All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.


24 February 2014

The New College Conservatives?

Via Ann Althouse, I am greeted this morning by the news that there is a Petition at Boston University to cancel a concert by this fellow of whom I'd not ever heard until Miley Cyrus used him as a sex toy, Robin Thicke.

More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition started by members of Humanists of Boston University to get Thicke’s March 4 date at the school’s Agganis Arena cancelled.

‘Thicke’s hit song, Blurred Lines, celebrates having sex with women against their will,’ the group’s petition at states.

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‘Lyrics such as, “I know you want it,” explicitly use non-consensual language. And while watching the extremely explicit video, the insinuations grow from subtle to explicit to obnoxious.’

 I always get an uneasy feeling in the back of my head when I read about groups attempting to stop someone from speaking or performing on a college campus.  I'm not only Libertarian in this respect, but also something of a First Amendment Purist, both as a legal and philosophical matter.  But that's not what I want to write about.

What I want to write about is the fact that the Humanists of Boston University want to prevent Thicke from performing based on the fact that his songs are crude, rude, and vile.  Because no matter how you slice it, that's what's going on: they are saying that whatever meagre benefits may be provided by his performance are outweighed by the damage that his antics do to the culture, and that such coarseness doesn't really have a place at a University.

And that strikes me as a perfectly legitimate reason for objecting to the show -- not one I'd necessarily share because of my free speech commitments -- but a legitimate objection.  (I want to make perfectly clear, however, that I'd cut off a pinky rather than attend a Robin Thicke concert.)  

But I think you have to accept that it's an undeniably conservative reason, one which seeks to suppress certain types of expression in order to protect cultural mores seen as valuable from being undermined.  And if you object to Thicke's performance on those grounds... well, maybe the next time someone objects to something that they find crude, offensive, and not quite worth the benefits, even if you disagree with them, at the very least you can understand where they are coming from.

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As a side note to the BU students who issued these statements to the press... "I know you want it" isn't explicitly non-consensual.  In fact, when you say that they are "insinuations" that require the video to make them grow to "explicit insinuations" (whatever those are), you're really undermining your entire statement.

The lyric is not even really implicitly non-consensual -- at best there's an inference here rather than an implication.  I take it that the lyric in question is supposed to be true -- that the woman to whom Thicke is speaking really does "want it" and that he really does know -- even if she doesn't necessarily realize it as a fully conscious thought.  So a more accurate way of putting that would be, "Lyrics such as 'I know you want it" echo and reinforce an attitude of male entitlement and sexual control, while simultaneously presenting women as inherently passive objects unable to take control of their own desires."

And that still presents the lyric as properly bad and objectionable -- but it also has the added benefit of being true.  But I suppose it doesn't sound as good as a sound-bite.

UPDATE: Minor grammar edit to the last paragraph, and some spacing fixes.