For some inexplicable reason, the female nipple is considered more tantalizing and scandalous in the U.S. than the male version. Male nipples are ubiquitous on the beach. Female nipples are covered in public, except at certain nightclubs and nudist colonies, and at any event that includes Tara Reid.
So if Keith Richards decides to sidle up to band mate Mick Jagger and expose his nipple during the halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl, the event would probably be greeted with laughter rather than outrage. Oh, those kidders.
But that probably won’t happen, much to the relief of many in the ranks of the NFL, ABC, FCC, ACLU, NAACP and any other acronym sent reeling two years ago by Nipplegate. The forecast for halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl is mild, and is expected to continue that way indefinitely.
Fans of the Rolling Stones may bristle at the suggestion that Mick and the boys have softened and mellowed in their old age. Even though the three original members are almost old enough to qualify for the federal prescription drug program — Mick and Keith are 62 and Charlie Watts is 64 — the inferno of idealistic youth still drives them. That, and money.
But after the now infamous wardrobe malfunction, the NFL and its broadcast partners have been much more careful about the type of acts booked at halftime of its showcase event. Last year it was Sir Paul McCartney. This year the Rolling Stones. You’ll notice there’s not a female breast among them, although the Stones have toured for the last 10 years or so with backup singer extraordinaire Lisa Fischer. Don’t be surprised if she shows up Sunday in an NFL-licensed burka.
Obviously, league commissioner Paul Tagliabue has issued an edict that only mainstream acts need apply. That leaves out 50 Cent, Eminem, Ludacris, or any other artist that has ever had the words “explicit lyrics” appear on a CD. It also excludes any sexy females; anyone, male or female, with large breasts; anyone named Jackson; anyone named Janet; or anyone who has ever removed an article of clothing in public.
McCartney was the ideal choice last year. He was paid a reported $3.5 million to sing in Jacksonville, which is a bargain for the services of a superstar when you consider what it usually costs to get most people to visit Jacksonville.
He performed four songs, three from his Beatles days and one from the Wings era, all with a Super Bowl flavor. “Baby, You Can Drive My Car” was a shrewd choice, considering all the automobile companies that advertise during the game. “Get Back” was Sir Paul’s way of indicating he was down with American football, since it reminds some fans of “Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, wayyy back!” Obviously “Live & Let Die” was advice to the Eagles on how to handle the Terrell Owens situation. And “Hey Jude” was actually a last-minute replacement for “I Am The Walrus,” which some league officials worried might insult Eagles coach Andy Reid.
The Stones have been tight-lipped about their song list for Sunday. But some of their hits that have been eliminated from consideration include “Bitch,” “Sister Morphine,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Short and Curlies,” “Turd on the Run,” “Little Red Rooster,” “When The Whip Comes Down,” “Suck on the Jugular” and “Soul Survivor.” The last one reportedly was nixed by ABC because it might be construed as promoting a certain show on another network.
Two suggestions for each of Sunday’s teams. Pittsburgh: “Happy.” Seattle: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The band’s front man, the incomparable Mick, has settled into the comfy chair of acceptance by the general public. He still performs with more gusto and energy than many men half his age, but he has sanitized his act considerably. It seems a clean cash cow is much more prosperous than a dirty one.
Back in the day, circa 1969, on the live album, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” Mick addressed the crowd between songs with this: “I think I popped a button on my trousers, I hope they don’t fall down. You wouldn’t want my trousers to fall down now, would you?” The crowd at Madison Square Garden answered enthusiastically in the affirmative, the perverts.
If Mick’s trousers fall down at any time during the Stones’ performance at halftime this Sunday, the NFL will stop payment on the check, and future headliners at the Super Bowl will include Amy Grant and the Wiggles.
But if they don’t, and the Stones get the FCC seal of approval afterward, then that will loosen things up a bit in the booking department. Mainstream acts like Elton John, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Tom Petty and Santana will be on the short list of candidates. Riskier possibilities include Beyoncé, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, only because they all have breasts that could burst out at any moment. But I’m sure some arrangement could be arrived at, perhaps involving an Elizabethan corset.
It seems odd that the Rolling Stones are suddenly the poster boys for a new puritanical turn in our country. The rebels have become symbols of compliance. The NFL and ABC wanted artists who will bring in a large TV audience, but also those who wouldn’t invite the FCC. So they’ve narrowed their focus to men in their 60s.
One nipple can make a difference in the lives of many.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.