To be sure, the fact that Justin Timberlake removed a portion of Janet Jackson’s Genghis Khan-like costume during the MTV-orchestrated Super Bowl half time show is well known. Presumably, this has more to do with the fact that Janet’s career is about as over as M.C. Hammer’s: they can both do a great job of bustin’ a move, but who the hell has been thinking about buying discs from either of those two? Since Janet posed a few years ago for a Rolling Stone cover with her breasts covered by a man’s hands, it is evident that she’s not in the least bit shy about showing her well-rounded skin. What’s somewhat interesting about the whole thing is that unless someone was watching the CBS telecast with a high-definition plasma screen about the size of something found in a multiplex, the exposure was something that would be best measured by physicists at Argonne National Lab, as it had the half life of one of those new transuranic elements that have just been found.
There is a certain quandary, in effect, that this whole thing surfaces. On the one hand, it’s a, “Yeah: Janet. A little skin on prime time TV. Rockin!” It’s sort of the in-your-face—or that should be “in-their-face”—move that has long been hailed as the subversive side of music. Set the bourgeoisie back in their seats: Wham! And on the other, it is conceivable to be considered to be some sort of prude to criticize the move: What’s wrong—don’t like to see a little skin? But when you consider the elements of the incident, the artificial nature (an oxymoron, that) is striking. How is it that a millionaire exposing a breast is in anyway to be considered some sort of politically controversial gesture? Hell, LaToya was more authentic (well, in a sense) in Playboy and wherever else she could show what she’s got working. That Jackson family is one that is probably making Ozzy and Sharon worry that they’re too normal. This is all about commerce, purely and simply. If you can’t make it on talent anymore—or if your talent is still as good as it was but has been simply eclipsed by this year’s model—then work with what you’ve got, right?
The part that ought to raise a certain amount of concern is that MTV is owned by Viacom, which just happens to own CBS, as well. Viacom is one of the two companies (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation being the other one) that is benefiting from the FCC’s recent regulation regarding ownership of media properties: So far as they’re concerned, the more the better. Joe Browne, NFL executive vice president, stated after the telecast, “It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime.” It is probably a good thing for Browne and the NFL that his statement isn’t definitive, because the way things are going with media concentration, there may not be a hell of a lot of choice in the not-too-distant future. And we will sit like mopes in front of the screen, imagining that there’s subversion going on when Madonna kisses the Radio City Rockettes or some fading star completely unzips.
To be sure, the Super Bowl, as many have noted, is probably about as close to the “bread and circus” aspects of the declining Roman Empire. Everything is there except for the lions. Blood. Sweat. Music. Sex. We thrive on it. One of the big topics around the Super Bowl telecast—before, during and after—are the commercials. We get sated with the spectacle of the football, which gets our juices going, and as we don’t go out and smash and bash as the players do, we vent our passions by buying Bud or getting really risky and logging on to Monster.com to look for a new job. We don’t want to think about the economy. The deficit. None of that stuff. C’mon, that was Janet Jackson’s breast, forgodssake!
All of which leads us right down the path that the good people at Viacom, the NFL, and the rest would like us to tread: Forget real controversy. The play’s the thing.