You can’t escape the breakout hit of the summer: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” song. Like any good Internet meme it’s inspired imitations from teens with phone cams, the academic interpretation of NPR, and the ire of feminists. And apparently the sexual awakening of Mz. Miley Cyrus.
It’s gotten the GIF treatment and has been ripe ground for remakes. Plenty of parodies popped up, ranging from grandmas playing the role of the sexy female models to a video montage of Bill Clinton crooning it.
In addition to inspiring the Internet’s funny bone, the video has also sparked debate about whether it promotes rape culture and the objectification of women. In the NSFW version the video models are stark naked, prancing around as men scope them out. Lines like “I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it” and “The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty” suggest that the title “Blurred Lines” refers to blurred lines of sexual consent.
Thicke himself didn’t help the situation by telling GQ when he wrote the song with Pharrell they were imagining two old men sitting on a stoop and cat-calling girls walking by. Oh, he also had this gem: “What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman…I’ve never gotten to do that before.”
Now four months later, the feminists are striking back. “Sexy Boys Parody” and “Defined Lines” were created by feminist organizations in different parts of the world who took issue with “Blurred Lines.” They each decided to remake the video with a female-friendly bent, and they’ve been receiving the viral treatment as a result.
Here’s the hypocritical part: the two separate organizations both made their video versions by swapping the genders, so men are the ones prancing around naked getting objectified by women. But the videos are still sexy, catchy, fun to watch, and feature attractive people happily flirting with each other. As a result, instead of challenging Thicke’s message that objectification is fun the feminist groups are in fact perpetuating it.
Sexy Boys by Mod Carousel has gotten almost 4 million views after it landed on Jezebel and the site called it “fucking awesome.”
Mod Carousel is a Seattle based “boylesque troupe” — whatever the hell that is, no one on the Interwebs seems to know. Their website says they do satirical burlesque. In the video, men and women swap gender roles from the original, and the vocals are sung by a woman.
In the summary on YouTube Mod Carousel explained their reasoning behind the video.
It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and do everyone a disservice. We made this video specifically to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light, one where objectifying men is more than alright and where women can be strong and sexy without negative repercussions.
So Mod Carousel says they made the video in part to show that “objectifying men is more than alright.” In fact, the Jezebel author cited that as the reason she liked the group’s parody. The message there is a mixed one. Does that mean it’s ok to objectify men but not women?
Part of the reason “Blurred Lines” struck a chord in audiences is because women are objectified in the video in a sexy, subtle, artistic way. It makes objectifying someone and being the object of someone’s desire look like fun. Mod Carousel imitates all those aesthetics, and has the same message but with flipped genders.
Maybe objectification is fun, at the right time, with the right people, when those getting objectified consent to the treatment. Unfortunately, that’s not always, or even usually, the case. When a stranger grabs my butt in a bar or men catcall me from a car, it’s about as far from the sexyliciousness slickness of Thicke or Mod Carousel’s videos as you can get. There’s no chance to reject being objectified because it’s usually an event that happens against my will.
I suppose that’s the reason Thicke’s original video sparked debate and discussion. It explored the tense and politically loaded truth that sometimes objectifying someone — and being objectified — is fun. But both Thicke and Mod Carousel’s videos left out all the ugly bits — the times when objectification is demeaning, demoralizing, tiring, or scary.
In contrast, the other feminist parody — “Defined Lines” — is a little bit angrier, a little bit edgier, and a whole lot dirtier than Mod Carousel’s version. Filmed by a group of law students from the University of Auckland, it’s more of what you’d expect from feminists lashing back against “Blurred Lines.”
In one scene a women sticks a sex toy in a man’s mouth after telling him “your precious dick/ can’t beat my vibrator.” YouTube banned the video for a brief period of time, but it’s back on the web now and has close to a million views. The lyrics show what a different message this video is from Mod Carousel’s version.
If you wanna get nasty,
Just don’t harass me:
You can’t just grab me.
That’s a sex crime!
Yeah we don’t want it -
You’re such a bigot!
It goes on but you get the idea. Again, gender roles are reversed and the women are now doing the objectifying. And again, women’s sites like Bustle are praising the video as “brilliant” and “perfect.”
While the lines in this version are speaking out against objectification, the message in the video is the same as Thicke’s and Mod Carousel’s. The men are dancing around in tighty whities while the women feed them cake and walk them on leashes like dogs. Everyone’s smiling, laughing, and having an excellent time. So basically the takeaway is that objectification is a party, and these women are enjoying turning the tables.
You know what they say? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. These groups of feminists may be parodying Thicke’s video to make fun of it, but in doing so they’re inadvertently passing on his message. The original idea hasn’t changed, except this time it’s the women treating the men like sex objects.
The feminist rendition I want to see made is a very unattractive version of Robin Thicke dancing up on a woman who crosses the street to avoid him. I think that might be more accurate to how objectification plays out in day-to-day life. I s’pose it wouldn’t make for a very viral music video though.
[Image courtesy: "Defined Lines" music video]