What did it reveal?

The super bowl breast business was an amazingly revealing moment, JJ’s right breast being the least of it.

First the language.

Jackson said in her statement that the decision to do a “costume reveal” was made after the rehearsals. Timberlake blamed it all on a “wardrobe malfunction” and Jackson’s publicist said there was “some kind of collapse in the garment”.

They sound like they are talking about some failed military strategy or a rocket that didn’t make it though re-entry.

And that’s really the question. What texts have been allowed to land with this one?

There’s been plenty of common sense comment from media scholars and the less up tight columnists.

“For the league to say, ‘We are shocked,’ over the exposure of a woman’s breast is the height of hypocrisy on multiple levels,” Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, told USA Today’s Ian O’Connor

As he goes onto comment:

The NFL’s beer sponsor, Coors Light, spent the postseason blitzing viewers with yet another mindless commercial featuring buxom barmaids and cheerleaders, an ad hardening the notion that women who dare to step inside America’s testosterone-crazed football culture are to be seen exclusively as sexual playthings.

Don’t blame Justin Timberlake for trying to one-up his ex, Britney Spears, who locked lips with Madonna before poor Justin’s saucer-sized eyes. Timberlake was only behaving the way men are encouraged to behave in your average NFL beer ad, where male fans either get drunk and fantasize about mud-wrestling bimbos or get drunk and fantasize about twins.

“There are so many things going on in those ads more disturbing than a quick glimpse of a naked breast,” Thompson said. “This quick exposure was a tiny drop in the bucket. … The NFL didn’t know this would happen, but the league was fully aware of the rest of the halftime show. The bumping and grinding. The costumes. The fact it was put on by MTV.”

And there was plenty of comment along those lines. As the editorial in the same paper concluded:

The Super Bowl halftime show was a victim of its own conceit — that it could put an “edge” on the broadcast. The result was tacky and artificial, a public display of affectation. The public display of Jackson’s breast was only part of the problem. The nation has seen better as well as worse.

But this didn’t stop the circulation of outrage.

Bush administration head media regulator Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell called the incident “classless, crass and deplorable.”

And of course all of the organisations and individuals concerned have spent the day apologising.

Others tried to quell the outrage.

“There’s no story here,” University of Southern California journalism professor Joe Saltzman told the SanFrancisco Chronicle “People have seen a breast before.”

He is right of course but he’s also wrong. There’s a very big story here. The nerve that was touched is raw – fleshy and awkward

Powell’s full statement tells some more of that story:

“I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl,” said Powell, promising a swift and thorough investigation. “Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better.”

Here we see the ritual context of the scandal: families gathered to watch their gladiatorial heroes demonstrate the sportsmanship, athleticism, courage and manly competition that lies at the heart of the American dream. What was revealed in amongst this manly chest puffing and preening?

A black amazon’s breast.

But this is more than fear of female sexuality. This is fear of the MTV generation. This is fear of the performative. Fear of accidents. Fear of a new world where home is an unfamiliar place.

Janet Jackson’s breast revealed that the Super Bowl pantomime, Joe DeMagio, field of dreams America is no more: a mirage that never was.

One thought on “What did it reveal?

  1. I agree with you one hundred percent. No one mentioned those young cheerleaders bumping and grinding onstage. It’s all about the breast. But what’s unusual about seeing a breast on TV in 2004? NOTHING if you ask me.

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