February 03, 2004
Breast backlash!

OK, reaction to Janet Jackson's naked boobie is getting just a wee bit out of hand.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission ordered an investigation Monday into the broadcast of the Super Bowl's halftime show, which included a revealing performance by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

As they sang the lyrics "gotta have you naked by the end of this song," he tore open the leather cup covering her right breast, baring her pierced bosom to millions of television viewers.

Commission Chairman Michael Powell called the incident a "classless, crass and deplorable stunt," demanding a swift and thorough investigation."

As Mark Evanier and Atrios have noted, after watching approximately one billion commercials for erection enhancers, Powell's outrage feels awfully manufactured to me. Yes, erectile dysfunction is a genuine medical condition, and I think it's perfectly appropriate to advertise remedies for medical conditions on television. It's just that with all the winks and smirks and say-no-mores in those ads I couldn't tell where the inappropriate halftime ended and the inappropriate commercials began.

Janet Jackson has accepted the blame and has apologized, but that won't stop the crusade.

[T]he apologies won't thwart an investigation, said FCC spokesman David Fiske. The investigation's not just about the flashing, but the entire halftime performance, he said.

Fiske declined to comment on specifics but said, "this will be a wide-ranging investigation into the appropriateness of the entire show."

Other performances may also have riled viewers and irked the FCC. Kid Rock donned an American flag for a shirt and rapper Nelly grabbed his crotch during his performance. Some family advocacy groups took offense to the crotch-grabbing and sexual lyrics.

Each incident the FCC finds obscene could carry a fine of up to $27,500.

Whatever. That's chump change to pretty much everyone involved, so let's not kid ourselves into thinking there's a deterrent factor. It's not like this is the first Super Bowl halftime show of questionable taste, either, but were it not for that renegade breast, we'd have all forgotten it by now just as we've forgotten all of the others. For the record, we turned the sound off during halftime - I didn't even know Janet Jackson had sung "Rhythm Nation" until I read about it later.

As if seeing it once wasn't enough, the decupping had lots of viewers doing double takes.

The Drudge Report had a replay of the exposing moment repeating on its Web site for much of the day.

And Tivo, which makes digital video recorders, estimated that each of its viewers replayed the scene an average of two times. Tivo's recorders let viewers replay the last few seconds of live television.

We re-watched it once, just to be sure we'd seen what we thought we'd seen. Even on second viewing, we thought she had a pastie on.

Even the Houston Police Department was bombarded with calls, most inquirers wondering why no criminal charges were filed.

The flood of questions prompted acting Chief Joe Breshears to release a statement Monday, noting that "actions that may seem in poor taste do not necessarily rise to the level of violations of Texas law."

You know, I almost wish they had arrested her, just so I could watch Chuck Rosenthal botch another high-profile prosecution. Maybe next time.

I respect Rob Booth, but I think he's wrong here.

I'll tell you what really gets me steamed. Jon Matthews, local former KSEV radio host, was arrested for allegedly exposing himself to a minor. The Left delighted in reporting that and laughing at his fate in prison. Now, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Timberlake have done what Jon Matthews was accused of doing, only they did it to TENS of MILLIONS of minors. And somewhere I know there's a Leftist saying that we Americans have to get over our "prudishness." Urrgghhh.

With all due respect, being in the presence of a naked person is not the same as seeing one on television, whether the nakedness is welcome or not. If you doubt that, compare an evening spent at the Men's Club with an evening spent watching a softcore movie. In cases like Matthews', there's a clear potential threat that the exposer may do something worse to those in his presence. Whatever you may say about Janet Jackson and her breast, she wasn't in a position to make anyone feel like she might be an immediate danger to them. She wasn't actually there in your living room with you.

Bottom line is this: I have no quarrel with enforcing whatever standards exist for primetime network television. Let the FCC levy fines, let Viacom sack those responsible, let Janet and Justin feel the backlash, it's all cool by me. All I'm asking is that we keep a little perspective, OK? There are plenty of worse things that can be seen every day on television than a two-second exposure of Janet Jackson's still-mostly-obscured breast.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 03, 2004 to TV and movies | TrackBack

On Rob Booth, I know him and respect him. He is usually right on, but sometimes has a blind spot.

I am sad for Matthews because he has some problems that I wish on no one, but at the same time, he and others like him are very quick to condemn and insult others. His hypocracy (sp)and that of the other conservatives is amusing.

Posted by: Jost on February 3, 2004 11:32 AM

I was just wishing that she'd had a tattoo...

Posted by: PG on February 3, 2004 12:03 PM

I think the fact that this is the most rerun piece of footage in Tivo history (according to Yahoo) says more about the conservative nature of American television than anything else. Personally, I've seen a lot worse things than a two second flash of a woman's breast on television. Now, if Janet had grabbed Justin's pants and pulled them down and he was "going commando" (not wearing underwear), then you have something shocking on television.

This, I think, is much ado about nothing. Besides, are there any straight men in America who have not seen nude photos of Janet Jackson? ;-)

Posted by: William Hughes on February 3, 2004 12:15 PM

There is a reasonable expectation that the Super Bowl will be a family-friendly event where kids won't be exposed to nudity, just as there is a reasonable expectation that Jon Mathews will keep his pants on around minors. No, they aren't the SAME offense, but the expectation is the same. Rob's point isn't ridiculous or unreasonable.

Jost: "Others like him?" "the other conservatives?"

Nice stereotypes, guy. Do you actually know any "conservatives?" Do you realize we really aren't all the same? I mean, some of us can actually truthfully claim never to have listened to Jon Mathews, and not to give a rat's ass what happens to him if he's guilty.

Anyway, for the record, Powell is a pretty conservative guy, much moreso than his more famous dad. I think he's being sincere on this. I've long thought he's a waste at the FCC, though. He should be doing something more important.

Posted by: kevin whited on February 3, 2004 12:42 PM

I gave Powell an award yesterday evening.

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 3, 2004 3:00 PM

Careful, Kevin. What you're saying to Jost goes both ways - to wit, who is "the Left" that Rob refers to? Such formulations can be stereotypes or they can be shorthand, but they're not one thing one way and the other thing the other way.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 3, 2004 5:24 PM

That's fine, Rob. My point, of course, is that not all of us who consider ourselves liberal are fans of Indymedia and/or Democratic Underground. Which is essentially Kevin's point about "conservatives".

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 4, 2004 7:53 AM

Because I don't give a flying rat about the Superbowl, Justin Timberlake, or Janet Jackson particularly, I missed pretty much all of this. I've seen the photo, but Ginger and I went to the Met, an experience for which I would give a flying rat, if I had one to give.

I tell you there were breasts everywhere! In the same room as pictures of George Washington! Marble Breasts! Granite Breasts! Fifty Pound Bronze Breasts, 3 times larger than life! Ancient Egyptian Breasts! Breasts in unnatural colors and shapes!

I tell you the Met is a menace. I wonder if Joe-Bob has weighed in on the halftime show.

Posted by: Michael on February 4, 2004 7:54 AM

The only persons or entities whom the FCC has the power to levy these fines against are broadcast affiliates. The FCC can't fine JJ or Timberlake or MTV. It could fine all the CBS affiliates who broadcast the Super Bowl, but as a practical matter it's extremely unlikely to fine any who aren't owned by CBS' and MTV's common parent, Viacom. And even if the FCC levied a separate fine for every incident of crotch-grinding and every Cabaret-style costume, in addition to Timberlake's grand finale, it'd still add up to a fraction of what one advertiser paid for one of those 30-second commercials.

The potential fines are essentially immaterial; federal regulation of morality/sexuality on TV is mostly illusory, except in the "bully pulpit" sense. I'm sufficiently libertarian and absolutist on First Amendment issues that this troubles me not a whit.

Posted by: Beldar on February 4, 2004 1:11 PM

Meant to add:

Which is to say, I'm content to let public opinion and the marketplace regulate these matters, rather than having the government try to do it.

Posted by: Beldar on February 4, 2004 1:13 PM

AOL, as the sponsor of the halftime show, seeking a refund is a much bigger deal from Viacom's standpoint, I suspect, than the FCC investigation.

Posted by: Beldar on February 4, 2004 6:12 PM

I shouldn't post things when I'm "steamed." I don't express myself as well as I could.

First off, Kuff, I'm reading between the lines, but I think you are reading my swipe at "Leftist" web sites as a swipe against you. Not at all. If I wanted to swipe at you, I'd swipe directly at you.

As I remember, your posts on JM were mostly a quote and citation of the media coverage, and your comments were of the wait-and-see variety. So when I aim at the Democratic Underground and Houston Indy Media, I'm not aiming at you.

Maybe this rewording will explain my thoughts on the matter:

1. If you're a conservative talk-show host, and you're accused of exposing yourself to a minor, your life will be ruined. You will lose your job, be arrested, and nutcases on far-left websites will call for you to be physically harmed without a trial.

2. If you're a performer, and you expose yourself to hundreds/thousands of children in the stands of a sporting event, the accusers from example one will talk about free speech if anyone criticizes your actions.

To be as clear as I can, I understand there's a difference between the Super Bowl flashing and someone exposing themselves to children on a playground with the intent of assaulting them. But the difference isn't so pronounced as many are making it.

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on February 4, 2004 10:28 PM

Rob, thanks for the followup. To be clear myself, I wasn't taking what you wrote personally. I assumed it was shorthand and that you had some specifics in mind.

I understand the points you're making. I still don't quite agree with them, but I see where you're coming from. For me personally, I continue to find it a bit odd that there's such a fuss over Janet Jackson's breast amidst all those commercials that feature erection enhancers, flatulent horses, horny monkeys, and so on.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 5, 2004 8:00 AM