“To accuse [‘Blurred Lines’] of condoning rape goes too far,” writes Falcon opinion columnist Celina Kituku. “Looking at the whole song, the meaning can change based on one’s outlook.” In last week’s edition of The Falcon, Kituku defended Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” against criticism that it condones sexual assault, arguing that the song has been taken out of context. As part of a wider discussion taking place on campus, Kituku’s comments on sexual assault and media are timely and engaged, and I feel honored to respond to “Blurred Lines” alongside her.
I enter this conversation with the submission that we’re asking the wrong question. Fundamentally, this discussion isn’t about the meaning of “Blurred Lines,” but is rather a discussion of how we honor the victimized in the media we consume.
As a community of faith, our first priority is to care for the victimized among us, and if we lose sight of this aim, we endanger the health of those individuals. I wish to address these concerns in my critique of Thicke’s song, and thereby provide a new trajectory for this discussion.
In her column, Kituku speaks to Thicke’s ostensible “artistic intent,” arguing that he wrote “Blurred Lines” for a specific context and that listeners ought to hear it as such. Kituku attempts this, interpreting the song as Thicke intended, namely as an effort to sexually “liberate” the woman in the song. In this way, Kituku garners authority for Thicke’s song, and I submit to that authority. Despite the ham-handedness of his efforts, I don’t believe Thicke intentionally assaults sexual consent in “Blurred Lines.” However, this is a precarious line to skirt.
While Kituku argues that her interpretation is closer to Thicke’s, she also writes that the song can mean “many different things.” If the song truly means “many different things,” then victims of sexual assault have equal claim to the song’s meaning, and their perspective challenges Thicke’s intended effect. Critics of “Blurred Lines” have focused on the lines “I know you want it,” “you’re a good girl” and “let me liberate you,” asserting that these lyrics inappropriately imply a “blurred line” between consensual and nonconsensual sex. Further, critics believe these lines can act as an emotional trigger for victims, many of who have heard the words repeated verbatim by their attackers. My conversations with victims of sexual assault have validated this criticism.
If both perspectives are valid, then I submit that we must defer to the perspective of the victimized when approaching media like “Blurred Lines.” To fail on this count is to rob the victimized of a voice, which is precisely what I find so despicable about Thicke. Regardless of what he meant in “Blurred Lines,” Thicke has directly offended the health of rape victims and failed to give them a voice. Thicke’s is therefore a failure of the imagination, not artistic intent. Padded with privilege, “men” of Thicke’s bent fail to use their power responsibly, disregarding the pain of others in deference to a self-bestowed authority.
This is poignantly displayed in the relationship between Thicke and the woman of “Blurred Lines.” We can only debate the meaning of the song because the woman’s perspective is told exclusively through Thicke. Since none of the lyrics are direct quotes from the woman in question, the listener receives a monochromatic picture of gender and sexuality after the imagining of Thicke. The privileged voice is the only perspective that we hear, and injustice continues in spite of Thicke’s intentions.
As Christians, we’re called to be different and cannot privilege our perspective over the cries of the victimized. This is critical in our discussion because it frames the context of our response. If this particular song engenders memories of sexual trauma for rape victims, despite Thicke’s intentions, how are we to respond as a community? How do we give voice to the victimized?
To start, I would encourage students to continue this discussion wherever possible. Most especially, I urge students to take part in the ASSP event “Blurred Lines? A Forum on Media and Sexual Assault,” scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Weter Lounge. It will feature SPU faculty and staff and promises to be a good introduction to this most difficult topic.
Regardless of the point from which you tackle this issue, I would encourage readers to exercise patience, openness and hospitality. It is my prayer that this discussion will force us to act on these issues after Christ’s heart,and make our community a safer place for those who have suffered injustice.