About one year ago, Janet Jackson exposed her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show. I would like to report that was a fine breast, supple and well shaped, not too small but not too large. However, it was only shown for one second, and even watching it on a friend’s TiVo over and over failed to clarify the matter. To my recollection, it was a mere flash of a nipple. Without more footage from different angles to confirm the sighting, and being a good journalist, I would have to identify it as an alleged breast.
But the aftermath was real. That nipple felt the bite of the FCC to the tune of $550,000, the fine CBS was assessed. A climate of fear gripped our nation. It reminded me of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask),” when a giant breast runs amok and wreaks havoc on the populace. When Woody reports it to the authorities, a policeman asks him, “Now are you sure there was only one, because you know they usually travel in pairs.” It is finally captured using a giant brassiere.
With Janet, we had no such closure, and still don’t. Her breast is still menacing our people, only not directly with milk as in the film, but more insidiously, with fear and political correctness. Recently, the anti-breast forces sunk to a new low.
Fox has a show called “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.” For Super Bowl XXXIX on Sunday, however, the title was tamed to something like, “The Best Show That Doesn’t Offend Anyone” or “The Best Show” or “The Sports Show” or “We Love The FCC” or “Please Don’t Fine Us.” Whatever they decide upon, it’ll sound insipid and weak. But I guess that’s the point.
And they don't object to 'Best'?Why is the word “damn” taboo? Is it offensive? It wasn’t one of George Carlin’s infamous “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.” If it was called “The Best F------ Sports Show Period,” I would either support a name change, or a move to pay television. But “damn” is a first cousin of “heck” and “golly.” Maybe it’s considered objectionable because so many people said it when they saw Janet Jackson’s nipple.
I have to admit, I’m becoming confused. In the wake of Janet, I assumed that a clampdown would occur, and one has. Yet everywhere you look on television these days, there are commercials for erectile dysfunction medicine. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra seem to be the most popular ones.
In these ads, people lay naked in bathtubs on top of mountaintops and hold hands, presumably waiting until the drug kicks in. Naturally, they don’t show you the actual results, but they paint a rather vivid picture of what occurs once one of these little pills hits the bloodstream.
The women have the kinds of smiles on their faces that you rarely see outside of a Larry Flynt production. The men look like they’re ready to knock down a wall. And all the while, the narrator fills us in.
The part I like the most is the warning about a four-hour erection. The ads say that if an erection lasts for more than four hours, you should probably go see your doctor. But what exactly is the treatment for a four-hour erection? Does the doctor show the patient photos of ugly women? Is there a particular program of physical therapy that is prescribed, and if so, is it legal?
All of this begs the question: What is more offensive, a one-second nipple or a four-hour erection?
Janet’s nipple came as a surprise. It was a stunt, and not a very clever one. But it was harmless, a mere speck on the cultural landscape. If it wasn’t for sanctimonious windbags who used a one-second glimpse of a celebrity breast as evidence of massive moral decline, it would quickly have been forgotten.
Custom-made for 'Show and Tell'But meanwhile, the four-hour erection enters millions of homes every day. It hovers over our lives like a giant zeppelin. There you are, eating your supper, and in the other room your kids are watching a TV show. Suddenly the narrator comes on and warns viewers about the four-hour erection while the folks on the screen engage in pre-foreplay canoodling. What do you say when the kids ask, “Daddy, have you ever had a four-hour erection?” What if they ask to bring it in for “Show and Tell”?
“Desperate Housewives” is one of the most popular shows on television, and it deals with sex as often as ESPN deals with sports. If you turn on any daytime drama, you’ll only have to wait a few minutes before seeing a couple of people in the sack. “NYPD Blue” broke the nudity barrier long ago, and it’s still standing.
The common denominator is money. Networks are willing to stand guard and protect the people from perceived obscenity as long as it doesn’t cost them any dough. Janet’s breast was superfluous and therefore easily condemnable. Erectile dysfunction ads pay handsomely, therefore are essential and acceptable.
It’s selective prosecution: the one-second nipple is nailed while the four-hour erection gets off scot-free because the latter has better representation.
This year the entertainment at halftime of the Super Bowl will be headlined by Sir Paul McCartney. I think Fox and the NFL felt safer hiring somebody with “Sir” in his name because generally those with a royal title are considered more dignified and less likely to offend, although maybe they hadn’t heard about Prince Harry. I expect Sir Paul to put on a marvelous show while keeping the world safe from unruly nipples.
Now if he can only protect us from the intrusion of four-hour erections.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.