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Halfwits of halftime were only warmup act

Song-and-dance from CBS, MTV followed
/ Source: The Associated Press

Days later, people are still talking about the Super Bowl. So much action! So much noise! Then that big finish!

The game was remarkable too.

In fact, Super Bowl XXXVIII was a day for winners, and not just when New England beat Carolina by a narrow III points.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake surely scored with their fans. When Timberlake exposed Jackson’s right breast to 89 million viewers (at least the portion of them who weren’t blinking or busy dipping a Tostito into salsa at that moment) these half-wits of halftime instantly topped Howard Dean’s scream for the artistic debacle of 2004.

In the larger scheme of things, of course, Janet and Justin were only the warmup act. Soon enough, viewers were treated to a song-and-dance from CBS (which aired the Super Bowl pageant) and its Viacom sibling MTV (which produced the halftime show) as both denied prior knowledge.

Then, with an encore, Janet and Justin displayed their fancy footwork, each performing a “mistakes-were-made” apology. (There is no truth, however, to the rumor that Timberlake — who first dismissed the fiasco with a glib “Hey, man, we love giving you all something to talk about” — later tried to excuse what he did as a search for WMDs.)

Then CBS grandly announced a pre-emptive tactic for this Sunday’s Grammy Awards: The network plans to place a five-minute delay on the sort-of-live telecast, never mind the professed expense and difficulty. (But how difficult could it be, delaying for just five minutes? CBS had no trouble putting a permanent delay on its scheduled miniseries “The Reagans” last November, after conservative groups began howling.)

More winners: Linguists, blessed with the new terms “Nipplegate” and especially “wardrobe malfunction” — the sartorial equivalent of “bad hair day.” And any word lover must have been thrilled as certain quaint, long-neglected terms (like the adjective “appropriate” and the nouns “context” and “responsibility”) were suddenly given new life.

Halftime was an education
The mission of TV-Turnoff Network, a nonprofit organization that encourages less TV viewing by the public, was put into perspective. While calling the breast-baring incident “unfortunate and inappropriate,” the group’s executive director, Frank Vespe, reasoned that “the more than 1,000 hours that the average school child will spend in front of the television this year” might well prove more harmful than a one-second peep show.

But Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is putting his foot down.

During his three years of leadership, the FCC has committed itself to letting media conglomerates own more and more broadcast outlets, with less and less concern for the public interest.

Then Powell watched the Super Bowl telecast with his family and found it “tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.” Responding rather unlike a champion of deregulation, he is now launching an investigation into whether decency laws were violated, with possible penalties to CBS stations totaling millions of dollars.

Powell wants it understood that he is appalled not just by the breast-baring, but by the entire 11-minute spectacle — which also starred Kid Rock, Nelly and P. Diddy and, to be fair, did go long moments without anybody humping another performer, touching his privates, or voicing the need to have carnal relations.

Maybe CBS made a mistake not by airing the show, but by failing to prepare parents beforehand for what to say when their five-year-old asked, “Mommy, why did the man tear that lady’s clothes?”

For parents of slightly older kids, the halftime show was itself an education. Here was a crash course in MTV and that network’s winning formula: constantly upping the dosage to satisfy its overstimulated audience. A bare breast today, who knows what tomorrow?

And after Sunday, parents of college-age youngsters might be interested to know that some 700 universities across the nation have welcomed MTV onto their campuses in the form of a student-targeted offshoot called mtvU.

Airing around the clock, the mtvU network is made available to participating schools not only on campus cable systems but also on MTV-furnished televisions installed in student lounges, dining rooms and other common areas.

“It’s an opportunity to reach all those wild, experimental, quirky kids,” said MTV president Van Toffler at a recent press briefing — including artists, frat boys and students “sitting around stoned or having sex in the library stacks.”

But Sunday, did far-reaching MTV overreach?