published Friday, August 30th, 2013

Cook: Don't let Robin Thicke escape

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.

No blurriness.

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 "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 or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

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 ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Walden said...

David - I hate to say it, but I bet if Thicke were black, you wouldn't have written this article.

August 30, 2013 at 8:51 a.m.
davidcook said...

Sure I would Walden. In fact, I'll say it right here: any music and any artist - black, white, pop, rap, metal, country - that degrades and objectifies women in such a Thicke-esquian way is wrong and wrong again. But what you're pointing out is a double standard of color: what Cyrus did has been part of rap culture for a long time, but it was only when MTV put her center stage did the entire country get upset.

August 30, 2013 at 9:14 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Thank you for this column.
We should also find out more about (learn the names and faces) of the (mostly) men behind the corporations that promote -- and profit from -- debasing our culture and corrupting our kids. They should be ashamed. Yet, they are hidden behind the scenes, almost never identified. I'm not calling for government censorship; I am calling for responsible media to find out about these corporate perverts, and identify them. They need to hear, on a personal level, what we think of them and the "product" they are pushing on our youth.

August 30, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.
Walden said...

David - I disagree with you. Of course, this is impossible for me to prove since I can't get inside your head, but in my opinion, if Cyrus had done her dirty dance with a black rapper, you wouldn't have written this particular article. Why? Two reasons in my humble opinion... it wouldn't have been newsworthy (or opinion worthy) because black rappers participate in this type of cultural degredation every day, and 2) because it would have been politically incorrect for you to do so. Remember, the only people it is ok to criticize anymore are white males. Just one man's opinion.

August 30, 2013 at 9:47 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Getting into a woman's pants is different than rape. Trying to talk a woman into it, that's different than rape. A male could listen to this song 24/7 and still choose not to rape. It's always someone else's fault, according to too many in this country.

August 30, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.
davidcook said...

LaughingBoy, the language you are using fits right into all of this. Get into a woman's pants? Talk a woman into it? Someone else's fault? In each of your descriptions, two things happen. You, trying to convince someone to have sex. And you, never considering anything else other than that. What you're saying is wrong.

August 30, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook, the phrase getting into a woman's pants goes along with the crudeness of the song, that's the goal of the character in the song. It's not rape. Convincing a woman to hop in the sack isn't rape. You may not be old enough to remember the 2 Live Crew specifically, their lyrics made Thicke's lyrics look like church hymns. They were "forbidden" songs back during junior high, and were listened to nearly daily. As far as I know, and word would get around, none of my friends raped anyone through high school or college or have since, though of course you lost contact over the years. A savage act like that is a choice made, or not made, and blaming it on a song is pathetic.

August 30, 2013 at 12:45 p.m.
CHSinvolved said...

I've read most of Mr. Cook's articles and he is a lot of things; direct, opinionated, culturally aware, educated, forthright, informed, abrasive, adamant, a bit self-important maybe, but not from one article can I ascertain that the man is politically correct. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. Political correctness is what is practiced at holiday dinner tables when father-in-law is a stout, Bible belt republican and his new son-in-law is running for a democratic office on the West Coast. Certain things remain unsaid for the sake of getting through the weekend event. I doubt that Mr. Cook could bite his tongue that long.

I have found that his articles are well written with a bit of snark and a lot of insight. I hope to see more, such as what he has written and I hope that the Times Free Press knows what a gem that they have in his writings.

I've raised a son and I am raising 2 daughters, it is good to know that there are others out there that do not blindly submit to the "boys will be boys" and "act like a lady or you are asking for it" mentality. It gives me hope that the more that this behavior is called out, the more parents will look down at their children and say, "What is it that you think that she wants?" and "What do think is wrong with this grown man's thinking?" And take the prompt of the song/video/sad display and use it to educate a future to disdain that behavior and not count it as normal.

August 30, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.
davidcook said...

Regrettably, I do remember 2 Live Crew. And a 1000 other bands like them and Thicke (and I would hesitate to call them church hymns. "I will give you something big enough to tear (expletive) in two" the song goes....) I never wrote that these songs cause men to go out and rape. Never...wrote...that. I did say they feed the monster of sexism and male violence and male distortion: where men think women are objects, and men absorb all the power and control they can get their hands on. Thicke and Luther Campbell contribute to this, and ho-hum it's-just-a-song casualness does as well.

August 30, 2013 at 12:54 p.m.

As a woman that has raised one son and two daughters, and is married, I am compelled to ring in with my two cents. Let’s face it, our culture has somewhat gone to hell in a hand basket, so to speak. The goings on with Robin and Miley was gross, but it was Miley that was gross. She was the one making all the crude looks and disgusting movements and it was not a depiction of the song. The song talks about a “hard to get” woman, and she was hardly that. She gets 100% responsibility for that. People want to step up and say she is a 20 year old and he is 36, he should know better. She has been in the crude business far longer than Robin Thicke has. She is messed up and that is not Robin’s fault, nor is he responsible for protecting her, as I doubt she would take anyone protecting her. That was her father’s job back in the day he was letting her take kinky photos when she was 15.

I cringe when I read that Robin’s song promotes “rape culture” when it is really about a man that wants to get a bit kinky with a girl and yes, he is trying to talk her into it, but that is life. We negotiate our will on thousands of levels every day. When it goes sideways is when a “no” isn’t respected and a person takes what they want anyway. This song does not communicate that. I hate to think of what would happen in my own love life if every time my husband and I had sex, he had to be all proper about it. Sometimes, people just want to get nasty and there is nothing wrong with that and that is what, I think, this song is about, not rape. Robin is talking about someone that thinks she is a “good girl” and telling her it’s okay if she wants to get nasty. It is a rebellion against a prude religious culture that would teach that sex is “bad” kind of thing. The pendulum swings wide. Is this a song that should be playing on the radio and idolized by people? I don’t know, but, as a nation, we are trying to find balance with it all because religious prudishness has brought its own set of problems and this is part of that process. But healing doesn’t come with finger pointing and blame without first understanding part of where behavior comes from in the first place.

See, you open the box on one issue and then try to wrap it up in a bow, and it doesn’t really work. Talk about the rape culture and you can’t not talk about how the religious culture has contributed to that. And honestly, until that is addressed, getting all over Robin Thicke about it isn’t going to change a thing. The words of his song are being taken out of context and if you still don’t approve of them, he is a symptom, not the problem.

FYI, statistically, countries with a more open position on sexual activity and nudity have lower instances of rape (crime in general actually), lower teen pregnancy and lower cases of child molestation (information gathered by the UN). A thought to ponder.

August 30, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

David Cook, I really enjoy most of your articles. You are very insightful and original, and I tend to agree with much of what you say. But really, here you are sounding a bit like a sanctimonious little old church lady. There are very few men today, especially the younger men, who don't objectify sex. Moreover, the girls have come to objectify it just as much. It is nothing to hear them speak of whatever guy "getting into their pants" or "getting laid" or talk about the size of the guy's "package" and use other crude, explicit terms. Maybe today's women have been pushed (victimized) into a corner of being objectified by the mass media, but now they are just as much the participants in the objectification as the men are. We are living in an age in which sex, for both men and women, has become more of a recreational pleasure than it is an act of profound love and intimacy. I don't think that's necessarily a good thing but that is the way it is. Sexuality for a lot of people today seems like little more than an ongoing porn video. Robin Thicke's song is just another in the cornucopia of sexually oriented rap/hip-hop songs and his lyrics are actually tamer than most.

Miley Cyrus was rightfully the center of attention on that VMA performance because the spotlight is naturally upon her, as being the innocent little "Hannah Montana" now trying to find herself as a young adult woman. It was not the sexual nature of her performance that was itself so bad but the crude, over-the-top way she went about it. Personally I didn't find anything at all sexy about her. I couldn't help but think, as I watched her "twerking" and tongue-wagging (what was up with the tongue?!) that she was a lost little girl trying to push the envelope a little further along. But Madonna she ain't. Nor Lady Gaga. Love 'em or hate 'em, both of those women are worthy of the name "artist," IMHO. You probably find them to be too explicit and crude in their sexuality, but they definitely come up with some very original material in their performances.

I don't know to what extent Miley Cyrus' dance routine was her own idea or that of some dance coach or choreographer but she needs to go in a different direction or tap into her own creative juices, if she truly has any. What she did was just piggish, crude, and totally unoriginal. Thicke's song (it could have been any one of hundreds of other hip-hop songs) was just the vehicle for her extremely tacky performance.

August 30, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Moonkat, Cook, and other handwringers might be surprised to know the director of that song's video-with the explicit version featuring models running around topless-is a woman. And no, I've not seen it so it may be relatively mild compared to a lot of stuff out there.

August 30, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.
emilyro said...

Rickaroo, Your "that's just the way it is argument" is lame. I don't mean lame in the juvenile sense of the word, but in the "lacks merit" sense of the word. Your statement might be true, the objectification of women and sex is rampant within our society... SO WE SHOULD CHANGE THAT. We, as Americans, are among the luckiest people in the world that we are a part of a society that not only allows change but encourages it (to a certain extent). I may be young and idealistic, but I hope to never be so old or cynical that I merely except how things are as how things must be. Those are different. You admit, "Robin Thicke's song is just another in the cornucopia of sexually oriented rap/hip-hop songs." The point of this article and others like them is to point out the absurdity that there is such a cornucopia and empower people to CHANGE. (I am taking liberty in interpreting Mr. Cook's article and motivation. But writers don't write just so they can read their own material later.) In fact, Mr. Cook ends his article with,

"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."

That right there's call to action language.

Onewomansopinion, I thank you for your screenname, because you certainly do not share my opinion as a fellow woman. I hope you realize how lucky you are to have a committed partner with whom you can explore sexuality and "get nasty." Some woman don't get that courtesy, and for you to suggest that the song is somehow liberating to women (because now "good girls" know it's okay to "get nasty") is offensive. Furthermore, having a culture that is "open about sexuality" is different from one that objectifies women. We as a society are extremely immature when it comes to sexuality, and it's time for us to grow up.

-- For the record, if you have to convince, cajole, talk into, persuade, or do anything to have sex with someone you're doing it the wrong way, thinking about it the wrong way, and probably aren't mature enough to be engaging in such an act.

August 30, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

Emilyro, I think the way you look at sex is part of the problem. Who are you to say how someone should look at sex or that their way of looking at it is wrong? That is what has led us to this seemingly crisis of morality in the US. The answer, historically, has not been to become more oppressive, but less. Who cares who objectifies sex? What is so sacred about it other than the church tells you it is? That doesn't make it so. I believe so strongly in that statement, I am going to say it twice. Just because the church says so, doesn't make it so. If there are two consenting adults, I don't care what they do. Lines should only be drawn when ppl are actually harmed. There is nothing wrong with the thrill of the chase. Many a great love story begins with some obnoxious guy not giving up. It is the girl's right to say no and that is what she should do if she doesn't want it. If the guy doesn't respect that then that is a totally different story than what is being told in this song. Talking about blurred lines.

August 30, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.
moon4kat said...

Laughing Boy . . . A director is of of many paid positions in the chain. What I'd like to know is: who is the boss who hired her? Who is underwriting, and really profiting from, the promotion of smut.

August 30, 2013 at 3:31 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Good response, OWO. Here is my additional two cents' worth:

EMILYRO, sex means lots of things to different people. That is what sexual freedom is all about and that is a good thing. It can range anywhere from two people remaining virgins until marriage and never indulging in anything but procreative sex in the missionary position, all the way to people who make porn videos or swing and will screw (beg pardon, you probably don't even like to hear that word) anyone on two feet simply because they like the carnal pleasures of sex. Good luck on thinking you're going to change society just because you think you happen to have the one and only "right" attitude about sex.

I'm not saying that "that's the way it is" is an excuse to just let it ride and apathetically accept things as they are, but when the women enjoy recreational sex just as much as men do, and when they do the objectifying just as much as men do, then I don't know how you expect to change them or even what you want to change them to.

I understand what Mr.Cook is saying about how so many of today's rap and hip-hop songs glorify a man forcing himself on a woman and I detest the way that rappers constantly refer to women as b#tches and ho's in their songs, all the while flaunting their overblown male egos. But I think that he (and perhaps you) are reading way too much into the lyrics of that one particular song by Robin Thicke.

If the only kind of sex you deem acceptable is where two people love each other and are committed in marriage or at least living together as a couple, then, fine. If that works for you, go for it. But there are plenty of people, especially younger people today, for whom sex is something else entirely and if you think you are going to change them or change the way society evolves or devolves from one generation to the next, you are seriously deluded.

August 30, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
davidcook said...

Rickaroo, on behalf of little old church ladies everywhere, I take that as a compliment. And I also, sincerely, appreciate your comments and the times you read this column. Same goes for everyone commenting today, including LaughingBoy (even though we're clearly dont see eye to eye on this). Emilyro, you've got my vote.

August 30, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
medrep63 said...

David...just found out and thought you might like to know that the King DB, Kevin Huffman, also known as the champion of public education sends his daughter to Harpeth Hall in Nashville!! He sure supports his "common core" BS...He is killing us teachers, doesn't support us at all, wants to destroy the system...and it's not good enough for his daughter!! What a hypocritical bastard...your pal ( you know who I am, we email )

August 30, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.
blairstew said...

Mr. Cook,

I just saw the hyperlinked article below and thought I must share it with you after reading (and having many problems with) this article of yours last week. Thoughts?


September 24, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
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