Counterintuitively, the task of selecting my “most memorable mediated experience” was not a short or easy one, but when it came to me this morning, I knew that I finally had it: Janet Jackson’s unfortunate nip “slip” during the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Technically, it wasn’t even the actual event that was so memorable but instead the big hullabaloo that ensued after every mass media outlet in America overexaggerated the importance of the situation.
I’ll admit, I didn’t actually see the event live. I was in the kitchen at the exact moment that my sister, my mother, and my father (who were all in the living room watching the performance) exclaimed in unison at the surprise of Janet’s “naked” boob bouncing around on the TV screen. By the time I ran back in to see what happened, the scene had switched to an aerial shot of the stadium. The fact that we were watching live TV obviously prevented us from rewinding to see it a second time for them, a first for me, shaping my experience of the event. The camera operators controlled what we could see.
I also watched news coverage of the event after the fact. I don’t remember if they showed clips of the incident (this would have been kind of hypocritical, but I’m guessing they did show censored versions) so, to refresh my memory of the event I watched the uncensored video on YouTube
and I have to say that my understanding of it has definitely changed. Before revisiting the story this morning, I had always assumed that it really was an accident and that no one should have been blamed, especially not Janet, who, at the time, seemed like the victim to me. However, upon looking closely at the video, I realized that to say that this event was anything other than a horribly executed (or possibly genius) publicity stunt would be complete malarkey. Justin Timberlake (who is, interestingly, rarely associated with the event as a central component of it) clearly ripped of the cup of Janet’s leather dress thing, deliberately. Also, the way Janet looked around after, as if to say, “Huh? What happened?” was pure performance. Not to mention the fact that she had on one of those nipple cover stickers. Really, why would she have had that on for any reason other than to hide her actual nipple when Justin ripped off her cup, as practiced and planned. This was no accident, though Janet continues to assert that it was.
Though my understanding of the event has changed, only part of my opinion has. I now believe that Janet Jackson deserved all of the backlash that she got. As the co-leader (along with JT and MTV, who produced the show) of the group/mass communication of her performance, She made a decision to do something that would get the public’s attention and it worked. Yet, I do believe that Justin got off scot free, most likely due to the fact that he was a straight male in a situation dealing, however peripherally, with “sex.” Which brings me to my next point: the media’s reaction to this incident was completely out of hand. It was just a boob! Throughout the rest of the performance Justin and Janet were being overtly sexual toward each other, but the thought of a child seeing that type of public sexuality pales in comparison to the thought of a child seeing a boob with a nipple cover on it? There is something so wrong about this picture. I could continue to rant, but I won’t.
I think the type of culture we have in America determined the way the media and many concerned parents and educators reacted to the nip slip. Many of us are raised to associate nudity with sex and sex with bad things aka something that children should not see, which is reflected in our movie rating system, advertising laws, etc. It is interesting to think that people in Canada did not make a big stink about the incident and that people in other places around the world, like Europe, would not see the incident as anything to publicize even nearly as much as it was publicized here.
(Picture from blog.vh1.com)