02/04/04 — Accident? The evidence indicates that breast-baring was willful

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Accident? The evidence indicates that breast-baring was willful

Everyone involved in the outrageous occurrence during halftime at the Super Bowl claims it was an accident, not planned, not intentional.

The evidence suggests otherwise.

As you no doubt know, singer Janet Jackson’s right breast was exposed to millions of television viewers at the end of a duet that she sang with Justin Timberlake when Timberlake reached up and removed a piece of her costume.

He later called it a “wardrobe malfunction,” a phrase that will probably gain as much notoriety as, “It depends on what your definition of is is” — one that has just about as much credibility.

CBS, which showed the Super Bowl and its halftime show, directed a spokesman to say that the network apologized and that the flashing was beneath its standards.

The show was produced by MTV, which is CBS’s sister network. Both are owned by Viacom. MTV said the tearing of the costume was “unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance.”

But the following facts auger against statements that the event was unplanned:

•Miss Jackson’s nipple was decorated with a small pasty. It wouldn’t have been unless she expected it to be seen.

•Exposing herself is nothing new. She has posed many times nude or partly nude for pictures to be distributed publicly.

•In an interview before the show, her choreographer said of Miss Jackson’s role: “She’s more stylized, she’s more feminine, she’s more a woman as she dances this time around. There are some shocking moments in there too.”

•Miss Jackson and Timberlake were dancing suggestively and singing “Rock Your Body.” Just as he removed a piece of her clothing his line was: “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”

An accident? Not likely.

Among those who should be embarrassed by all this is the National Football League. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was appropriately indignant after the game. Still, the NFL bears some of the responsibility.

The halftime shows at Super Bowls have been overly suggestive for a long time. What happened Sunday was a natural extension of what has been going on for years. An example: Miss Jackson’s brother Michael clutching his crotch and weaving to and fro as he performed at a halftime in the early 1990s.

The NFL apparently has never objected to halftime sleaziness. TV networks decided long ago that the closer they come to nudity, the higher the ratings, and ratings apparently are the networks’ and the league’s only interest.

If the league is as mortified as it should be, Sunday’s episode might end up bringing a modicum of decency and sanity. Maybe the NFL will, at last, start paying attention to whether its halftime shows are appropriate for family viewing, or whether they will continue to be just another illustration of the decline of the entertainment industry and the degradation of American standards and morals.

Published in Editorials on February 4, 2004 11:24 AM