By Carl C. Sundberg
February 12, 2004
- This column was awarded a William Randolph Hearst Award for Editorial Writing, Journalism in 2004 -
Well, I tried. Really. I have spent the past week pining over a topic for this column, and while many things crossed my mind, one thing kept throwing itself into my consciousness.
Yes, it was Janet Jackson's boob.
I can't help but see it -- it's everywhere. Still. I can't turn on the television or check my e-mail or read the news without seeing Janet's look of horror and her now-censored mammary. According to Lycos, Janet and her boob is the most-searched-for event in the history of the Internet. Sorry, Ms. Jackson.
The thing is, no one is talking about the real disgusting events that took place on that shameful Sunday. No one mentions the fact that Janet and Justin's performance, aside from the accidental striptease, was one of brutality and misogynistic domination. No one talks about Nelly, not only reaching for his penis, but shaping it into a missile for all the world to see. No has even questioned the real boob, Kid Rock, and his idiotic performance, which in reality is more disturbing and wrong than anything the Jackson family could produce. And in the "hip" category, all of the artists who performed during half-time did a terrible job lip-synching now-defunct hits from their sorry collective pasts. Nothing was new there, nor was any of it even remotely interesting, aside from the half-second flash of flesh.
Shock is nothing new to network television, and it is certainly not new to musicians. Just ask Eminem or Marilyn Manson. America's television history is inundated with "shocking moments." We expect these things from our musicians. Someone has to step up and question American progress from time to time, and it's usually them.
CBS seems to have forgotten that one of its longest-running television programs, "The Ed Sullivan Show," hosted a plethora of "shocking" performances. On Sept. 9, 1956, Elvis Presley became "Elvis the Pelvis" after lewdly gyrating his hips for an audience of 56 million viewers. By his third performance, Elvis's dirty hips were cropped from the frame.
Another "shocking" performance from that same show came a few years later, when The Doors performed their hit "Light My Fire." The producers told singer Jim Morrison that he had to say something other than "get much higher" because of the apparent drug reference. He agreed to it before the show, but sang the song with the original words, live on television. According to keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Sullivan was so irate he didn't even shake their hands. He banned the group from ever appearing on the show again.
It's safe to say that the outrage of CBS and Michael Powell -- chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and son of Colin -- was not much different than that of Ed Sullivan. But in all honesty, was it really that shocking? With multiple ads running during the Super Bowl for flaccid penises and beer commercials with farting horses, is a split-second of teat really bringing us down the path of full-scale corruption?
I find it hilarious that an entertainer can go right up to the line of acceptability and FCC-regulated taste, but if you even wave your foot (or in this case, your boob) over that line, you are shunned.
One argument for the FCC is that the breast flopped out during a time when children were present. I asked my 4-year-old niece what she thought of it, and she replied, "She's pretty." There you have it. No corruption there.
Maybe we should look to our European brothers and sisters. Over there, the naked human form is not only accepted, it is praised for the beauty that it is. Had the Super Bowl been a French game show, I doubt anyone would have thought anything of it. But in the good ol' United States, breasts in public are horrific and should be kept locked away -- at least in the eyes of network media and the FCC.
Wars rage, violence is praised, yet still in our barbarian culture a breast is more shocking than seeing a fistfight in the dogpiles of a Super Bowl brawl, or civilians running for their lives while being fired upon by soldiers. Our Pavlovian conditioning over the years has trained us to tune out the violence, I guess.
What this says to me is that our country, despite being one of great accomplishments and beauty, is still in its adolescent phase, like a bunch of bullies on a national playground, beating people up and getting flustered and annoyed at the girls for trying to make us grow up.
Originally published in the Oregon Daily Emerald