Janet Jackson’s Nipple Returns

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Way back in 2004—before YouTube, before Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, before today’s junior high school students were born—there was Superbowl XXXVIII. The halftime show featured P Diddy, Kid Rock, and Nelly before the main event: a Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake duet.

Kid Rock wore an American flag poncho, the rappers wore gangsta outfits, Timberlake wore what guys wear in Denny’s, and Jackson wore a black leather bustier over a red lace undergarment. Of course.

After strutting and grinding (his pelvis, her butt) for a few minutes, Timberlake and Jackson closed their song with Timberlake dramatically pulling off the bustier cup covering Jackson’s right breast (fyi, it appears to have been pre-cut—there were no loose threads or bits of lace). For exactly one-half second (I am NOT making this up), half the planet saw her nipple.

Well, would have seen it if they could have adjusted their eyes in time, which of course no one could. That’s less time than a blink.

So people who had TiVo’d the game (look it up, kids) raced to watch the recording in slow motion. People who missed it searched the internet, or their friends’ TiVo. These millions of men and women, of course, lack any organized political clout.

And then the outrage started.

Most of it was orchestrated by Morality in Media, the watchdog group obsessed with sex. No mention (or image) of body parts is too trivial for them to make a federal case out of. In fact, that’s what they did—they demanded the U.S. government punish CBS for this horrendous abuse of the airwaves.

And it did. The Federal Communications Commission not only fined CBS a half-million dollars, they changed their rules—retroactively—so that any similar future events would get punished, too.

The Big Victims of this half-second boob shot were, of course, The Children: eyeballs burned, minds forever warped. Kids apparently looking at their parents forlornly, wanting an “explanation,” and suffering from the lack of one. Yes, that’s really what Morality in Media (and many Republican Congress members) said on every news show in America the following week.

Fast-forward to 2018. Justin Timberlake will perform at the Superbowl tomorrow. The Harvey Weinstein Effect has changed the world. How will the 2004 history be rewritten?

Jackson as a victim. Jackson as a woman, sexually violated by a man. Nipplegate as an example of everything wrong with the entertainment industry.

And while sexual violence and gender discrimination are to be condemned without reservation, that’s the wrong story to tell about this event. Jackson is a powerful woman who has chosen to highlight her sexuality for three decades. As consumers, we’ve eaten it up. That’s her choice as an artist, and ours as an audience. She and we have both enjoyed the arrangement.

Retroactively calling Jackson a victim to advance a legitimate agenda of reducing sexual violence and gender discrimination is dishonest opportunism. It’s rewriting history to suit today’s moral climate, and that’s immoral no matter who does it. It also reinforces the idea that sexuality is a problem, best made invisible and removed from pop culture. This is NOT feminism. This is bad social philosophy.

The legacy of this 2004 Superbowl event

Various religious and political figures exploited it to reinforce their version of morality—and to increase the government’s financial support for their inane lobbying, which you and I are still funding.

The parents who protested that the event “forced” them to have an “unwanted conversation” with their children were apparently ill-equipped to support their kids’ upcoming adolescence. Many of those information-deprived teens grew up to have sexual guilt, shame, and the unwanted pregnancies that often result. I see these young adults for therapy. As their generation ages, more of them will need help.

The protest campaign orchestrated by Morality in Media gave cover for the FCC to expand its domain over “indecency.” Our President, his cabinet members, and various Congress members are still trying to expand government censorship over mass media and the internet.

The event also provided a convenient diversion from America’s war on Iraq. A nipple threatening our great nation? Mission Accomplished.

We’re still struggling with the criminalization of breastfeeding in public.

And America retains its humiliating position as the world’s most prudish “advanced” country.

You know what they call a topless beach in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and every other civilized country?

A beach.

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