Super Boob 2004: Give It a (B)reast

My last memory of a Super Bowl halftime show was from at least six years ago. I don’t remember who was singing — Garth Brooks or Ricky Martin or someone considered moderately heart-throbby at the time. Hundreds of heavily made-up girls, most of whom appeared to be under 18, danced along the edges of the stage. At one point, the girls were lying on their stomachs, chins propped on their hands, adoringly watching the singer. They then rolled over onto their backs, and, to the beat of the song, opened and closed their long legs as the cameras zoomed in on their smiling faces.

I recall the moment vividly — I was watching the show with friends, and we’d been making sarcastic comments on the cheesiness of the show. This moment struck the room speechless. Finally, my friend Phil spoke up. “Somewhere, there’s a Dad wiping a tear from his eye and saying proudly, ‘There’s my little girl, spreading her legs for the world at the Super Bowl.'”

The next day, I didn’t hear a thing about a crass, classless half-time performance. No mention of the hundreds of Jon-Benets was made, at least through any of the major news channels as far as I could tell.

Not so with the 1.7 seconds of skin at this year’s show. What fascinated me most of all has been the response. First, came the “Was it an accident?” speculation. Timberlake and Jackson swore they didn’t intend for full exposure, but journalists everywhere dissected the moment, from the Timberlake’s suggestive lyrics, choreographed movements to Jackson’s strategically placed nipple piercing. Finally, yes, it turned out they had planned the move, but thought the costume would leave a red lace bra behind.

Then came the furor from the FCC, vowing to get to the bottom of the incident. Chairman Michael Powell said, “I am outraged… like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better.” Other commissioners voiced their opinions. Kathleen Q. Abernathy was “shocked and dismayed… particularly during an event that families and children watch together, Americans should not have to tolerate such a gratuitous display of nudity.” Commissioner Michael J. Copps chimed in that he “bet there are millions like me who wonder why parents wanting to watch an all-American sports show with their children have to worry about what’s coming on their screen next.” (Interestingly, none of the FCC members considered the millions of non-Americans and their families watching the game in their statements, but that’s fodder for another article.)

From what I saw of Sunday’s presentation, Janet Jackson’s breast was one of the least dismaying, crass and deplorable elements involved. It’s a woman’s body part. Sure, woman can get pleasure from their breasts, but for the most part the sexual connotations and obsessive behavior surrounding them stem from the media and society. The NFL certainly can be credited with helping objectify breasts. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a statement saying “The show was offensive, inappropriate and embarrassing to us and our fans.” Hasn’t he watched one of his own games? I can’t think of a camera shot of a cheerleader that doesn’t include her breasts. There’s the from-the-ground shot, catching the base of her breasts and her perky chin as she cheers. Then there’s the side angle (especially good for capturing nice bouncy boobs as the cheerleader hops up and down). And who can resist the in-your-face shot, as the camera catches the cheerleader fully frontal as she looks at the camera, and mouths platitudes to her home team over her heaving cleavage. If any organization helped make cheerleading the soft-core obsession it is today (stemming from the 1970s fascination with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders), I’d think the NFL tops the list.

CBS (in a statement that cryptically referred to “incident that occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show”) noted that the moment did not fit into their broadcast standards. Yet they aired commercial after commercial of Mike Ditka frankly discussing his erectile difficulties. They showed an ad in which the punchline involved a horse explosively farting onto a woman holding a candle. When Powell gathered his family “around the television for a celebration,” I wonder how these commercials fit into that warm and fuzzy family moment. How is it that the brief, incidental exposure of a woman’s breast can be termed as such but a man discussing a drug treatment that allows him to keep his erection longer is not?

I visited the FCC web site in hopes they could answer my question. Sure enough, they specify what it considers to be obscene and indecent programming. According their guidelines:

It is a violation of federal law to broadcast obscene or indecent programming… To be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political,or scientific value.

Ah, the, uh, three-prong test. It’s all completely clear. Thanks, FCC.

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As of this article’s posting, I’m not the first to point out the hypocrisy of the furor surrounding the Boobgate. (Check out an especially eloquent comment on the NFL’s apparent breast obsession.) However, I hope (against hope) that I’m not the last. Let’s not forget: breasts are nice. They don’t have to be sexual. Sometimes, skin is just skin, parts are just parts. Janet Jackson’s right breast exposed to us for 1.7 seconds, on its own, likely had little direct effect on impressionable game viewers. The effect from the hysteria from CBS, the NFL, FCC, media and advertisers? Priceless.

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