The first time I heard "Blurred Lines" was when my son walked by, singing the lyrics.
"I know you want it," the song goes.
He is 8.
How he heard the song, I will never know. So much washes ashore in this cultural wasteland; the junk so plentiful, the gatekeepers so few.
The song comes from the, for lack of a better word, artistry of Robin Thicke, a 36-year-old husband and father. It's topped Billboard charts for 12 straight weeks. Sunday night, "Blurred Lines" re-emerged in the MTV Video Music Awards as the backdrop for the (again lacking a better word) performance between Thicke and Miley Cyrus.
If you don't know what happened, consider yourself blessed. It was part Sesame Street, part soft porn. It was the sexual version of the gladiators and lions in Rome: cheering, shocked crowds and lust, minus the blood.
Afterward, Cyrus, 20 and a former Disney star, became the center of the American pop-cultural world; her name across all the headlines; her performance the center of so much justifiable anger and criticism.
But there's been no mainstream noise at all about Thicke. Not Monday or Tuesday. Not Wednesday. Not Thursday.
"No one is saying anything about Robin Thicke's part in all of this," wrote Deborah Cruz on Huffington Post.
Let's challenge that today. Because in times like these, it is important to speak clearly. No abstractions.
Robin Thicke promotes and exalts rape culture.
And he is as just as responsible for Sunday's performance as Cyrus is.
Remaining silent over Thicke is to allow the double standard of sexism to continue: Thicke (the male) bears no responsibility while we dump all our anger and attention on Cyrus (the female).
Look what Billboard editorial director Bill Werde told USA Today.
"All this really accomplishes is that more people are going to be familiar with who Robin Thicke is, and that's a good thing for him," Werde said.
At the heart of rape culture is a philosophy that dehumanizes women -- from jokes to music videos to pornography to locker-room mentality. Rape culture does not mean every woman is raped, but rather upholds and encourages the forces that make such violence possible.
"It's what drives many rape survivors to never report their rapes," wrote Elizabeth Plank on policymic.com. "In fact, it's why rape is the least reported crime and why 97 percent of rapists will never see a day in jail."
Rape culture allows no to mean yes, and forgives male violence with the mixed-signals defense and the boys-will-be-boys excuse. The objectification of women becomes the accepted norm.
"Females [in films] are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire," reports the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. "From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law or politics."
By staying silent about Thicke, we allow him to become the backdoor man who gets away, the rapist that's never caught, leaving the burden of existing post-attack (or post-performance, in Cyrus's case) entirely upon the woman.
"She made us all uncomfortable watching, but so did Robin Thicke," Cruz continued. "Miley Cyrus taking the brunt of the blowback is just a symptom of our society that tolerates and perpetuates rape culture."
If you teach boys or have sons or are a male, then this is the work before us.
Men must encourage other men to speak out against the objectification of women. We must dismantle rape culture by refusing to participate in it and speaking out when we were once silent. (This, I promise you, is not easy. I have been silent too many times to remember.)
"I know you want it," Thicke sings.
Actually, I don't think we do. Sexism and rape culture certainly damages women, but also damages the male mind as well. Healthy and mature masculinity will always equate to a respectful, healthy relationship with women.
The educator and author Jackson Katz speaks about the male bystander: not someone who is criminal or victim but the one there watching. Able to do nothing and equally able to stop everything.
"They are someone who is present and thus potentially in position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident," he wrote in his response to the child abuse crimes at Penn State University.
Picture it like a vaccine; introducing and discussing these topics with and among American males helps to encourage a positive outspokenness, an anti-Thicke version of the American male that refuses to blur any part of what is acceptable and what is not.
I'm starting with my own son.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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