Robin Thicke's Banned Video & Thoughts On Sexism
Taking a momentary digression from career advice and swinging back towards cultural observations. Just came across this video of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines (NSFW) via New York Magazine's always entertaining newsletter, The Vulture. It's worth the watch ... probably from your phone, during your lunch break. The gist is that it features three fully clothed men (the singers) and a plethora of mostly naked models dancing around the set, being playfully chased by the men. The video is moderately entertaining and the women have beautiful bodies. Quite honestly, my first impression was that I wasn't overly offended, a bit confused and mostly wondering why they couldn't find models who were better dancers. The models reminded me of the very young, Eastern European women that come to NYC in order to make it in the industry - barely speaking English and at the mercy of their agents.
But what I really found interesting was their explanation for the song and choices in the video. Robin Thicke explained that he and Pharrell came up with the lyrics and song in a half hour and wrote it as a criticism of misogynistic lyrics we so often hear. He explained that the men in the video looked like idiots whereas the women were directed to act confident and in power by looking directly at the camera. He's referencing a concept from art history 101 - the "gaze" whereas a woman looking directly at the viewer is challenging him / her and asserting her power, most famously depicted in Manet's Olympia.
In a recent GQ article Robin explains:
"Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around."
Even Thicke's wife points out in response to the outcry that "Violence is ugly. Nudity is beautiful."
A recent TEDTalk by Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism educator, echoes this thinking - showing that the conversation of violence against women needs to change to better understand why men are the perpetrators.
So where am I going with all of this talk about nudity, violence, power struggles and sexism, early on a Thursday morning? The video, Manet's Olympia and Jackson's TEDTalk all flip cultural norms on their head. Each make controversial statements because we view their statements through the eyes of a cultural norm so that their artistry become taboo. Both Thicke and Manet challenge the notion that women are not empowered by their own bodies. They show that women do recognize their bodies are beautiful and have the power to turn on both men, other women and even themselves. Jackson champions the empowerment of women when he proves that the discussion of violence against women is really not a "woman's issue" but rather, a problem men need to tackle as they ask themselves why they are the perpetrators.
So I for one am hopeful that the conversation is changing and I look forward to a time when a woman is no longer seen as a victim, but sees her whole being as the great source of power that it is.