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Lamenting half time

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 3, 2004

It has come to our attention that MTV is deeply and fundamentally incapable of putting on a halftime show.

We will pass over, for the moment, the rather injudicious wardrobe change effected on Janet Jackson by our friend Justin. For the moment, our attentions will be directed at a more pressing issue, of greater cultural import, and of wider scope in its commentary on – nay, indictment of – American culture.

Let us recall the cast of characters which filled that wooden “O” Sunday night: we saw, as mentioned, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Timberlake. We were presented with two rappers, one of whom does not profess to own a last name and another who insists on changing his bi-annually. We endured Mrs. Simpson – or is it Lachey? And lastly, we were visually and aurally assaulted by the all-American badassness of Mr. Rock, whose act’s only redeeming quality may have been the post-menopausal aggressiveness of its drummer.

On their own, these entertainers – let us rephrase that, “professionals of the entertainment industry” – each merely leave us wishing for a real artist to fill the void they occupy. But when such a lineup is presented as the entirety of the night’s musical output, it is not only we who shudder: Nature herself abhors such a vacuous display of bad taste and artistic incompetence.

Those who seriously value popular music for its potential as an art form have long since learned that MTV will merely provide them an outlet for repressed masochism. MTV glorifies two things: MTV and the current fad. If your product does not tithe at the altar of popularity it is tossed out onto the trash heap; if it sold well last month, then the market is exhausted and it is time for something new and equally mindless.

What is most disturbing, however, is not that MTV could produce, and CBS air, such a display without a single musician in the lineup (with, perhaps, the exception of the aforementioned drummer); no, what fills us with trepidation are the screaming mobs which surrounded Messrs. Combs, Haynes, Timberlake and Ritchie and Misses Jackson and Simpson, eating up their every offering as if it were the latest chapter of divine revelation. These paragons of democracy are skilled beyond belief in doing exactly as they are told, enjoying everything they are instructed to enjoy, and voting with their dollars to ensure that no Billboard Top Hits list in the foreseeable future will be dominated by artists with any measure of articulation or idea content in their music.

We greet with open arms the announcement that the Super Bowl has learned its lesson and will leave MTV to run its own competing programming. We only wish that it had been the debacle of the halftime show as a whole, rather than a celebrity wardrobe malfunction, which brought that decision about.