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Greg Lukianoff on ‘Blurred Lines’ and Victorian Sensibilities in the UK

By on October 16, 2013

Following decisions at several universities in the United Kingdom to ban Robin Thicke’s summer hit “Blurred Lines” from their campuses, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff spoke with Tim Black of the British online magazine spiked about the parallels between arguments for censorship today and the rationales put forth by censors in the nineteenth century.

Critics of “Blurred Lines” argue that the lyrics perpetuate rape culture. But as Greg explains, citing a moral justification for censorship is not new:

I would say that the situation on college campuses today is analogous to the censorship which arose out of the Victorian era both in the US and in Britain, because campaigners in both eras share this idea that there are certain moral ends which are so much more important than someone’s measly right to freedom of speech. This idea ends up producing a crusader mentality which leads to people wanting to blot out normal aspects of everyday life: sexuality, sexual expression, speech that might be offensive to women. And in that sense, what you’re seeing in relation to the song “Blurred Lines”, for example, is eerily reminiscent of the practices and rationale of nineteenth-century censorship.

Greg recommends that students combat ideas that offend them through open debate, rather than trying to “win” battles by precluding any discussion at all:

A more scholarly approach to reality is to have everything up for debate. … A more scholarly approach is to be particularly attracted to having arguments about those norms you hold most dear, and to let that process unfold in a bold and inquisitive way. But when university culture is shot through with a powerful sense that the moral force is actually with the censor, it produces very strange distortions. So when people are told that they can win any argument they like by claiming that they’re offended, that they can shut down any debate they like by claiming they’re offended, that they can get the campus to stop playing a pop song they happen not to like claiming they’re offended, that’s a power that very quickly goes from being applied rarely to being applied routinely.

Read the rest of what Greg had to say in spiked.