I'm not saying there's ever a great time to make a song and a video that glorifies aggression toward women, but wow did Play-N-Skillz and company pick a particularly acute moment to go ultra tone deaf.
Just this weekend, Brown University sent out a letter to students after confirming that at least one student tested positive for date-rape drug GHB after attending a fraternity party last month. A student also reported being sexually assaulted. This fall, a Columbia University student gained worldwide attention for dragging her mattress around campus in protest over the school's handling of her alleged rape. In an effort to curtail sexual assault, California recently mandated "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" at its state universities. And last month, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights revealed that 85 American colleges and universities are facing sexual assault investigations. We have reached a tipping point in our conversation about how widespread the problem is, and how shamefully victims have been treated not just by their abusers but the academic institutions they trusted. This is all information that did not quite make its way into the video for "Literally I Can't."
The Play-N-Skillz track, featuring Lil Jon, Enertia McFly and LMFAO's Redfoo, tells the age old tale of some stuck up sorority girls lured into the animal house of "STFU." The gentlemen try to coerce the ladies into letting loose with offers of shots of alcohol and pleas for some "girl on girl," leading to the back and forth debate of "Literally, I can't" and the shouted reply "Shut the f__k up." And if you think the sentiment is charming, wait till you see the video, featuring the girls being swarmed upon by an angry, twerking mob who want to get "low low low while I Instagram ya." It continues in this manner for over four excruciating minutes, with various hostile directives for women to "jump on the pole; I didn’t need your opinion" interspersed with product placements for Birthday Cake brand wines and the porn site Red Tube. Gosh, their marketing departments must be so proud. Nothing like perpetuating the idea that women exist solely for you to comment on in whatever revolting manner crosses your mind and to abuse if they don't comply!
I can understand how Play-N-Skillz might be frustrated with the women's misuse of "literally" when they probably literally can dance or consume a shot – although I can easily imagine being literally unable to choke down a glass of cake batter flavored wine -- but I still find the hostility a bit of an overreaction. Whatever the motivation for the rage, the message is clear – a woman who says no needs to shut up and get out. Not only is it wildly offensive, it's a blatant ripoff of a goofy, lighthearted "White Girl Anthem" Vine that went viral earlier this year. Oh, and it's a terrible song. As Australian journalist Nick Bond rightly notes, "This makes Party Rock Anthem sounds like Imagine." It's not satire. It's not fun. It's just miserable and mean and sad and spoiled sounding.
On Monday, a colleague made the error of some of the YouTube comments on the video, and is now recuperating from his own case of Can't Even. I don't know what makes me more depressed about the whole thing – its existence, the people defending it, or the thought of all the young actresses who appear in it – because it's not just men who perpetuate this garbage. And considering that this whole hot mess dropped right around the same time as Nicki Minaj's unfortunate homage to "Triumph of the Will," it's pretty amazing that "Literally I Can't" still manages to be even more offensive. All other wannabe horrible songs and videos of 2014, you can go home. This wins. And while you can, literally, watch and listen to it, I can promise if you do it'll literally be the worst four minutes of your day.