Over the past few weeks, feminists all across the world have expressed their discontent with Robin Thicke and his song “Blurred Lines,” which has been acclaimed as the 2013 “Song of the Summer.” A few parody videos have risen to the surface to make solid points about just how misogynistic the content in the video is. When YouTube made moves to take one of the videos down for violating exactly what the “Blurred Lines” did, one woman had decided this was enough. Reba Hayes, a student and blogger from northern California, created a Change.org petition to remove the “Blurred Lines” video from the video hosting giant, and the public reaction and support has been overwhelmingly positive. I got the opportunity to get a FaceTime interview with Hayes to pick her brain on the whole situation.
Bitchtopia: I have to ask you: do you have any affiliation at all with the parody video?
Reba Hayes: No, I don’t. I saw it first on my Tumblr dashboard, you know, reblogged by one of the people I follow…there’s a really cool group of girls who are so knowledgeable and really into feminism, and really educated about it. So that’s how it came to my attention that it was taken off of YouTube. And honestly, I was so angry. I was like, what can I do? I’ve been sitting around the past couple of years learning more and more and developing as a feminist, and I feel like I haven’t been able to contribute anything to the movement I care so much about. And so I felt like I was just tired of being so passive about it and just being mad about it, and I felt I needed to do something about it to make myself feel better. So that’s how it came about. But I don’t have any affiliation with either parody video.
B: Have they reached out to you?
RH: No, I haven’t had anything from them, no contact at all.
B: Would you think about maybe contacting them yourself?
RH: I don’t know! That’s the thing, I really didn’t expect [the petition] to take off the way that it did. I hadn’t actually been following the progress really closely at all, and it was only called to my attention when I woke up on Monday and I saw that someone had reblogged the post that my friend Beth had made to the petition that had about 30,000 notes on it on Tumblr. And then I actually went to go look at it and I was like, “Oh my God!” [,...] I’ve had really positive feedback. I’ve gotten some anons on Tumblr and they’ve mostly been “Oh thanks so much for making the petition, I look up to you.” [...] I just checked the petition again before this and it’s close to 50,000 signatures.
B: Wow, that’s awesome. And you only started it Sunday, right?
RH: Yeah. Well I guess it would be “Saturday night” because it was about 3am when I made it. I didn’t even set a goal on it because I didn’t even have a goal in mind. But at this point I’m just gonna let it run it’s course, I guess. My general idea blossomed from a conversation I had with my friends Kayla and Beth, and I think that my idea behind it was I just wanted to call attention to the fact that that song is so horribly negative. For me, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I think the past year and a half has been changing in our political atmosphere and our cultural atmosphere for how people feel about women’s rights and feminism and equality. With all that, it’s created like, this perfect storm where this new wave of feminism is getting its moment in the spotlight and getting in people’s faces. People are thinking about it. I think that’s what I wanted to do with the petition is to have some way for people who all agree that it’s a shitty message to be able to tell others that they agree. People say it’s just a song with a fun beat, but the more you excuse that behavior, the more prominent it becomes and the more okay it becomes. And it’s not okay, and it should be changed.
B: How do you feel about it surpassing Elvis as one of the most popular songs, ever? If you take it into the context of cultural awareness of the song, what do you think is going to be the greater cultural impact of this song being one of the most popular songs of all time?
RH: Those markers are a little bit “outdated,” but [at the time Elvis] shaped and really influenced popular culture in terms of music and fashion. For this song to surpass him and surpass his music and other great artists, it’s lending it a sort of cultural currency. It demands to be taken seriously. With a lot of pop music now, a lot of it has to do with the “beat.” When you listen to the Blurred Lines song, it’s really catchy and the beat is really good and Pharrell’s little “woos” in the background are really cute, but the lyrics are not a nice thing. I remember being 13 or 14 at a middle school dance listening to Lil’ John talking about “sweat dripping down his balls,” I had no idea what I was saying, I can tell you right now. I was singing along, but I had no idea what I was saying because I didn’t think about it consciously. For me, Blurred Lines demands to be taken seriously because are people just listening to that song and making it so popular because it’s a good beat? Or are people listening to it because they find truth in the lyrics, and think it’s good behavior? That’s a thing I think people really need to talk about.
B: How do you feel about carrying on listening to Robin Thicke in the future? Where do you draw the line as far as acknowledging something is problematic and taking that information and kind of putting it into a box and holding on to it every time you listen to that song, or listen to that artist?
RH: Well I think I was never much of a fan of his from the beginning. It’s really hard to find things that you like offensive and people that you enjoy offensive. But I think I’ve learned from being an English major that there is a way to also enjoy something for the art that it is. I would say that there are many other pop/RnB/rap artists that I find offensive, but I think what you have to be careful of is just being a conscious consumer of something.
There are two sides of a famous person. There’s their persona that they make their money off of, and then it’s them as a real person. Maybe if I knew him personally, I would like him, you know, that’s very possible. If he was my husband or brother, maybe I would think he was awesome and wonder: “Why are people so mad at him right now? He just made a hit of the summer.” And I don’t really think I would like to pass judgment on him so much as to just call attention to the fact that like, he’s presented a shitty opinion. He’s done interviews where he’s stated he feels he’s doing a service to feminists and that [Blurred Lines] is starting a conversation that needs to be had. And maybe he’s totally ignorant, I’m not really a person to get mad at people for ignorance, because in some cases it can’t be avoided.[When it comes to being a listener]: I think that you have to look at yourself and say “What am I okay with? What am I not okay with?” and be able to understand that people can have faults and be problematic but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop liking them. It’s just about being conscious and critical and when you see something wrong in society or in your culture, register it and be like, “hey, that’s something I’m going to be aware of from now on.”
B: Any fears? Final thoughts?
RH: YouTube probably won’t remove it, and that’s not really my sole goal with the petition. I think the goal is just to get some kind of conversation going. I don’t think Robin Thicke wants any violence to be perpetrated towards women or is even condoning date rape or anything like that. But I think he just needs to be aware, and that’s just my goal I guess. People have been signing this petition from places I don’t even know the abbreviation of, and I think that’s something I have to be aware of, as well. I don’t know what this petition means to all of those people. That for me is something that’s a little overwhelming. It’s really weird to feel like you do have an impact on this world at all and to see the ripple effect of dropping this rock into the pond. I had no idea it would blow up this way, and there could be negativity against me, but that’s something I’m ready to deal with.