none of those songs were played, and a good night could still be had by all, but that isn’t really anyone’s decision except the venue manager and DJ.


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