Thursday, April 22, 2004

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Super Bowl Halftime Show Controversy

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake tested America’s values of decency and censorship at one of the largest televised events of the year, the Super Bowl. The two pop singers performed at halftime along with a few other pop stars, creating numerous reactions from television viewers – from acceptance to outrage, from embarrassment to apathy.

During halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Jackson and Timberlake sang a duet to Rock Your Body. At the end of the song, Timberlake reached across Jackson’s torso and tore off her bustier cup, exposing her right breast which had a sunburst-shaped nipple broach. Her right breast was visible for three-quarters of a second on CBS. MTV produced the halftime show. Viacom owns CBS and MTV. All three companies said they were surprised by the incident and had no prior knowledge of it happening.

Before the Super Bowl

Before the Super Bowl, the main halftime show issue was about pop singer Kid Rock’s use of the American flag as a poncho and some lyrics. The NFL and CBS read staff scripts and attended several dress rehearsals.

However, MTV posted a preview of the Super Bowl halftime performance that read: “Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl show promises shocking moments.” (, 2/3)

Jackson and Timberlake did not have extensive rehearsals due to scheduling conflicts. The decision to have the right part of Jackson’s garment ripped off was a last minute decision. A red lace garment was supposed to remain when Timberlake tore off the outer covering.

“We attended all rehearsals of the show and there was no indication at any time that such an inappropriate display was contemplated,” CBS President Leslie Moonves told employees by e-mail. “We are angry and embarrassed that this happened.” (, 2/4)

National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue blamed MTV and Mel Karmazin, president of Viacom, for Jackson’s bare breast. (Newsday, James Toedtman, 2/12)

After the Super Bowl

After the Super Bowl, many of the top officials involved with the halftime show were upset or apologetic. The FCC received more than 200,000 complaints about the Super Bowl halftime show. CBS received many protest calls.

The incident has made it the first Super Bowl game subjected to congressional hearings and a federal investigation on indecency. Part of these investigations is to put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to be stricter on decency standards. In its history, the FCC has fined only two television stations for indecency. Last year, said Edward Markey, D-Mass., there were 240,000 from about 375 different stations and only three notices went out.

“It is increasingly clear the paltry fines the FCC assesses have become nothing more than a joke,” Markey said. (, 2/12)

Last year, the FCC did not fine NBC for U2 singer Bono’s use of the “F” word (“This is really f**king brilliant.”) on the Golden Globe Awards because it was used as an adjective, which made it OK. (Katy Kelly; Kim Clark; Linda Kulman, U.S. News & World Report, 2/16)

The FCC currently imposes a $27,500 fine per station for an offense. FCC Chairman Michael Powell said MTV and CBS’s more than 200 affiliates and company-owned stations could each be fined $27,500. Many congressmen want that fine raised as high as 10 times. Powell said the FCC would endorse the proposed legislation.

Time-CNN released a poll in which 1,000 people were surveyed by pollster Harris Interactive Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, saying that 68 percent thought the U.S. government should not fine CBS for the broadcast. However, 47 percent of the respondents said the Jackson incident marked “a new low in bad taste.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/9)

The American Civil Liberties Union objected to higher fines, saying they might discourage freedom of speech over the airwaves. But whether the Super Bowl incident will cause stricter enforcement and a change in the content of major television networks is debatable.

“The FCC won’t do anything, Janet Jackson won’t do anything,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an African-American activist who wants to open up the airwaves to a broader range of voices. “The investigation won’t go anywhere because you’re asking the people in power to change policies that make money for them.” (Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor, 2/5)

Others agreed with Hutchinson, citing the combination of music and sports as a growing trend based on financial profit. After all, Los Angeles Laker center Shaquille O’Neal has his own rap CD, and rapper Jay-Z is one of the new owners of the New Jersey Nets.

Many viewers watched Jackson’s breast exposure over and over on TiVo. The search engine Lycos reported that the Super Bowl incident was the most searched event in one day in Internet history. (Katy Kelly; Kim Clark; Linda Kulman, U.S. News & World Report, 2/16)

“I really believe that popular music culture and sports will increasingly be marketed together, largely because drawing a bigger audience beyond the ‘sporting’ audience increases the viewership,” said Patrick Rishe, professor of sports marketing at Webster University in St. Louis. “That leads to greater exposure for companies that buy ad time, which means that the networks can charge more money for ad time.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/9)

The stock price of Viacom rose more than 1 percent the day after the Super Bowl. And even after MTV apologized, it posted a headline on its Web site that read: “Janet Jackson Got Nasty at the MTV-Produced Super Bowl Halftime Show.” (, 2/3)

The nastiness is likely to increase, many experts say, with corporate consolidation. Although Congress has criticized Powell, its members have voted for legislature that has allowed large companies to own more stations, which has increased big business and limited the number of small-market stations. President George Bush has been responsible for putting pressure on Congress to make sure this legislation goes through Congress.

Nevertheless, Jackson issued a video apology the day after the Super Bowl, but she was not asked to come to the Grammys when she refused to apologize at the show. Timberlake apologized after the game, saying it was “a wardrobe malfunction.” He also apologized at the Grammy awards on CBS.

“The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals,” Jackson said in a statement. “MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended – including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.” (, 2/3)

“I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl,” Timberlake said. “It was not intentional and is regrettable.” (, 2/3)

The Grammy Awards were aired live, but with a tape delay incase another incident such as the Super Bowl halftime show was to occur. This may be a form of censorship, some people believe. When asked about the new tape delay, Timberlake said it was “a great idea.” (, 2/4)

Conservative Reaction

Many of the estimated 90 million Super Bowl viewers were outraged by the halftime show, especially parents whose children were watching the game. Sally Manesiotis was watching the game with her three children, ages 8, 10, and 12, in her Hilton Head Island, S.C., home. Manesiotis was upset to say the least.

“It’s too much,” she said. “Everything is OK. What college kids see, a second grader sees. I feel like our country is just letting this happen.” (Katy Kelly; Kim Clark; Linda Kulman, U.S. News & World Report, 2/16)

Others felt the same as Manesiotis, citing virility enhancement drug commercials and other sexual risque commercials as a part of the sleazier American culture. A commercial for Cialis warned that if men should experience an erection for four hours straight, they should seek “immediate medical care.” Many of these critics also objected to rapper Nelly repeatedly grabbing his crotch during the halftime show. (Alessandra Stanley, The New York Times, 2/8)

Super Bowl sponsors, such as Gillette and Pepsi, said if the NFL does not clean up the halftime show they might pass in 2005. The NFL apologized and promised to clean up its Super Bowl halftime show.

“We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show,” said Joe Browne, NFL executive vice president. “They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show. It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime.” (Phil Taylor,, 2/2)

Mel Karmazin, president of Viacom, blamed Jackson and Timberlake for the incident, and not CBS or MTV.

One of the biggest critics was FCC Chairman Michael Powell. He ordered an investigation the day after the Super Bowl, calling it, “a classless, crass and deplorable stunt ... clearly somebody had knowledge of it. Clearly it was something that was planned by someone. She probably got what she was looking for.” (, 2/3)

Others might have been even more outraged than Powell. Terri Carlin, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., filed a proposed lawsuit in a U.S. District Court three days after the Super Bowl, charging Jackson, Timberlake, MTV, CBS and Viacom with causing her and “millions of others” to “suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury.” According to reports, the suit is seeking billions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. (Steve Appleford, RollingStone Magazine, 2/6)

Liberal Reaction

Many viewers saw no problem with the breast exposure. Various polls reported that younger Americans had less of a problem with the Super Bowl halftime show than older Americans.

“All the guys (at school) think it was pretty cool, even the male teachers,” said Audrey Yorke, a junior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Washington, D.C. “It was pretty inappropriate for something like that with the whole country watching, but it doesn’t bother me.” (Katy Kelly; Kim Clark; Linda Kulman, U.S. News & World Report, 2/16)

Some people thought that the huge fuss the media and viewers made about the Jackson incident was uncalled for.

“I think it was planned, and so what?” said Schneequa Baez, who lives in the New York area. “We are in a war, children are being abused ... and they are that concerned and bothered because Janet Jackson bared her breast. Give me a break.” (Dave Goldiner, The New York Daily News, 2/4)

The Buffalo News conducted a survey in which a hundred readers 18 years old or younger responded to the following question: “Do you think people made too much out of the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson incident at the Super Bowl halftime show?” The result was: 63 callers said yes and 26 said no. (Buffalo News, 3/24)

Gallup’s annual “Mood of the Nation” poll found that younger Americans were more satisfied with the country’s moral and ethical climate than older Americans. Fifty-three percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said they were satisfied with the country’s morality. Only 29 percent of Americans 65 and older felt the same way. There were 1,004 adult respondents. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. The margin of error for 18-29 year olds was plus or minus 6 percent. (Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service,, 2/04)

According to a poll conducted for the Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs, 54 percent thought the incident was in bad taste. Only 18 percent thought it was an illegal act. Almost 80 percent said it was a waste of money to investigate. Women were more likely than men to say the halftime show should be investigated, and whites more than blacks. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to favor an investigation. Young adults (between the ages of 18 and 29) were less likely than other age groups to favor an investigation. Also, almost half of young adults said the incident was neither illegal nor in bad taste. Also, 78 percent said the poll was a waste of tax money. The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Feb. 16-18. Its margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points. (Houston Chronicle, 2/22;, 2/21)

Some experts say the trend of sexual and indecent television or “surprises” will become more common in the future as large networks compete for viewers. Many cite the FCC’s lenient enforcement of what many consider indecent broadcasts, often blaming Powell. Rich Hanley, director of the Graduate School of Communications at Quinnipiac University, said the idea that networks cater to public interest is outdated. He said the corporate structure and desire for better ratings and profits makes stunts such as the recent Super Bowl the norm. (Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor, 2/5)

At Capitol Hill, Powell was condemned for two hours of questioning. Some members of Congress said the FCC knew the halftime show incident was going to happen.

“You knew what you were doing,” said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. “You knew that shock and indecency creates a buzz that moves market share and lines your pockets.” (, 2/12)

One of those people outraged at all the fuss was Esten Perez, a 30-year-old public relations consultant in Washington, D.C.

“I think the U.S. has to catch up with the rest of the world, for God’s sake,” Perez said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Ridiculous, prudes. Who cares?’ This is Janet Jackson trying to make some money. This is what these tactics are for – to get you some public relations exposure.” (Katy Kelly; Kim Clark; Linda Kulman, U.S. News & World Report, 2/16)

An accident or Planned Stunt?

Motives of the Super Bowl halftime show certainly have been questioned. Many people believe the “wardrobe malfunction” was a planned publicity stunt for two artists who need the notoriety for music sales. Jackson is 37 and does not have the sex appeal she had in the 1990s. Put bluntly, she isn’t Britney Spears or Beyonce. Timberlake has also lost some of his teenage fans, says some teen magazine editors.

“Adults are more into him than teens,” said Atoosa Rubenstein, editor of Seventeen magazine. “He’s old news to them. For the first time in about a year, I’d rather hear from Britney than Justin.” (The America’s Intelligence Wire, 2/16)

Whatever the reason, many people believe the halftime incident was planned. According to a poll, of the 8,307 respondents, 65 percent said they thought the incident was planned. The other 35 percent said they thought it was an accident. (The Toronto Sun, 2/12)

Duane Cross, who writes for, thought Jackson’s breast exposure was staged. He mentioned several reasons to back up his claim: she wore a large starburst nipple broach on her right breast; someone in charge of flipping the light switch intervened after viewers had just enough time to see her breast; when Jackson’s garment was torn off by Timberlake, neither her leather nor her brassiere was ripped; and the end of the song seemed apropos: “Cause I gotta have you naked by the end of this song.” (Duane Cross,, 2/2)

It was ironic that Jackson’s first single “Just a Little While” from her new album “Damita Jo” was released the day after the Super Bowl. It is also ironic that Jackson’s choreographer, Gil Duldulao, said this about Jackson on the site before the Super Bowl: “She’s more stylized, she’s more feminine, she’s more a woman as she dances this time around. There are some shocking moments in there too.” (, 2/2)

In an interview immediately after the incident, Timberlake joked with a reporter, calling it, “every man’s dream.” He also said with a laugh, “Hey, man, we love giving you all something to talk about.” (, 2/4)

But Timberlake is probably not laughing now. Like the O.J. Simpson trial, some people have turned the controversy into a race issue. Because he did not defend Jackson in interviews after the Super Bowl, Timberlake has lost some support from the black entertainment community.

“It’s just maddening because he was as black as black could be until Super Bowl night,” said a close friend of Jackson’s. “In his mind, he was as black as 50 Cent because he knew the words to a Marvin Gaye song. He rolled in both worlds, living it up. But as soon as something went wrong, we got a chance to see how white he really was. He left Janet hanging big time, and she’s still hurt by that.” (Allison Samuels, Newsweek, 4/5)

Apparently Jackson’s “exposure” has not helped her music sales. On March 31, about two months after the Super Bowl, Jackson released her album, “Damita Jo,” which sold approximately 381,000 in its first week. Her last album, released in 2001, sold more than 605,000 copies in its first week. (The Boston Herald, 4/8)

Television appearances for the two pop stars have been reduced as a result of the incident. Jackson and Timberlake both lost ABC gigs soon after the Super Bowl. Jackson is out of a bio-picture of Lena Horne. Media reports conflict, citing her exit from the film as voluntary or by force. Timberlake was supposed to host a Motown special, but Lionel Richie replaced him. (Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 2/25)

The Super Bowl halftime show has certainly caused Americans to think about society’s ethics and morals. Censorship and freedom of expression were also discussed for a while after Jackson’s breast was exposed.

Powell said that the FCC doesn’t need to think about a new rule or definition of indecency even though its current definition is vague. According to the FCC, non-cable television channels cannot air “obscene” material any time and cannot air “indecent” material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC defines obscene as airing sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Indecent material is not as offensive but still has sex or excretion references.

“It’s a red herring,” Powell said. “There is no ambiguity with the indecency standard. It’s existed for 30 years.” (, 2/11-12)

Earth to Mr. Powell: A lot has changed in 30 years.


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