My guess is that the reason Janet Jackson allowed her right breast to be exposed before a world television audience is because Justin Timberlake slipped her wine in a soda can.
That is about the only excuse I can buy for the cheap stunt perpetrated on Sunday. In case you missed it, Janet and Justin performed together in the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, which is usually a study in excess anyway. But not this much excess. Janet’s right breast made its prime-time national TV debut, to mixed results. While most men –- and indeed, perhaps even a good number of women -– appreciate the merits of an unwrapped hooter, I think many would agree that there is a time and a place.
For instance, there is an establishment a few miles from my home called Jumbo’s Clown Room, where young, well-endowed women are encouraged to share their gifts by eager males wielding fistfuls of dollar bills. (I’ve never actually attended myself, but I overheard a couple behind me discussing it recently while I was at the symphony.) This type of activity also can be found at similar businesses situated near airports, industrial parks, red-light districts and other locales that are zoned to accommodate a clientele with a prurient interest.
But the Super Bowl halftime show is supposed to be a little more well-scrubbed. The most shocking revelation that audiences should ever come away with is the fact that many singers lip-synch their songs onstage. This event used to be the wholesome domain for the likes of Donny and Marie, and Up With People! Even Gypsy Rose Lee would have had the good sense to keep herself covered if asked to perform.
Instead, we’re now getting Kid Rock, wrapping himself in a ripped-up American flag and shrieking like Howard Dean at a pep rally. And Nelly, grabbing his crotch so often that you hoped someone would toss him a tube of ointment.
But it was Janet and Justin who topped them all, sparking what will be known for years to come as the Bowl Boob Brouhaha.
It should be noted that Janet dressed for the occasion as if ready to bullwhip businessmen for money. Perhaps it was the provocative nature of her outfit that caused Justin to ignore society’s mores and go after her chest like it was a birthday present. CBS, which televised the event, quickly cut away from the unadorned knocker, but it was too late. Millions of viewers who thought they heard the last of the term “Golden Globes” were sadly mistaken.
Shortly afterward came the damage control. Justin issued a statement saying: “I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl. It was not intentional and it is regrettable.” Now, the theme of the halftime show purportedly was “Say No to Illiteracy,” so I assume Justin’s statement was aimed at people who could neither read nor comprehend it. Because for those of us who were able to decipher his explanation, we all got a good chuckle. I was especially amused by the term “wardrobe malfunction.” Believe me, the only “wardrobe malfunction” that took place for Justin and Janet was the fact that the other breast wasn’t exposed also.
Getting a glimpse of a woman’s breast indeed can often be accidental. There is a “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine recruits Kramer to take her photo so she can use it on a Christmas card. The card is sent out to all her family and friends, with one flaw: a nipple is in plain view, to her horror. Many times I have seen women breast-feeding babies in public, and it’s almost impossible to avoid a brief gander at a child suckling in the open air, try as I might.
This was different. I believe Janet and Justin intended to liven up the proceedings from the time they accepted the assignment. French-kissing on stage, à la Madonna and Britney Spears –- Justin’s former squeeze –- would not have the same impact, because there would be no lesbian overtones to titillate the predominantly male audience. So in an effort to outdo Britney, Justin decided that the sleazy, gyrating cesspool of tasteless raunch that the Super Bowl halftime show has become needed to be taken down a notch, in the interest of making a cultural imprint.
The forgotten JacksonAs for Janet, lately for better or worse she is the forgotten Jackson. Even LaToya makes an appearance on “Larry King” now and then. After this, Janet’s career is re-energized. The next thing you know she’ll be wrapping herself around a silver pole at the Bada Bing.
CBS apologized for the incident. MTV, which produced the show, said in a statement that it was “unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performances.” Yet there is another usage for the term “boobs” in this context, and it applies to the people who put together this entertainment in the first place.
CBS broadcast the Super Bowl and the halftime show. MTV and CBS are both owned by Viacom. One could read between the lines that CBS went to cousin MTV because it wanted something racy and edgy to appeal to a certain demographic, for their mutual benefit. So even if CBS didn’t explicitly sign off on the flash of flesh, it got the sort of thing it asked for.
And the NFL is just as culpable. On Monday, commissioner Paul Tagliabue used words like “embarrassing,” “inappropriate” and “offensive” to condemn the incident. I doubt he would have employed such biting language if he believed this was an accident. But let’s be real here. The tone of these halftimes has drifted far away from socially responsible causes like “Say No to Illiteracy” and closer to “A Salute to Fornication.”
The NFL and CBS got just what they asked for. Their expressions of outrage are outrageous. The prudish aren’t the ones upset here, but rather those who clearly recognize a contemptuous ploy for low-brow spectacle at a supposedly respectable event perpetrated by two celebrities desperate to remain on the cutting edge.
Next year, the least the NFL should do is warn viewers that the bump-and-run happens during the game, whereas the bump-and-grind occurs at halftime.
Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles-based writer and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.