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We Can't Stop, or Can We?
By Annie Tisdale
Looking at today’s pop culture it’s easy to see that moral lines are constantly being blurred. And in a world where consumerism has become a way of life, women are as objectified as ever. In the NPR article, “When Pop Stars Flirt with Bad Taste,” writer Ann Powers discusses how today’s pop music scene seems to be walking the thin line between having a good time and sending a bad message. She evaluates two of the most controversial videos of the summer, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus. According to Powers, “The blurred messages Thicke, Cyrus and others are now sending fit a time when people think of themselves as products, more than ever before.” Yes, it’s all about getting what you want nowadays, even if you have to sell your self to get it. But, as the old saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps too much blame is being laid at the feet of entertainers. How much responsibility belongs to the artist and how much belongs to the consumer?
In the uncensored video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Thicke, rapper T.I., and producer Pharrell Williams are seen flirting playfully with a trio of naked models, or half naked if you count the barely-there underwear. Of course, the men are fully clothed. Powers makes note of this, but adds that a scene about 3 minutes into the video showing a naked woman’s bum covered by a red stop sign and a subsequently disappointed Pharrell, signals something more sinister. She claims the video borders on condoning rape, citing the lyric “I know you want it.”
Essentially, the video is nothing more than sanctioned pornography for public consumption. But the nation has been heading in this way for a long time. “Blurred Lines” is just Robin Thicke’s desperate attempt for publicity, not to mention “#THICKE” showing up every few seconds. What was edgy yesterday is boring today, so artists are continually trying to find ways to push the envelope. People want more. But, is this video really any different from what can be found in the previous 20 years of entertainment. As I said before, it’s always been heading in this direction. The sickness is with the audience. No demand, no supply.
However, to suggest that this song is about rape or that it even condones it is really going too far. The lyrics are merely about a man who is flirting with a woman who is already in a relationship. But, no one’s going to cry foul about that in today’s world, because adultery is no concern. We’re used to that.
And with what may be the FCC’s new plans to allow more profanity and nudity during primetime television, it seems that we’ll be seeing a lot more raunchy entertainment. Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times states “The FCC has since asked for comment on a policy that essentially would permit “isolated” profanity and nonsexual nudity to appear before 10 p.m. without fear of penalty. This presumably would mean that broadcasters would not be held responsible for curse words spoken on a live awards show or the kind of “wardrobe malfunction” that exposed Janet Jackson’s breast at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.” So, it’s possible that the boob tube will start living up to its name someday.
Women aren’t the only one’s to be objectified in today’s culture. Men, women, people of all ages and ethnic groups have been turned into commodities. It’s especially sad to see when people self-objectify themselves, when they really don’t need to. Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” is one such video where we have a young woman wanting to break away from her Disney past in the hopes of obtaining the ever coveted sex icon status. Apparently the song was originally written for Rihanna and Cyrus, who was looking for a “black” sound, picked it up. The video itself isn’t much more than Miley dressed scantly, rolling around in provocative poses, and random scenes meant to shock. It’s a typical sight in entertainment since the days of Madonna.
In this video there isn’t a man objectifying her. Miley is a grown up, she can manage objectifying herself on her own, thank you very much! On top of this, the article delves into what some think may be racism within “We Can’t Stop” because of cultural appropriation of certain slang, style and dancing. Let me say out right, I don’t believe that Miley is racist for “twerking”, a dance with African roots. According to Powers, “Many critiques of Cyrus rightly question why this privileged young woman has chosen to adopt an "urban" style grounded in the most abject aspects of African-American culture, as it's been filtered through a "hipster-racist" subculture that reduces black masculinity to thug primitivism and femininity to door-knocker earrings and big, juicy butts.”
This is America, the melting pot. Remember? This is the place where cultural appropriation is a way of life. Isn’t that what our forebears marched for? Well, maybe not for twerking… But, that leads me to believe that if there’s anyone upset, it’s not over culture hijacking, but anger over the thing that was hijacked. Quite frankly, as an African-American woman, it’s not our best export. You can only put forth a certain image for so long until the chickens come home to roost. And in the case of whether art imitates life or the other way around, I’m a firm believer in the chicken or life coming before the egg (art). It’s the black community’s responsibility to rehabilitate their reputation. In the same vein, it’s the task of women to change our image starting at home, on the street, and in the office.
In the end it was a woman, Diane Martel, who directed both of these risqué videos and everyone involved gave their consent, from the nude models in Thicke’s video to the black dancers in Cyrus’. Not to mention the audience who eats this type of thing up. So, with everyone from the artists to the consumers being willing participants, can we stop? Well, maybe not. Powers says, “Blurred lines can lead to exciting new places. But sometimes we need to draw them, for ourselves, again.”
It’s a poignant statement, indeed. But, today’s issues rise from the unanswered questions of the past. Seeds planted decades ago, have come to fruition. Likewise, the seeds planted today will have to be harvested by the next generation. Surely there’ll always be bad aspects of society perpetuated by pop culture. Hopefully, there will be good fruit too and it’s up to each individual, not pop stars, to make sure that happens.