for February 5, 2004
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for today's rant...
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The "Poit!" Heard 'Round The World
by Sean Carolan
Let me be clear on this: I completely missed almost the entire Super Bowl last Sunday, so I wasn't ready to pounce on the surprise appearance of Janet Jackson's studded jubbly after Justin Timberlake popped off the breakaway portion of her rather magnificent getup, like so many others apparently were. There was just too much roast pork to be served (and eaten) and, while others were watching the Super Bowl, I believe I was screening the DVD of Michel Gondry's video and short-film work, specifically his video for Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy", for a relative. (I like having relatives where that's an option.)
It's okay, though - I miss nothing, 'cause we have the web.
Not only was I pleased to see that so many were up to the task of capturing and posting pictures and videos of the event itself, but it underscored the fact that the Internet, unlike a chain that is only as good as its weakest link, is actually as great as the most impressive node on it. And the impressive nodes in this case were those run by people with ready access to high-definition television capture devices. (Note to self - must get me one o' dose.)
And now that I've seen the offending protruberance in all its 1080i glory, I can safely say that there are more angles on this event than the Dallas Book Repository ever saw.
There's the cynical angle - that this event was a meticulously-planned attention grab, to be disavowed as soon as it aired (thus crystallizing its presence in the minds of the public while maintaining plausable deniability.) Tom Freston, head of MTV Networks, has claimed in a widely circulated pull-quote - while apologizing for the gaffe - that "MTV got 'punk'd". Nah, no attempt to get free publicity for one of his shows there. Apparently they managed to cut off the microphone before he said "...but I guess that's what happens in The Real World when you let some Jackass get ahold of the Remote Control, instead of the Newlyweds that will make this country wholesome again! Oh, and Total Request Live!"
There's the social angle - that this will serve as a lightning rod for complainers that pop music apparently cannot be performed in front of a massive audience without the performer being either minimally dressed or surrounded by the minimally dressed, conscious of the size of their manhood (hey, Nelly - if you let go, what's it gonna do - fall off?) or a bit too happy to rattle off non-family-safe buzzwords like "whores", "methadone" and "P. Diddy". All that criticism, however, misses the point - this was theater, not music. Given the all-ages nature of its intended audience, it was a generally ill-conceived bit of theater, but it was theater nonetheless.
There's the political angle - the FCC now gets to act as the enforcement wing of the Republican government, smiting the evildoers at CBS and MTV responsible for this abomination. Is it payback for aborted tell-all mini-series "The Reagans" (which ultimately surfaced on Viacom's other tentacle, Showtime?) Time will tell. Meanwhile, MTV and CBS's parent company's stock rose one percent the morning after.
There's the PR for alternative lifestyle adornment, wherein Janet Jackson (who I believe actually did show us more than was intended) gave us a bit more information on personal prefence in self-modification than I think 130 million viewers were quite ready to grasp. ("Oh, it's a just a pastie" - "No, I think I'm seeing something else there" - "Oh, well, let's rewind it five or six times more and see...")
The fetishists of the world, from leather fans to body mod fans to those people who just like a really nice brooch, had a day in the sun, though none more so than outrage fetishists - those people who clearly get a more-than-reasonable charge from getting irrationally angry over stuff they see on TV. To them, I'd like to say, "Was it good for you, too?"
It's a grand day for euphemism, as Justin Timberlake's apology for the "wardrobe malfunction" evokes the irony that we haven't seen such a catastrophic failure of external structure since the Columbia disaster, one year to the day earlier.
And there's never been a better, more fertile twenty-four hours for punditry. From one Fark.com poster's declaration (among thousands) that there was a nip in the air, to the more controlled outrage of op-ed writers worldwide, to the fundamentalist watchdog sites that declared how heathenous it was that such a thing should happen, even while posting the clearest possible picture of Miss Jackson's renegade naughty bit. (Nothing like having your cake and eating it too, eh?)
Honestly, though, I think what really happened was similar to the plight of the poor cheerleader who manages to complete a flip before remembering that she forgot her bloomers.
Imagine you're Janet Jackson. You step on stage. 130 million pairs of eyes are upon you. And at that moment, you realize you forgot your bra, you can't get to Justin to tell him not to do that move you rehearsed at the end of the act, and there's no turning back. You know how this is gonna end, but you're a professional, and you can't stop the show. Tonya Harding, she of the broken skate lace, will be your best friend back at the therapy group. (Either that, or Justin grabbed both the outfit's hardy leather exterior and a bit too much of its chewy center.)
But the FCC's gonna investigate, sayeth its head Michael Powell, who up to this point was okay with letting media companies perform unspeakable acts on the citizenry, but only if they involved making money. And so begins the taxpayer-funded investigation into what caused Janet Jackson's hull breach.
Though I'll volunteer to look into it myself. Ahem.
Ultimately though, there was a failure - specifically, one dilly of a wanton violation of a hugely important show-business rule:
"Know your audience."
I wasn't offended, but then I wouldn't be. But there were millions of other people watching that apparently were, and it would have been no different a breach of performing decorum if they'd shown thirty seconds of live open heart surgery at the end of that song. You aren't ever gonna change their minds about the misunderstood ta-ta until there's nude sunbathing in their local park.
By no means do I think this means there ought to be more stringent standards to prevent this sort of thing from happening again - that way lies the madness of political correctness and zero tolerance. But a bit of sensitivity as to who's actually watching might be in order.
But, to use the obverse analogy, if I were at legendary strip joint Frank's Chicken Shack, I'd better see a well-placed nipple brooch, or I'd want my money back. But at Frank's, y'know, they know their audience. Viacom, CBS and MTV are collectively suffering the price of being less professional than that.
On reflection, I'm glad I didn't bother watching - not only has the resulting kerfuffle been far more entertaining, but owing to some of the other content that aired during the Super Bowl, I didn't have to answer what whould have inevitably been my eldest daughter's questions:
"Daddy, what's an erection, and why is it bad to have one that lasts four hours?"
I'm clear on the first part, but I'm searching for the answer to that last one myself.
©2004 Sean Carolan
All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.
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