Beyond Nipplegate

Aaron D. WolfAnother Superbowl has come and gone, and this one was a real bodice ripper.  While the game was one of the closest contests in the 38-year history of the quest for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, most of the press coverage focused on the last two seconds of the AOL Halftime Show, Produced by MTV.  Quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was no doubt pleased that his team’s last-second victory was quickly overshadowed by the curve of Janet Jackson’s breast.

Parents and other interested parties expressed shock and awe, flooding the CBS switchboards with angry protestations: Whose idea was it to have the metrosexual Justin Timberlake tear off half of Janet (“Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty”) Jackson’s Nazi dominatrix top, leaving nothing between our eyes and her breast, save a small, round metallic decoration?  Were CBS executives aware that Timberlake planned to act out the words “Gonna have you nekkid by the end of this song”?  Will CBS ever allow MTV to produce another halftime show?  (Does it matter that both networks are owned by Viacom?)  Must our children be subjected to such sights “during the dinner hour”?  We, the parents of America, demand answers!

The FCC, we have been assured, is launching a full-scale investigation, and, by the time you read this, Timberlake and Jackson may be in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial for deliberate “wardrobe malfunction” (to borrow a phrase from Timberlake), despite the tepid apologies issued by Timberlake, Jackson, CBS, MTV, and the National Football League.

In the end, however, it is the parents of America who ought to be brought up on charges for the perverted message they have sent to their children by singling out the two-second-long breast-exposing affair as the only halftime event that put their children in Grave Moral Danger.

Nearly every other two-second segment of the halftime show was laden with lasciviousness.  Take your pick: Kid Rock, draped in the American flag, singing about “crack-heads,” “hookers,” and his “heros at the methadone clinics”; Nelly (a male rapper) grabbing himself amongst strippers, wondering when he can “shoot his steam,” and adding “It’s hot in here / so take off all your clothes”; or Timberlake’s and Jackson’s entire performance, which can only be described as one extended sex act.  How, exactly, did Janet Jackson’s breast stand out against this background?

The records made by Timberlake, Jackson, Nelly, Kid Rock, and all of their millionaire friends are filled with explicit references to sex.  With that in mind, consider the all-too-typical comments made by Michigan Governor (and mother of three) Jennifer Granholm, who called the bodice-ripping “outrageous”: “Janet Jackson is a role model to girls, whether we like it or not; Justin Timberlake, same thing to young boys. . . . Enough is enough.”  There we have it: Pornographers are role models—but a bare breast?  Now that’s too much!

FCC chief Michael Powell has announced that he hopes to levy fines of $27,500 on every CBS affiliate that broadcast Nipplegate.  How much should parents who allow porn stars to be role models for their children be assessed?

This article first appeared in the March 2004 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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