Colleges in Control

10.11.139:00 PM ET

Britain's Blurred Lines Ban

Five universities in the U.K. have banned Robin Thicke’s “sexist” mega-hit. Adrienne Vogt investigates a collegiate history of drawing the the line on controversial songs.

You know you want it—to stop hearing this song, that is. We get it. We have “Blurred Lines” fatigue, too—especially since at least two Daily Beast employees have recently heard the song played two times at two separate weddings. A little excessive, right?

Students in the U.K. are starting to take action against Robin Thicke’s arguable sexist, “rape-y” lyrics, accompanied by his video of naked women prancing around him, T.I., and Pharrell. This month, five British universities effectively banned the song from their campus bars. The students’ unions of Kingston, Edinburgh, Leeds, Derby and West Scotland universities have all successfully implemented the ban so far, citing their views that the song promotes rape culture.

“The decision to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ from our venues has been taken as it promotes an unhealthy attitude towards sex and consent. [Edinburgh University Students’ Association] has policy on zero tolerance towards sexual harassment, policy to end lad culture on campus and a safe space policy—all of which this song violates,” EUSA Vice President of Services Kirsty Haigh said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

Although Hollie O’Connor, president of the University of Derby Students’ Union, told NBC News that she hasn’t received any emails complaining about the decision, not all college students agree. Scotland’s University of St. Andrews students actually voted not to ban “Blurred Lines,” after a “heated council debate,” according to The Independent, out of concerns over censorship. “Unfortunately there is sexism, there’s racism, there’s domestic violence and if you ban one, it’s a slippery slope,” says Sadie Hochfield, the student union’s community relations officer.

On the HuffPost Students blog, University of Birmingham student Daisy Lindlar encourages other universities to push for their own bans of the song. “Most universities now run Zero Tolerance campaigns, and in the wider context of these campaigns, to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ sends a strong message that sexism and misogyny, and everything that comes with them, will not be tolerated. It might seem like a small step, but that is not to say that it wouldn't mean a lot to many people, or that it doesn't have the potential to make a big impact,” Lindlar writes. “Is it going to ruin your night out if it isn't played? No. Could it ruin someone's night if it is played? Yes. Go and perpetuate rape culture elsewhere, because if student unions have any sense, it is not going to be welcome there.”

The University of Leeds’ student union runs three nightclubs and two bars on campus, all of which are now barred from playing “Blurred Lines”—but there’s been some pushback from students who think the plan is just plain ridiculous. “A few students are asking why if we have banned this song, we aren't banning everything, but we've chosen this one as an example, because it's so popular,” student union member Alice Smart student union told The Independent.

The song has even managed to incite similar controversy in U.S. educational settings, although on a smaller scale. In late September, the University of Ohio marching band cut a performance of “Blurred Lines” during a football halftime show. A spokeswoman from the university says the marching band director was not aware of the firestorm over the song, and he reached a “consensus” with the administration. And on Oct. 1, a Wisconsin high school dance coach was fired after choreographing a performance of an edited version of the song—even though parents said they didn’t mind, according to the Sheboygan Press.

In all reality, a “Blurred Lines” (or a “Blurred Lines”-esqe song) ban would probably never pan out on most major American college campuses, due to censorship protections, lack of enforcement, and most student governing bodies not overseeing campus-area bars or clubs. But it would be far from the first time a song generated some sort of brouhaha at a university.

According to the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Michael O’Neil, earlier this year, the “Harlem Shake” shook up some campuses—and not in a good way, authorities say. At Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, 11 student-athletes from the football and track and field teams were suspended after simulating the song’s sexual dance moves and posting their video online. Also, reports surfaced that an Oxford University librarian was fired after a “Harlem Shake” video was filmed in the school’s library.

Students have also worked together to ban certain performers from appearing at their schools. Despite a petition that called Tyga’s lyrics “explicitly and violently misogynistic,” the rapper performed at Harvard’s annual Yardfest. And back in 2004, Spelman students effectively caused rapper Nelly to cancel his planned performance at the school, because some at the historically black women’s college were planning on protesting against the exploitation of women in his music videos. Conversely, UMass recently canceled two electronic dance music concerts, blaming the decision on the Molly-fueled, drug-filled EDM performance atmosphere.

These sorts of bans are nothing new for Christian colleges in the U.S. At Florida Christian College, students are not allowed to partake in “unacceptable” activities, which include “violent or graphic television, audio recordings, or music.” North Carolina’s Bob Jones University bans jazz, rap, rock, and country music “as well as religious music that borrows from these styles.” And at Christendom College in Virginia, pop music is banned at school dances.

Bans also have extended to college radio stations. In February, administrators banned Seton Hall University’s hard-rock station WSOU in New Jersey from saying or playing songs by such bands as Deep Fried Abortion, Barbed Wire Condom, Goatwhore, and Sexual Orange Master (The station took it lightly, noting that if DJs played Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, or Nickleback, they would also be terminated.)

According to Nick Perrino of student-rights advocate group The Fire, the following paragraph appeared in a book by the organization’s founders in 1998: “In Fall 1995, Emerson College barred the college’s student radio station from playing rap music not on a list of forty officially approved pieces that contained no ‘trigger words.’ The administration insisted that rap was sexist and caused crime. Arthur Barron, chairman of the Department of Mass Communication, explained: ‘We want to make absolutely certain that nothing in the body of rap music inspires, incites, either violence or sexism or hatred.’”

Perhaps the strangest example of a song ban is in when tiny Goshen College in Indiana suspended “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 2011, saying that it glorified war and went against the school’s pacifist tradition.

Bottom line: there are no clear lines when it comes to banning controversial music on college campuses. So can any amount of banning or censoring songs or music really protect students or make them act in more “appropriate” ways? Likely not. As James D’Entremont, director of the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression, told Emerson College when it banned rap’s trigger words: ‘No amount of brain-dead social engineering through censorship is ever going to give us a safer campus or a kinder and gentler society.'"