Why The Mod Carousel Parody of “Blurred Lines” Works So Well
I can’t get enough of this parody—I don’t even know if parody is the right word, because it doesn’t have the sort of nasty edge that you almost need to be a parody—of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” done by Mod Carousel, a Seattle-based boylesque group. The video takes the immediately-infamous “nude women/clothed men” original video and gender reverses it, but not in a tit-for-tat way so much as a very natural way that uses that actual signifiers of female power and sexualized male bodies. Just watch!
What struck me as so wonderful about this video is that, unlike other attempts at exposing how routinely women are objectified by casting men in their roles, the men in this piece are fully committed to being sexy, when usually in stuff like this, the men are subtly mocking the idea that men can be sex objects at all. Most of the time, when men agree to pose in classically “objectified” poses, they’re winking at the camera, using irony to give themselves distance from actually having to live in a traditionally woman’s space. None of these guys give off a “me so silly!” vibe that undercuts what this work is trying to do.
Take, for instance, this project of putting men in classic pin-up poses. I supported it, because it does a pretty good job of showing how silly the whole thing is, but one thing I don’t like is that the men go out of their way to not look sexy at all. Example:
Wearing more clothes than a woman would, and way too much ironic distance. This image, while it drives home the silliness of pin-ups, also evades the real issue, which is why the only gender we consider “sexy” is women. After all, the original artists knew their poses were silly, but didn’t much care—the silliness was supposed to make the sexiness seem light-hearted. While it’s certainly possible to be sexy without being objectified, what I find so interesting about this is that the images don’t touch either possibility with a ten-foot pole. These images only work if you sort of think that men can’t be sexy, and that saying otherwise cannot be anything other than a joke.
But as the above video demonstrates, that’s not true at all. Not only are the men stripped down to thongs and wearing make-up, but they are striking all the pouty-sexy poses of the interchangeable naked women of the original video and it’s sexy. They’re not mocking the possibility that men could be, like women, visually stimulating at all. They’re owning it, and proving that it’s totally possible. And that’s way more uncomfortable and thought-provoking than dudes mocking the very idea that men could ever be looked at like women routinely are.
It’s more fun, too, because it’s hot. I saw a lot of people complaining that the men in this video are gay, which I found to be a very telling thing to say. It shows that our conception of heterosexual masculinity is that of the one who gets to do the looking, and is never the one looked at—so much so that if you actually look at a man, that makes him culturally “gay”, regardless of his actual sexual orientation. We don’t actually have that information watching the video, but people seemed rock solid certain—that’s how sure we are that no straight man would don lipstick and stick his ass in the air to be admired.
I’m the first to admit that these men probably are all gay, but that only reinforces the deeply uncomfortable point they’re making, even while being sexy and having a ton of fun doing it: That sexiness is considered strictly for the male gaze in our culture. So much so that the only men who are “allowed” to pose, pout, and strip down for the viewing pleasure of others are doing it for other men. So we can comfort ourselves by saying these men are gay, knowing that straight men are still completely off-limits for being looked at, right?
Except of course that women are actually in the video, and they are actually looking and touching. Since the men in the video are being deliberately objectified—like the women in the original Robin Thicke video—their sexual orientation doesn’t matter. Objects don’t have orientations; they are there for the pleasure of the person looking and touching. The women, in this gender reversal, get to decide if or if you don’t “want it” or define if you are or are not a “good boy”. That’s the point! And I think they make it very, very well. While having fun with it.