Mod Carousel remakes “Blurred Lines”–but does it subvert the misogyny?

Yesterday, Lindy West at Jezebel introduced the feminist blogosphere to this maybe brilliant “Blurred Lines” re-do from Mod Carousel. I say “maybe brilliant” because I really want to be into the video, which is fun and sexy and cheeky, and because disagreeing with everyone I follow on Twitter is scary. I can almost convince myself based on the “everything is better queer” rationale, but I’m hung up on two things.

Firstly, why are the guys so feminized, while the extent of the women’s masculinization stops at a pantsuit? I’m all for men in make-up, and appreciate the troupe’s mission “to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light.” But the men’s spectrum seems pretty limited to a narrow range of (popularly conceived) femininity, as though objectification requires a womanly target. Maybe that’s the problem worth exploring–but if the video isn’t trying to subvert the assumed hetero power dynamic, what exactly is its challenge to the original “Blurred Lines”? If women are inhabiting a masculine role to dominate, while men are feminized in order to submit, are we just solidifying the whole male-aggressor, female-object thing? And are we simultaneously condoning the objectification of feminine men, usually read as gay, trading out one historically oppressed group for another under a facade of radicalism? Which leads me to my next concern…

Is disregard for consent really better if its queerer? I’m going to assume here that everyone involved with the production of both videos was totally on board with their roles and had a good time, so I’m not talking about exploitation of the actual actors. But I hate the original (even though its so. damn. catchy.) because it’s creepy as fuck and bad for the world. I’m not being hyperbolic: I think a song all about how men can intuit whether women want to sleep with them without asking teaches a destructive approach to sex. It’s basically the opposite of the “consent is sexy” tagline, seducing us with shimmer and swag into a fantasy of violence unconcerned with female desire. Somehow, though, this central point of the song–the line “I know you want it” is repeated about a bajillion times–doesn’t seem to be skewered or even poked at by this video.

Sure, it’s the women here who missed the enthusiastic consent lesson from freshman year. But there’s a big difference between queering power play and queering violence. We can’t rid our sexual relationships of power altogether, and people deal with that in different ways: by embracing it, by fighting it, by passing it back and forth. This dynamic is malleable, an opportunity for release from our expectations of personal consistency–and, when handled with communication and consent and a willingness to deny the strict expectations of gender, can be fun.

“I know you want it,” though, is contrary to this spirit. It doesn’t matter who says it. The only way to argue that the quasi-swapped gendering negates the danger of this statement is to hold that men can never be victims and women are so lacking in sexual agency that they could never actually be threatening.

Despite these concerns, I keep watching the video. Perhaps I just now have a guilt-free opportunity to listen to the catchy hook. But, whatever my concerns, I appreciate Mod Carousel’s dance on the line of play and seriousness. The video parodies the original while existing substantively and almost earnestly in its own right, and while the sex is silly, no one in the video is the object of ridicule. I find this acknowledgement of play as reality to be Mod Carousel’s most radical statement, more interesting and urgent than a pronoun swap. It is an invitation to harness the emancipatory potential of camp in our own lives even if that pursuit has, perhaps, failed in this video. Sexual power may be a game, a performance, but it is no less real for that: it shapes and is shaped by our lives outside the bedroom. Those blurred lines are the kind I wish we sung about more often.

What do you think of the video? Do you think it subverts the problems of the original?

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree!

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