Enough sound bites, status updates, Tweets, and other too-brief snippets of discussion. Let’s take some time, at length, to talk through the reasons and theory behind this whole Robin Thicke thing.
1) Why is the BU community petitioning against Robin Thicke, when many other pop artists have hit songs featuring analogous misogynistic content?
Since the release of “Blurred Lines,” the public’s response to the content of its video, and the artist’s follow-up to the controversy, Robin Thicke has been regarded as a figurehead for the promotion of misogynistic themes in pop music—a symptom and symbol of the misogyny that pervades our popular culture. For this reason, the conversation about the ways in which women are regarded in pop culture is being funneled through the lens of The Robin Thicke Controversy. Thicke’s appearance in Boston is just the latest chapter. Our petition protest isn’t about one concert in one campus arena; it is part of our ongoing challenge to misogyny, objectification and disempowerment of women, and commodification of sexuality. That this particular activist action has garnered so much attention suggests we are on to something, but really it isn’t more significant than our efforts in other areas. Such wrong-headed cultural decisions and values are part of the problem we are constantly working to confront: rape culture, and the attitudes it reinforces that, in our view, play into the incidences of sexual assault on college campuses.
2) Is it necessary for Boston University allow Robin Thicke to perform? As a liberal arts institution shouldn’t BU encourage freedom of expression?
Yes and no. As an institution of higher learning, BU has a responsibility to its students to defend freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The administration should not censor what content the community receives. That being said, the administration has had no part in the petition requesting that Robin Thicke’s performance be canceled! The managers of Agganis Arena entered into a contract, for mutual economic benefit, to allow Robin Thicke to perform at this campus venue. To the extent that the Trustees of Boston University are indirectly profiting from Thicke’s performance; and to the extent BU is a community of stakeholders—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and neighbors—, then it is to that extent that we are asking that the choice to enter into such a contract be revisited. Any argument that BU is exercising its authority as an institution to act as a censor, restricting artist expression or restricting freedom of speech, is nonsense.
The petition is entirely homegrown, born from and of our community of students and alumni here at BU. This is a matter of the BU people rallying in support of feminist values which we, as a community, find important.
Let’s put it like this. The private institution of Boston University owns a room. It is their prerogative to rent this room out to whomever they please. They rented the room out to Robin Thicke, a pretty big pop star at the moment. He’s hip and happening with the young folks these days.
It turns out, however, that a substantial portion of BU’s demographic (2,700 people, to be specific) is actually against the ideals that Thicke represents, and therefore is against his use of a room which seems to them to be a room in their house.
Now, if I own a house with a spare room in it, I am not required or advised to allow just anyone to rent this room, in the spirit of allowing unfettered freedom of expression. That’s what the words “privately owned” mean.
BU has an obligation to listen to the voice of its community members. We don’t want Robin Thicke to profit off a performance in our house. This is not “liberal fascism.” This is freedom. This is our voices being heard.
3) Isn’t this whole thing kind of trivial? Why are you so angry about a simple pop song?
Yes, a pop song is trivial. (It is, after all, just the work of a derivative commercial artist who rehashed a popular Marvin Gaye song. But that’s neither here nor there.) What isn’t trivial is the fact that sexual assault is a huge problem on college campuses throughout the nation. Even the President agrees! This is a symptom of that system of pervasive attitudes and prejudices that we call “rape culture.” Ours is a culture that portrays sexual assault as a fact of life that women and men (especially women…) just have to deal with. “Boys will be boys.” “Well, what do you expect?” “Did you see what she was wearing?” “It’s hard to judge… it’s a he-said, she-said situation.” And so on.
This is a culture that blames the victim, and makes light of sexual assault.
There is hope for change—we have made progress! But we are not done. I will not be the one to tell the next girl who is raped on a college campus, “Sorry, but too bad. We have lowered the percentage of rapes and sexual assaults on our college campus to the acceptable level. Can’t you see, you are safer than ever? We don’t care about you anymore.”
Let’s remember, the acceptable number of rapes and sexual assaults on a college campus is ZERO. Anything and everything we can do to fight a culture which makes sexual assault and rape acceptable, or normalized, we will do.
Our opposition to Robin Thicke is an expression, in the specific case, of our opposition in the general case to the pernicious culture which he represents, a culture which trivializes the notion of consent. All we’re doing is working to displace that culture with a culture more committed to gender equity. We aren’t flaming angry feminists who want to burn Thicke at the stake for a dumb song (despite how we’re being portrayed by the media). Thicke just had the rotten luck to get booked at a venue whose surrounding community is alert to the problem of rape culture, and intolerant of misogyny in all its forms.
So please, tell me again: Why should we want this performer to have access to our stage?