The M+G+R Foundation
The Hypocrisy Bowl
A Guest Document
February 16, 2004
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Introduction by The M+G+R Foundation
Although we are concerned about, and against, the filth that Television, Movie Houses and Video Games are pouring forth in seemingly greater amounts every day, we are more concerned about the duplicity / hypocrisy that permeates our society. Duplicity / hypocrisy are the children of denial which, in turn, is a key weapon of satan.
Mr. Poniewozik of TIME Magazine has captured this Institutionalized Denial as he masterfully dissects the National reaction to Ms. Jackson's exposed right breast.
We pray to God that the greatest and most generous nation on Earth pays close attention to what Mr. Poniewozik has to say, so that we remain Great and Generous and not become just another "has been" Empire. Something that satan would dearly love to accomplish.
The Full Unedited Article
Monday, February 16, 2004
It was meant to be a super Sunday like any other. About 143 million people gathered to enjoy a wholesome evening of giant men knocking the living hell out of one another, cheered on by busty dancing women in skimpy uniforms, with occasional messages from crude talking animals entreating them to buy intoxicants.
Instead, something offensive happened. In a jaw-dropping denouement to the MTV-produced halftime show, Justin Timberlake sang, "I gotta have you naked by the end of this song," reached across Janet Jackson's black leather bustier and exposed — well, yes. But he exposed more than that. What the Super Bowl incident (Nipplegate? Boobytrap? The Tempest in a C Cup?) also revealed was the hypocrisies of the entertainment and sports industries, the commercial culture and even the viewing public.
After what Timberlake euphemized with the NASA-like "wardrobe malfunction," the accusations flew like flags on a late hit. The NFL blamed CBS and MTV. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blamed the networks not just for the "reveal" but also for a halftime show that included rapper Nelly grabbing his crotch and sexual grinding between Timberlake and Jackson. The networks blamed Jackson, who said she cooked up the stunt at the last minute. Nonetheless, after the game the MTV website crowed that "fans of Janet Jackson and her pasties were definitely in the right place." (Actually, Jackson's right breast was adorned by a metal "nipple shield," the event's other gift to the lexicon.) Jackson apologized but blamed her outfit; she said it was supposed to reveal a red bra, which "collapsed."
The defenseless undergarment, alas, could not speak up for itself. The league said, however, that it had concerns about the tone of the show, and Timberlake's song, that MTV never addressed. "MTV did not live up to their end of the deal," said NFL executive vice president Joe Browne. "They told us, 'We'll address your concerns,' and then things never changed." But MTV Networks chairman and CEO Tom Freston said the league and the networks together reviewed the songs, costumes and choreography. He noted that MTV also produced the halftime show three years ago. "If you go back and look," he said, "you'll see the artists doing similar types of music with similar choreography. You even have guys in 'N Sync doing crotch grabbing. But none of it fell under the microscope." (CBS executives refused requests to speak for this story.)
MTV can make a case that the show, minus the pop-out, was not beyond the pale for TV. Just look how far MTV has moved the pale. At its Video Music Awards (V.M.A.), rapper Lil' Kim has sported a pastie-accessorized outfit that showed no less than Jackson, while Britney Spears has stripped down to a flesh-colored body stocking and has kissed Madonna on her publicity-hungry lips. And MTV has what CBS and the NFL want badly: young, especially young male, viewers.
The Super Bowl fiasco showed how tough it is to assemble a giant mainstream spectacle for today's niched audience. Even the audience reaction ranged from deep offense to bemusement. Bill Cleaver, of Pittsboro, N.C., watched the performance with his wife Julia and their daughter Annie, 10. "I'm not a Boy Scout," he said, "but I know in public what is appropriate manners and what is vulgarity." Then again, TiVo, the digital-video-recorder maker, said the event was the most replayed ever among its users. In a TIME/CNN poll, 47% of respondents said the incident marked "a new low in bad taste"; yet 68% said the government should not fine CBS. Attempting to please a torn audience has put all the big networks through growing, or rather shrinking, pains. Under fire from conservatives, CBS last year canceled its mini-series The Reagans, although it claimed the cancellation was not caused by the pressure. This, combined with the network's apparent quid pro quo offer to Jessica Lynch — a host of Viacom deals in exchange for her story of capture in Iraq — and reports of a similar offer to obtain a Michael Jackson interview, has put CBS's credibility at a low point.
But you can't eat credibility, and CBS is the most watched network on TV largely because it has rejuvenated its audience with edgier shows. Survivor is MTV's The Real World redone as a game show, and 33 million people watched the post — Super Bowl debut of Survivor: All-Stars, with the return of player Richard Hatch, who spent much of the episode nude (albeit pixelated). CSI, TV's most popular drama, may be the goriest show in broadcast. So what's a ratings-greedy mogul to do?
The answer, say some TV insiders: Be very afraid. The scandal awakened the FCC, which had been lenient on both standards and corporate consolidation under chairman Michael Powell but announced an investigation into the halftime show. This week House and Senate committees will hold hearings on broadcast decency. So the story swung from action (video delays instituted on the Grammy and Oscar ceremonies) to overreaction. Under pressure from affiliates, NBC cut a scene from Thursday's ER that briefly showed the breast of an 80-year-old heart-attack patient. "I think our viewers are intelligent enough to make their own decision as to whether their children should watch or not," complained executive producer John Wells. Hollywood is a favorite target in election years (in '92, Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown; in '96, Bob Dole vs. Ice-T; in 2000, Joseph Lieberman vs. Eminem). But some in the industry cheer the Super Bowl investigation. "I think everybody should be fined," said Vin di Bona, executive producer of America's Funniest Home Videos. "The networks, the artists, and if you really want to clean it up, fine the local broadcasters."
The government's investigating a one-second flash as though it were the Iran-contra scandal does seem a bit preposterous. Whatever is turned up, the crimes were committed long before, and by many hands. The NFL, for instance, has not exactly been dainty in courting those vaunted 18-to-34-year-old men; before the indecent exposure, it was parading the bodacious Coors Light twins like game trophies. If the league has expressed any reservations about the sponsors' objectifying messages, it has been hard to hear them. (Asked about the beer-ad and cheerleader culture, NFL'S Browne demurred, "Let's stay on the halftime.")
And if the NFL knew what it was getting — and wanted — from MTV, the music network's corporate sib CBS has even less reason to be shocked, shocked. MTV's defense is that it was betrayed by an attention-seeking artist looking to jump-start her career. But MTV is a prime mover in a celebrity culture in which young female singers and actresses, however accomplished, increasingly have to go near-naked — on the V.M.A.s, in videos, on the covers of Maxim, Stuff and FHM — if they want to keep their CDs moving, their ratings up and their movies packed. Now MTV says it got played? It helped invent the game.
Meanwhile, some of MTV's culture-warrior critics are eager to leverage public outrage to push their own agendas. "This is going to change things — finally," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, a conservative Ohio advocacy group. The Parents Television Council called on the FCC to fine NBC affiliates if they ran the uncut ER episode. "American families," said council president Brent Bozell, "are disgusted by this unnecessary nudity on broadcast television." They are? ER ran an episode last October that included an elderly woman's breasts — and reran it the week before the Super Bowl — without a public outcry. Back in 1977, ABC aired bare breasts in the classic mini-series Roots. The Jackson stunt was juvenile, but so is the all-boobies-are-dirty equivalence. (Not to mention the silly anatomical parsing it leads to: Are nipples seen through an Oscars gown O.K.? Nipples covered by metal? Bottom of breast? Side?)
The message from the TV industry's critics resonates with parents who feel attacked by pop culture's sexuality and are concerned about raising kids with appropriate values. But one such value is accepting personal responsibility. To have seen the ambush-by-mammary, you had to have sat through the entire, supposedly not-fit-for-families halftime show. Argues TV producer David Salzman: "It's like being a pacifist and complaining when you watch a World Wrestling Entertainment event." That didn't stop a Knoxville, Tenn., lawyer from filing a class action on behalf of Super Bowl viewers, claiming "outrage" and "serious injury." From lunging to avoid Jackson's nipple?
We spent too much time last week talking about the what of the "malfunction" and relatively little about the how. Even at MTV's risque V.M.A. shows, the naughty acts usually involve women artists taking off their own clothesthat is, controlling their sexuality. Jackson's flashing was not, despite press descriptions, a "striptease." It was Timberlake ripping off her cup and exposing a breast to hang out like a chuck roast as she cowered in real or feigned shame. It wasn't erotic; it was violent. It wasn't adult; it was preadolescent. It wasn't sexual; it was a choreographed sexual assault. Two microns of red lace over Jackson's areola wouldn't have made that any better.
That's the thing about obscenity: you can't find it on an anatomical chart. It's about context and tone, a subtle and very subjective judgment. Arguably, Jackson's lightning flash was no more offensive than several ads that ran during the Super Bowl and focused on humiliation, especially sexual humiliation, especially of women. In spots for Bud Light, a woman on a date was farted on by a horse; another was hit on by a horny monkey.
Is this kind of TV crudity going to wane after the Jackson incident? Absolutely. Just as surely as Columbine ended screen violence, the Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? scandal finished reality TV and the Sept. 11 attacks killed irony. Betting against the transgressiveness of pop culture is like shorting the market: you may be right for a period, but over time you will lose. Even if the FCC does leash the big networks meaningfully — a long shot — viewers remain free to go to cable. "It's acceptable for Tiger Woods to curse on ESPN," notes NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker, "but not on NBC at the same golf tournament." If the viewers go, the ratings pressures will return. And with them? Bring on the bursting corsets!In a way, Justin and Janet did us a favor. They spelled out the subtext of the game and its surrounding culture. A culture that tells young men they can't formulate a thought deeper than "Show us your tits." A culture that pushes young women to put out for the market, then ridicules them when they do. A culture swinging between cynical sex-sells greed and moral parentalism. A culture obsessed by, and terrified of, a human organ that gives sustenance to babies. And a culture that apparently can't tell the difference between contextually appropriate nudity and a rape fantasy. By the end of Jackson and Timberlake's song, that culture was naked.