I challenge anyone in the world to find any serious harm, especially to national security, national interests, or to our moral foundations, that really happened to anyone anywhere as a result of Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII wardrobe malfunction. Actually, there was a rather amazing amount of loss, namely, to Janet Jackson herself (the fine), and of time spent on this issue by network executives when they could have been using their talents in a more productive (for the nation) way, a loss made all the more amazing because it was only a breast and you can get the picture off the web any time. In fact, the picture you can get off the web is of higher quality, and more lasting, than the one you got off the halftime show in 2004. You can also run the digital video clip over and over again if you so desire, something that was impossible during the halftime show.
Nevertheless, Jackson, her dance partner Justin Timberlake who actually pulled off part of her costume, CBS, MTV, the NFL, and show sponsor AOL all apologized profusely and the NFL returned $10 million that AOL had paid for advertising sponsorship. MTV also lost the right to ever again produce a halftime show for a Super Bowl. Within a few days after the incident, a Tennessee woman named Terri Carlin filed a class action suit against Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, seeking “maximum” punitive and compensatory damages for all Americans for having seen the breast. Think about it. Imagine Mike Wallace interviewing Terri Carlin on 60 Minutes, looking at her with a rather bemused expression, and saying “R-e-e-a-ally!?”
Eventually the lawsuit was dropped and “Janet Jackson” became one of the most highly selected search terms used by web surfers over the next few months. In retrospect, the Jackson breast did, however, distract viewers from Kid Rock’s American flag poncho which ended up on the ground, surely a major affront to US veterans. No veterans group filed a class action suit against Kid Rock. All in all, the Super Bowl XXXVIII show was a real mess. However, the Lycos 50 web site stated “Once again we are reminded of the power of a woman” and reports not only that “Janet Jackson” was the most common search term for 2004, but that she also beat out “Paris Hilton” and “Britney Spears” by a long shot. As an aside, after reading a piece by Osama bin Laden’s former consort (Harpers’ Magazine, September, 2006), I found myself wondering whether Mss. Jackson, Hilton, and Spears might be our most potent weapons in the war on terrorism, if we could just figure out how to use them effectively. I’m also guessing that instead of relying on people like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (Secretary of Defense and Vice President at the time) for advice on such weapons, a focus group made up of unemployed twenty-something males might provide the best strategy to maximize the effectiveness of this particular technology (beautiful women doing whatever the hell they want to do).
No deaths were reported from the “Janet Jackson” web search activity (nor has web-surfing for “Paris Hilton” and “Britney Spears” produced any reported deaths, serious injuries, or property damage), but a lot of money continued to change hands as a result of the seething government “outrage” over Ms. Jackson’s accident, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) levying fines all over the place. Howard Stern was dropped from several radio stations by Clear Channel Communications; Clear Channel also was fined for Bubba the Love Sponge; and, Viacom was fined $550,000 (20 stations at $27,500 each), which evidently was not enough because the US House of Representatives quickly passed legislation authorizing fines up to $3,000,000 a day, although for what, I’m not sure, unless it would be continued broadcasting of Bubba the Love Sponge, certainly a massive threat to the Great American Experiment in freedom and democracy, right up there with gay marriage and religious art made with elephant dung.
In retrospect, Janet’s indiscretion produced a lot of work for attorneys, so maybe it was actually a boost to the overall economy, but especially to boat and luxury car dealerships. Now we have wholesome halftime entertainment at Super Bowls, e.g., the Rolling Stones (2006), with no women on stage, at least none in danger of losing their shirts, and there aren’t any rather sensually inferential TV commercials for Cialis and Viagra, either. Not to take anything away from the Stones, one of the most successful entertainment ventures of all time, but by 2006 they were all getting a little long in the tooth. Watching them on international television reminds one that this particular group is much better experienced lying on your own couch with an iPod and your eyes closed than watched as Super Bowl halftime entertainment. On the couch you can listen to the words, study the inflections, absorb the instrumentation, all helped along with recording studio technology.
As a result of watching the Stones at Super Bowl XL I actually decided maybe I should go buy an album for historical reasons. Then I could listen to the full set of lyrics, including those deleted by the ABC censors as a result of perceived sexual innuendo. Such deletion altered my mental picture of “ABC censors.” I had envisioned a censor being about my age, maybe somewhat hard of hearing, dressed in a suit even as he sat in a small room with an old television set, and with an ear untrained to pick up sexual content in something rapidly screamed over and through blasting drums and guitars. Evidently I was wrong. When it comes to sexual content, perceived or otherwise, these people are sharp. The fact that they might also be young enough to actually hear and understand rock lyrics is a touch frightening. The possibility that the Stones might have had to submit lyrics in hard copy prior to the game is a little more plausible, although either case is a study in ridiculousness.
The important thing to remember in this discussion of woman as evil is that the Super Bowl is the quintessential American identity event. Regardless of whatever halftime shows and smarty commercials we see on Super Bowl Sunday, the sexiest things about any modern professional American football game are the cheerleaders, and quite frankly, they can be rather interesting. But remember, these beautiful, suggestively gyrating, scantily clad, un-named and usually working-class women—legitimate turn-ons (unlike the unavailable Janet Jackson)—are doing something women are supposed to do, namely, “support” our warriors on the field (symbolic, metaphorical, and often heroic, indeed near mythical).
Cheerleaders thus are playing a significant part in our early 21st Century national morality play, repeated so often as to become ritual that sustains a defining myth, namely, that our men battle adversity and women are dragged along, often serving as spoils, and always accepting of, if not actively seeking, that role, even reminding everyone that this set of activities, struggles, and consequences is the “way things are supposed to be.” It may be an almost Hillary Clinton level liberal dream, but periodically I have this rebellious vision of some Dallas Cheerleader finding a public address system microphone and instead of giving us her jiggly-boobs-twitch-butt-hair-tossing-smiley-face act, standing straight up, staring directly into the press box and telling the crowd “that was the dumbest fucking play I’ve ever seen called on third and short inside the red zone. Just what in the hell was he thinking? Huh?” Now there’s a real dangerous lady. Terri Carlin take note.
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