Thursday, July 21, 2011

It Was Just a Boob!

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


  1. I completely agree, that this incident got blown way out of proportion. Americans, in my opinion, are too prude when it comes to nudity in the media industry, yet they produce and consume massive amounts of adult videos! Here is an interesting article (from 60 minutes) about the adult film industry in America, (how much it profits and who supports it etc.):

    Americans spend $10 billion dollars a year on adult films, yet they are outraged when a boob is flashed on TV for a second! I know from first hand that countries in Europe show films that have scenes where a woman is topless on prime time and have they obviously don't mind it. We are the ones producing a majority of these films, yet we have to cut out the scene with the topless woman, or the man's naked behind, when the movie is aired on TV in America, because it may be offensive to some people. I understand that the FCC bans nudity on TV, but in my opinion movies that do include a brief nude/sex scene should be allowed to air on TV in America as long as it's at a time when children are in bed. For example Sex and the City (the original HBO version), in my opinion, should be aired unedited at an appropriate time, like anytime after 10 pm on a channel like E (which currently plays the edited version of the show). I am not saying that pornography should be shown on basic cable channels, but I think the FCC should allow some nude scenes to be shown at appropriate times.

  2. At age 18, it's typical to say "Americans are too prude". However, when you become the mother of a ten year old boy, I think you'll change your mind. I wouldn't be too happy if my son was innocently watching the Superbowl, and all of the sudden a boob is "bouncing around the TV screen." There needs to be some boundaries!

    "The groundbreaking scene came during the most-watched television broadcast of the year -- and during the dinner hour for the nation's west coast viewers."

  3. Bobbi, I believe that I would personally be more offended by my child witnessing the kind of overt sexuality that permeated the majority of the performance (and a plethora of other sources of entertainment in America) than to him or her seeing a naked breast on TV (after all, at 10, it would have only been a decade or so since they were seeing mine on a regular basis lol.)

    It is also important to note that, though I made a few generalities in my post, America, as you know, is very diverse and many Americans have different opinions on the best way to raise children. Mine may very well be different than yours.

  4. As an undergraduate Math and French double major, I have experienced much of the differences between American and French culture when it comes to nudity. There is no doubt in my mind that mostly all of the French would not have reacted the way we did to seeing Janet's breast.

    This also reminds me of an incident when I was a French teacher in a private school in Queens that relates to this concept. I wanted to show my students a French film. I decided to go with a friend's advice and show a movie called "Indochine". The movie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It was also rated PG-13 so I thought it would be perfect. However, I got into major trouble when a woman's breasts were shown in the film for a split second. Mostly all of my students freaked out. My principal did not allow me to show the rest of the film. I am sure that the film would have not stirred up this type of reaction if it was shown to a school in Europe. Also, if it was an American film, it probably would have been rated R instead because of the little boob action. As you previously stated, "It was just a boob!"