The “Blurred Lines” of Summer

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The summer is about innocent, feel-good fun. Well, at least it was, just last year in fact. The song of the summer for 2012 was almost indisputably “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepson’s upbeat pop-ballad that revels in restraint rather than indulgence.

Things can change a lot in a year.

Of course, summer doesn’t “mean” anything in any objective sense, besides the obvious weather-related implications. All of the other things we associate with the summer are cultural in nature, the results of our own experiences being reinforced and recreated in media.

Every year, we discover the “song of the summer,” a typically joyful cultural moment for everyone involved, if for no other reason than the fact that these songs aren’t complicated. “Call Me Maybe,” “Party Rock Anthem,” and “I Gotta Feeling” are simplistic and naive anthems about joy, happiness, and love. Even the more scandalous songs like “I Kissed a Girl” and “Promiscuous” only flirt with sexual immorality; they’re scandalous songs crafted for a clean-cut crowd.

Artist rendering of the Thicke’s “song.” Image- evmaiden via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This year, though, it’s clear that the crowd has changed. The song of the summer is Robin Thicke’s aptly titled “Blurred Lines,” a song that collides with the barriers of a conservative sexual ethic and ends up somewhere on the border of rape culture. And the worst part: It is hugely popular.

What is clear is that the song has no concern for the old institution of marriage or the sacred nature of sex: “Okay, now he was close, tried to domesticate you. But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you. You don’t need no papers. That man is not your maker.”

And that leads to the inevitable and culturally tired refrain, “I know you want it.” Thicke sings this phrase in low, knowing tones, repeating, presumably, until he’s given the go ahead. Later, he adds the helpful clarification, “I hate these lines,” and it’s clear from the rest of the lyrical content that he is not the one drawing the lines in the first place. Whether the lines are drawn by the woman herself or the institution, the message is the same: restraint is over. It’s old news. It’s for the squares.

“Just let me liberate you,” sings Thicke. Meanwhile, background vocals validate the message with echoed refrains and repeated “Hey, Hey, Hey,” giving the impression that the masses are on the same page. Or put more directly, “Everybody’s doing it.” And the majority, for good or ill, is music to our ears.

We want to belong to something. We don’t want to feel alone. If we’re in the middle of the dance floor at our cousin’s wedding and this cynical, soulless shadow of last year’s “Call Me Maybe” comes on, we’re likely to go along with the crowd. We won’t protest. It’s in our nature.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • G-Lo

    The seductive influence of a nice melody/tune. Lyrics are really horrible, but that beat. *sigh*

    ITA your thoughts on this BTW…

  • ISB

    “If we’re in the middle of the dance floor at our cousin’s wedding and
    this cynical, soulless shadow of last year’s “Call Me Maybe” comes on,
    we’re likely to go along with the crowd.” Perhaps thats something we can change. Back when I was an Undergrad, one of the popular dabce tunes for a season was Bloodhound Gang’s “Bad Touch”- chorus: “You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals

    So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”. I always walked off the dance floor when it came on. It was just too much for me. I can’t say I “made much” of it, and I think I was only asked about it once. And I’ve danced to to lyrics that don’t bear close examination… but that one, without even thinking through it deeply, was just too crude and dehumanizing for me even at 21. We need to draw some lines…

  • Brett

    My firm position on Robin Thicke is that he is the answer to the question, “What would happen if you took Robert Palmer and subtracted every last bit of class and talent?”

    My goal now is to find the dolt who asked that question and burdened us with this problem.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Agreed, I sort of rolled my eyes at this part of the piece as well. I’d join in only if I literally didn’t know the song and couldn’t hear what the lyrics were saying. Even then I’d think how silly it was to have a dance song at a wedding.

  • ISB

    Well, I’d say about 50% of the weddings I’ve been to in the 7 years I’ve been living in the MidWest have had a DJ and music for dancing of almost every variety. And this is in the small-town MidWest. Actually, I think that most people who “dance” in that sense, whether at a social event or a nightclub or whatever, pay very little attention to the lyrics. I’m not saying “no Christian should ever dance to that evil rock and roll!”, but I am suggesting that perhaps we need to rethink the acceptance of the idea that “its just a tune, I;m just dancing” and, as I said, draw SOME lines…


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