Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bare Boobs and the Death of Innuendo: Robin Thicke's Line Blurring

In the spirit of my new endeavor – returning to school to work on a Master of Gender Studies degree – I’m going to devote this blogspace to mulling over ideas and observations I have about sex and gender, especially in pop culture. Since, in my short and inconsistent blogging career, I have yet to write anything more popular and more viewed than my analysis / review of Fifty Shades of Grey, I will look to the things that fascinate, disgust, or mystify the most people for source material. Even better if it’s all those reactions at once.

Chaps? Might as well wear a nun's habit.

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. It seems like a fairly logical extension of where music / movies/ television / music videos have been going in terms of continuously needing to push the (increasingly strained or non-existent) limits to shock and engage the audience and consumer. Am I really surprised that this video shows women literally half naked, breasts bared? Of course not! Music videos have shown women scantily clad or in bikinis forever – eventually skimpily clad bodies lose their ability to shock and maybe even to arouse. Remember Christina Aguilera’s assless chaps? They seem pretty tame now. You want people to talk about your video? Sexy ladies with cleavage probably won’t cut it now. Over-exposure leads to ubiquitousness.

"Gonna make you come tonight - over to my house!"

My reaction to the video is complicated. The song is pretty catchy and the lyrics, which have been described with the new adjective “rapey,” don’t strike me as reaching any new echelon of sexist language towards women. And that’s pretty much how we perceive and react to these kinds of cultural products – comparatively. My desensitization to overtly sexual and even pornographic (in the literal sense of describing or depicting sexual acts) lyrics leads me to react nonchalantly. It becomes increasingly challenging to truly know, on a base level, what offends, intrigues, provokes us – there is so much mediation. I remember when B44’s “If You Get Down On Me” song, rife with euphemism and innuendo, was edgy. It seems so tasteful now – Robin Thicke uses no such euphemisms. His failure to shock me that much more than other artists yields my wishy washy reaction.

Ummm, ok?
I’m more interested in the video. “Silly” is the word I keep coming back to, and I can’t believe that it’s self-conscious. Or maybe he’s trying to pass off stupid silliness as smart, self-conscious tongue-in-cheekness and I’m not buying it. Not least of all because of the words, emblazoned by balloons, “Robin Thicke Has A Big Dick.” C’mon Robin, leave something to our imaginations.

And in terms of the video, I don’t have a problem with the bare breasts. This is primarily because I don’t see a huge difference between a skimpy bikini or bra, revealing the size and shape of some boobs right down to the nipple, and completely naked. We all know what boobs look like. If you don’t have a pair yourself, or someone else’s to look at, you can probably find some on the Internet or even (how antiquated!) a magazine. It’s amazing how a tiny pinnacle of flesh – the nipple! – has garnered so much mystery and power. Women naked except for their nipples have become commonplace in music videos – but three women completely topless in this video gets my attention.

Beware of chafing.
When it comes to nudity in a music video, no one has done that more …enthusiastically than Miley Cyrus in “Wrecking Ball.” Again, I go back to having to consider how hard it is to shock and attract an increasingly desensitized to sex consumer audience. If you’ve already shown mostly everything, how are you going to get our attention whilst dressed? Interestingly, the video is very dull because of this. I actually really enjoyed the video for “We Can’t Stop” and thought it very effective. This new one just misfires – starts with close-up tears in a way that recalls Sinead O’Connor except instead of leading us through a stark, emotional journey through song, she moves into laughably awkward sledgehammer licking. And that’s pretty much as far as I can go on that topic. The video's too boring to be shocking. But will we watch it? Yes. At the time of writing this post the video has been viewed over 51-million times on YouTube.

What will the taboos be in a few years, 10 years, 20 years from now? The increasing depiction of eroticism and nudity in mainstream culture raises our tolerance. The more accepting we get the less critical we may become.

I don’t want my comfort and tolerance, my thick skin to being offended, my increasing desensitization, my willingness to show that being a feminist isn’t about getting angry about some boobs…to slowly make me less critical. I can’t let it.