The Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has banned Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous number one song ‘Blurred Lines’ from all student buildings.
While this is the first UK university organisation to ban the single, the controversy surrounding the song makes the news somewhat unsurprising. With lyrics as blatantly sexist as “Not many women can refuse this pimpin’” and a few more too vivid to mention, the reaction from noted feminists, and many others, can best be summed up by PolicyMic’s Elizabeth Plank: “The lyrics are rapey [and] the video overtly objectifies women.” The EUSA’s justification for banning the song? It breached their policy to “end rape culture and lad banter.”
This all took place in the same week that the University of Edinburgh entered in the top 20 universities worldwide. Issues of censorship tend to be divisive in elite academic institutions but rarely concern pop songs. This situation, however, begs the question: why does a university organisation feel the need to filter what students hear in their buildings? This sets a dubious precedent; namely, that some of the world’s most privileged students aren’t considered smart enough to make up their own mind about a tune. They have no choice but to succumb to the received wisdom of their student union.
Whilst the nature of the song is indeed raunchy – no, outright exploitative – it is, after all, just a song. It isn’t a textbook encouraging harassment; it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. If it does offend a student’s sensibilities, they have the option to opt out of listening to ‘Blurred Lines.’ It should, however, be beyond a student association’s authority to force other students to involuntarily opt out as well.
The context of the scenario matters greatly to understanding why banning the song is so perverse. An EUSA official performed an intervention at a freshers’ silent disco and told DJ Magnus Monahan to fade out the track. The silent disco, incidentally, has two headphone channels; if any student didn’t like the song, than they had to the option to change channel. This only heightens the absurdity of announcing the ban at a silent disco of all things.
The EUSA could have taken notes from three Auckland University students who, rather than pushing for an authoritarian ban, instead decided to upload a feminist parody entitled ‘Defined Lines’. It’s catchy, creative and far more intelligent than Edinburgh’s blanket ban (or the original song). As for the ban, it’s quite obvious it will have little effect. Sexism will still exist to the same degree: ‘Blurred Lines’ never encouraged sexism, sexism encouraged ‘Blurred Lines’. Tackle the cause, not the effect. The EUSA’s action is little more than symbolic gesture; it does nothing to tackle rape culture, but does a fair bit to encourage censorship.
The issue is important beyond Edinburgh. Curbing something which does come roughly under the ‘freedom of expression’ box may well redefine the role of a Students’ Union. Instead of pushing student interests, it encourages uniformity of thought regarding a song. It blurs the lines (sorry) of a student union’s role. The union’s role has been perverted in prioritising their moral high ground over catering to student interests. Unless, that is, you consider inculcating political rectitude as a ‘student’s interest.’