Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Miley Cyrus, Banned NZ Student Video, "Blurred Lines" and Rape Culture Run Amok

I was aware of the Miley Cyrus MTV Video Awards episode and I will even admit I was secretly rooting for her, but I didn’t pay it a whole lot of attention. Then I heard about a video parody some New Zealand students had made of the same song being pulled from YouTube. When you consider Miley and her outrageous butt twerking, tongue wagging performance, I started to get curious.

There is no doubt, when Miley Cyrus got on that stage with Robin Thicke, she pushed at the edge of everything we consider good, proper, and decent in the decorum of a young woman. She gyrated, she twerked, she rolled her tongue, she licked and she fondled. She did just about every raunchy thing a person can do, and still keep their clothes on. And she did it all on stage.

It seemed that just about everybody had an opinion, except me — at least until I caught wind of this YouTube video ruckus out of New Zealand (NZ). And could be I was the last person on the planet to hear about “Blurred Lines” and Robin Thicke. Not that I watched the awards show, I just caught clips of the ruckus that followed. I honestly just thought he was a Beetlejuice prop, or something. I always did love that movie.

It appears that the whole MTV Video Award thing was supposed to have been Robin Thicke’s show. He was not actually a prop. Although an expected winner with his number one hit song, he won nothing. But he had invited Miley to perform a duet with him. Some duet. They both had their own hit songs, and somehow came together in the middle. I didn’t even realize he was supposed to have been part of the show until I did a little follow-up on the NZ video parody.

No doubt that performance got Miley a whole lot of attention. Rumors were flying, and not just about it not being what was practiced in rehearsal. Leaves me curious as to what was actually practiced. Of course, if you take a minute to look at the Thicke video, think about what was going on, and perhaps what was expected of her performance, given the song…. Could be she was doing a little pushing there too, and I don’t mean twerking.

Although Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (NSFW) was the number one hit song of the summer, the feminist community has not been particularly impressed and have pretty much been coming out of the woodwork on this one. The consensus is that the song is indeed about blurring lines—between consensual sex and rape—a misogynistic glorification of rape and sexual violence.

In a time when women all over the world are suddenly fighting to hang on to what hard won rights they do have, Thicke’s video performance took everything that was reprehensible about the glorification of a culture of rape, and the objectivation of women, and bumped it up to a whole new level. And he was laughing all the way to the bank. For 12 weeks and counting, “Blurred Lines” has been at the top of the Billboard charts.

For me though, it didn’t start sinking in as to the implications of Miley’s performance, much less the discussions going on in the feminist community, until I caught a blip about a video made by some students at Auckland University. A comedy skit, “Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines [Feminist Parody] ‘Defined Lines.’”

Although it had 300,000 YouTube hits within days of its release, it didn’t hit the news until it was pulled—something about it being derogatory toward men. Really?  A parody of “Blurred Lines” is pulled for being derogatory toward men. You know if it got pulled, I had to see what it was all about. You can watch it on YouTube.

It’s obviously back now, but could be their video was indeed derogatory toward men. No doubt about it, “Blurred Lines,” of which it was a spoof, was derogatory toward women. There is also no doubt that it showed significantly more skin than the student parody, which depicted good looking men, nearly naked, existing for no other reason than to serve as sex objects for their women. It was hilarious. The whole thing was supposed to have been a joke, which the Auckland Law Revue students put together for a comedy show. It was pulled from YouTube just about the time it started going viral. Nothing like a little censorship to bring proper attention to a subject.

The video parody featured Auckland University law students Zoe Ellwood, Olivia Lubbock, Adelaide Dunn, and a few of their male friends. Here are some comments from Adelaide Dunn, who wrote the lyrics.
We just wanted to make a fun video exposing the objectification and sending out a positive message to women, also being a little bit jokey and tongue in cheek. Our intent of making the men topless and putting them in their underwear was just to expose the impact we felt when we saw topless women in a similar situation. When you reverse it, you are making a statement about it…. When you take something out of its original context, which was a comedy skit show, people are going to take it as more of a political statement than we intended it to be….  But if you can start a discourse on what it means to be a sex object, I think that is a positive thing. (Adelaide Dunn, Channel 3 News, New Zealand, 2013)
Essentially, what started as a comedy skit turned into a feminist political discussion.

There were definitely some folks who felt that the Thicke video was pornographic. In one version, the women were scantily clad; in the other, they were even more scantily clad and wore only nude colored g-strings. Thicke maintained that the nudie version was his wife’s idea.

In both versions, it was pretty clear that the women were there for one reason. That is not really that big of a deal; when you get down to biology, we are all sexual creatures. However, whether or not that sex is consensual is an entirely different matter. A whole lot of people took the message of the song as one of blurring the lines between consensual sex and rape. In a time when a convicted rapist gets 30 days while his victim gets a trip to the morgue, the flippant perpetuation of that attitude is not okay.

During my first trip to DC as an activist, one of the older feminists talked about how her generation had worked so hard for women to have certain freedoms. She also mentioned that earning those freedoms did not mean that the next generation was going to define freedom in the same way.

I have thought about her words many times. I’ve been very troubled in recent months with all the efforts toward legislation that will turn back the clock on women’s rights. Leaders are coming forward though and that is clear. Elizabeth Warren is one of them, so is Wendy Davis. It could be that the young Barbara Bush is another.

I don’t know what they have to do with Miley Cyrus, and the growing list of feminist video parodies, except momentum is growing in more than one way. Women are not ready to give up the gains they have made. If Miley Cyrus got tongues wagging, the students in New Zealand got some people thinking. Obviously, if he has a number one hit, Robin Thicke has countless fans. Everyone wasn’t shouting hooray though, and the video left a whole lot of people troubled.

As to the MTV Video Awards show, it really was supposed to have been his (not Miley’s) show. But looking at his video, it is pretty clear what he expected — a good stage prop of the scantily clad female variety. Something in the song about domesticating a good girl with an animal nature. “I know you want it,” and “You’re a good girl,” and again, “I know you want it.” Those are the lines people are picking up on.

Good family man that he is reputed to be, a whole lot of people found the “Blurred Lines” video troubling. Those students and a whole lot of others have had a few things to say about it all. Could be Miley Cyrus did too. Yes her performance was raunchy, yes it was in bad taste; but if you’ve ever watched the video of “Blurred Lines,” it was too, and suddenly you get it. Was it some kind of feminist statement or was she merely stealing the show? I don’t have a clue. Word has it, she has been known to steal a show, crash a party with a twerk. She has also sang “Blurred Lines” with him before. Things sure do look different though when it is a woman overstepping what was supposed to have been defined boundaries and aggressively asserting her sexual power in the process.

Make no mistake, when Miley Cyrus walked on that stage, she took command of her sexuality. She took command of Robin Thicke and his show too, she was not one of his “good girls” awaiting his whim. There is no doubt, she was rude, raunchy, sexually aggressive, and condescending toward Thicke. Her performance was an indisputably despicable display of onstage depravity. Could be she nailed it though. Although the vocals were lovely, his song was rude, raunchy, and sexually condescending toward women.

Miley cut the glitz, trashed the glamor and played it for what it was. The award winner for “The Most Misogynistic Video Song Performance of the Year” was righteously upstaged, turned into a nameless sexual prop, much like the women he sexualized in his own videos, and subsequently emasculated — by a twenty year old “Disney sweetheart” and a growing list of young feminists who somehow have the appearance of having been directly spawned by the implications of the lines that were way to blurred in his song. It took me a minute, but I finally got it.

Go, Miley go!

PS — Although the move did not originate with her, shortly after Miley Cyrus’ MTV award show performance, the word “twerk” was officially entered into Britain’s Oxford Dictionaries.

Copyright Regina Garson 2013
Originally published on Forward Progressives September 4, 2013

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