We Say No

We Should Celebrate Social Media's Slaying of Robin Thicke

‘Blurred Lines’ was just a warning shot, Thicke is back with a whole album that willfully ignores the desires of women.

(Chad Batka/The New York Times, via Redux

Whether we like it or not, what celebrities do, say and believe is widely viewed: they can sustain horrible myths that seriously harm or kill children; they can undermine violence as mere domestic disputes; they can be so bizarrely bigoted, you might wonder if it’s an elaborate publicity stunt. Celebrities being “wiewed” doesn’t obviously mean they’re “imitated”; but it does play into what we want a wider culture to represent. Celebrities are people who have the power to win people's attention even for the slightest moment.

For example, Mehmet Oz, the host of his titular show Dr Oz, already has an “effect” named after him. When he mentions a product on his show, its sales skyrocket. As Forbes’ Alice Walton notes, soon after promoting “Neti Pots”, “sales rose by 12,000%. Internet searches for the nasal irrigation system alone rose by 42,000%.”

It’s a pity, then, that Dr Oz is notorious for pushing pseudoscience and quackery.

Celebrities as glorified snake oil salesmen are one thing. But now we also have celebrities who make entire music albums off being a scorned, creepy boyfriend who can’t accept rejection. For this, we turn to Robin Thicke.

Thicke leapt into public consciousness with his ugly song Blurred Lines – which a small music magazine called Rolling Stone did not like at all. If all you had was the song’s audio, it would sound little different to looping elevator music—only it’s worse because it includes his misogynistic lyrics and unimpressive voice.

The song has been accused of reinforcing rape culture and the undermining of women. Slate’s Geeta Dayal wrote:

“I wish I could read the song as simply sleazy, but rapey lines like ‘I know you want it’ and ‘I hate these blurred lines,’ paired with the loathsome video, were too much to bear…Twenty student unions at universities in the U.K. have gone so far as to ban the song from being played at social events; the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, which condemned the song, issued a statement, writing that “the language within the lyrics and the images within the promotional video are utterly degrading to the female subject.”

The audio alone was awful enough; but the video of naked women and clothed men leering at them (that's it, that's the whole video—so arty!) only amplifies its awfulness into audio-sensory nausea. This is a song that seems to not only dust away boundaries, it indicates as much in the song’s title. That’s nothing to celebrate and everything to oppose, in its message and meaning, as Tricia Romano has already highlighted.

Thicke’s mission, however, to pump sleazy, entitled-man thoughts into the air continues. This time, instead of just women in general, he has decided to add his own boring relationship to increase the creep factor. To listen to his song is unfortunately to learn of his celebrity breakup.

Celebrity breakups should be as newsworthy as your best friend's dreams. In this case, Thicke separated from his wife, the actress Paula Patton. Any mutual properties of this breakup (of two strangers you or I don’t know, remember?) soon dissolved when it was revealed the new album is called Paula. The single? “Get her back”.

My. What could it possibly mean?

The Guardian’s Peter Robinson was horrified by the album’s awful track-listing alone:

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“Opening with You're My Fantasy, Thicke's 14-track opus subsequently delivers, in order, Get Her Back, Still Madly Crazy, Lock the Door, and Whatever I Want, which reads less like a romantic gesture and more like a plot to violate a restraining order.”

The music video of the single, however, is again an indication that Thicke confuses creepy for charming. In the video, he seems to be drowning in bloodied water, he is shirtless and sad, and ogles the obligatory naked woman who seems made to resemble Patton. The worst part, however, is the apparent text messages that poison the screen—seemingly a conversation between Thicke and Patton. Slate’s Amanda Hess, in her excellent review, did the job of summarizing these messages, thankfully: “I wrote a whole album about you,” he says. “I don’t care,” she replies. “I hate myself,” he says. “You ruined everything,” she says. “This is just the beginning,” he says.

There’s a blindness here that Thicke and those who are supporting him by dubbing this “romantic” do not understand. The romance is, by definition, over. “One-sided romances” shouldn’t have the label at all; they’re not something either worth wanting or celebrating: brutalizing a woman into dating you, through endless messages and writing songs (or entire albums?) and sending flowers or whatever, is not a tactic we should want men or boys acting on. It’s not sweet, it’s not cute: a woman has said no. She is not playing a game. She is not acting “hard to get”. There are no blurred lines here, Mr Thicke, only your blurred understanding of what “no” means when a woman says it. And that’s troubling.

Jessica Valenti summarizes the problem as such: “Romanticizing the creepy and potentially harassing efforts of a man obsessed with this ex sends a dangerous message to young men about what "romance" really is. Hint: it has nothing to do with haranguing and publicly shaming us back into a relationship.”

Now you might say this sounds like a whole lot of scaremongering, of “what about the children” shouting. But importantly, this moral blindness to women’s rejection, viewing it as challenge rather than fact, is a frequent problem we know exists widely. That Thicke can keep making self-entitled, creepy, stalkerish videos without hesitation, that he can reach the top of the charts and find support (from men and women), is indication too many view rejection as “hard to get”.

The backlash, however, is a good sign.

Detractors might say this is a whole lot of feminist whining, of finding problems where there are none. Yet, that is premised on viewing a man with an already demonstrably troubling relationship with, well, relationships and boundaries as per his songs, as completely faultless.

To dismiss women’s concerns that their “saying no” becomes a reason to “try harder” for certain men, instead of accepting her rejection, undermines very real concerns women experience daily. Thicke’s anthem to his inability to move on like an adult shouldn’t be supported: if not for the man himself, then, importantly, for a wider culture that supports women first in accepting “no means no”; we should not want a society supporting men who wave away rejection because they can write songs or albums.

We ought to stop supporting men who whine about being rejected, as if they’re gladiators in the arena for women’s affections, whose default is “denied”. We should start supporting everyone, in an open consensual relationship that can, at any time, be suspended or broken off with “no”.

No one is owed to another, consent isn’t something to “fight” for—that’s the mindset of a criminal and a thug. But that is what we are supporting when we mutter “Aww” after seeing Thicke’s latest foray into his self-created arena of denied affection.

There’s a reason it’s denied, Mr. Thicke. Maybe the problem is you, not these alleged “blurred lines” you seem to have trouble with.