Every so often, some group of well-meaning progressive bowdlerizers forces the ACLU to explain why it defends the right of the Ku Klux Klan (et al) to say ridiculous and offensive things, and the result is usually an argument that neither party enjoys having. Robin Thicke's new video, "Blurred Lines" -- banned from YouTube last week for having Too Many Breasts -- is less ridiculous than the Ku Klux Klan, which is good news for me as a music writer.
But it's pretty ridiculous.
If you haven't seen the video, you're missing some of the most effective self-parody of any pop star in years. Behind a constant stream of full-screen #THICKE hashtags -- his father, Alan, apparently lost single-name custody -- and in front of a flesh-colored Sears Photo Center backdrop, Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell pull faces at and walk awkwardly around beautiful topless women in flesh-colored Sears Women's Department panties. Pharrell looks a little like a Grapes of Wrath extra; Robin Thicke looks a little like Alan Thicke.
This is a guy whose second album was called The Evolution of Robin Thicke and whose fourth album was called Sex Therapy, so the kind of unstable mix of narcissism and braggadocio that leads the National Weather Service to issue a Naked Lady Video Watch has always been in place. But when "Blurred Lines" finally touched down, it was clear we weren't prepared for it at all: After a million views, a couple days' bemused mumbling, and an emergency conclave of the 12-Year-Old Boys With Monitored Internet Access Society, YouTube dropped the video entirely.
Since then there've been a number of well-meaning pieces -- here's one -- questioning YouTube's process for determining what's art and porn and whether porn is worse than a lot of the things that are already in the archives.
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That's a discussion worth having. But I wish we weren't having it about something so dumb.
Which is probably something the ACLU has to deal with more often than we do, as music fans. It can't always be Inherit the Wind; sometimes you're going to defend free speech through Galileo, and sometimes you're going to find yourself defending free speech through the Westboro Baptist Church, or NAMBLA, or a music video that looks like an American Apparel ad for weird hats and thrift-store bicycles.
Do I think we have to make the usual sympathetic noises about censorship for Robin Thicke's video? Well, I guess, though it's Google's prerogative to show or not show whatever it wants on YouTube; this isn't a free-speech or censorship issue so much as something that should make us think about how culturally dominant a single video platform has become. Will I scowl while I make those sympathetic noises? Yes, maybe with a little bonus eye-rolling.
When you read Fahrenheit 451 as a seventh-grader and become a Daring, Impassioned Defender of Freedom, nobody tells you just how many silly things famous people will do with it.