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Now that’s entertainment

Mike Marchand | Monday, February 9, 2004

The Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show and its fallout can be summated in one sentence: One breast was exposed, then a bunch of boobs ran for cover.The show’s sponsor, AOL, blamed the NFL. The NFL blamed CBS. CBS blamed MTV. MTV blamed J.J. and J.T., and now the FCC, CDC, ASPCA, and God only knows who else are all screaming bloody murder.But the funniest thing about the blame-passing is that all the self-righteous spokespeople for the organizations don’t see the irony in their own outrage. Let’s start with the NFL, a league built on a game centered around violence then supplemented with sex. Each squad of warriors has a harem of skimpily-dressed babes who jump up and down at semi-regular intervals. The NFL’s official sponsors include Levitra, an impotence pill, and Coors Light, which doesn’t waste any opportunity to show sexy women in its spots. But NFL executive vice president Joe Browne said the league was “extremely disappointed by elements of the … show.”On to CBS, a network that airs “Survivor” unashamedly but still wants to think it has standards to violate: “The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended.” However, some moments that did conform to broadcast standards included the following: two Bud Light commercials that directly involved male anatomy and a third which featured explosive equine flatulence; Chevrolet’s “American Revolution” blurb where boys have soap in their mouths for saying “Holy [implied curse word here]” after seeing their new models; a Sierra Mist ad in which a kilt-wearing bagpiper airs out his undercarriage above a subway grate; and best of all, a spot for Cialis, a new impotence drug, that warned inside its “fine print” that erections lasting four hours or longer require immediate medical attention. (I’ll say.)But of course, for each 30-second spot, CBS received $2.3 million. If it’s true that Janet’s breast-flashing was an act of shameless self-promotion (her new single is out now, from her album to be released March 30), then CBS is probably upset that it wasn’t given money to let her bosom have the airtime. For the two seconds her mammaries were shown, Janet should owe CBS just over $150,000.Which brings us to the Federal Communications Commission, who immediately rushed to declare an investigation into the stunt, and could fine CBS as much as $550,000 for violating indecency regulations. The FCC, by the way, recently ruled that U2’s Bono was not obscene when he used the phrase “really f—ing brilliant” during the telecast of the Golden Globe Awards last year, because he used the f-word as an adjective and not as a verb or noun describing sex.Smoothly we segue into MTV now, that bastion of ultimate virtue and chastity that also happens to be owned by CBS’ parent company, Viacom. Breasts completely exposed save for a nipple shield are nothing new to MTV; during the 1999 Video Music Awards, rapper Lil’ Kim wore a dress with her right breast completely left bare except for a pastie, and music legend Diana Ross playfully jiggled it on stage when they presented an award together. The network seemed awfully proud of the bombshell they laid in Houston, immediately posting on their website that it was “a kinky finale that rocked the Super Bowl to its core.” Of course, once it backfired, they pulled the page and issued some implausible deniability: “The tearing of Janet Jackson’s costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance. MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”And now we come full-circle. Millions of people were offended, and the moment was so offensive that news programs have replayed the clip about 73 million times. Internet search engine Lycos and digital recording service TiVo have proclaimed it the most popular event in the history of their mediums. And, in the most offensive turn of all, a female bank clerk in Tennessee has started a class-action lawsuit against everyone involved calling for damages of no more than the “gross annual revenues of each defendant for the last three years.”I don’t know why she’s so upset; after all, the lines have been clearly drawn, haven’t they? The NFL says partially uncovered breasts are great, but mostly uncovered ones are “disappointing”; CBS says crappy television and raunchy commercials are cool, but a wide-angle shot of a ripped bodice “doesn’t conform to broadcast standards”; the FCC says using the f-word as an adjective is allowable, but an almost-exposed bosom requires a federal investigation; and MTV loves pastied boobies as long as they don’t get any backlash.Come on, America. It’s a breast. Haven’t you ever seen one before?

Mike Marchand, class of 2001, is slimy, creepy and pathetic, and everything he writes is dripped in right-wing conservatism, but at least his wardrobe never malfunctions. His e-mail address is [email protected] “Undistinguished Alumnus” appears every other Monday.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.