Entertainment Weekly‘s Tim Stack’s article, “Why Janet Jackson had the best Super Bowl half-time performance” defended the controversial performance that peaked with Jackson’s breast being exposed after her duet partner, Justin Timberlake pulled off part of her costume. Stack’s article argues that Jackson’s performance was the best because it was the most memorable, and people still talk about it some ten years later.
I’d respectfully disagree with Stack – I found the performance to be disappointing not only because it exposed an absurd side of our culture, but also because it permanently derailed the career of a fantastic pop star.
When Jackson’s nipple was exposed for a mini-second conservative groups and family watch dog advocacy groups charged the pop singer and the producers of the show with moral indecency – class action suits were filed and the FFC levied a fine against CBS and political conservatives used the incident as an example of how our country’s morality has disintegrated.
As a culture, we were exposed, yet again to the world at large, as prudish, unsophisticated, and hypocritical. As with the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton scandal, the ridiculous hand-wringing and moralizing was absurd and embarrassing: we were distracted from real issues like the war in Iraq when the endless coverage of what amounts to a fleeting moment when a woman’s breast was exposed.
What was also interested was just how much heat Jackson got from the press, while Timberlake emerged unscathed. It reminded us yet again of our little race and gender discourse changed in the last 50 years. And while Timberlake’s career continued, but Jackson’s music career sputtered and ground to a halt. A once-legendary career for a pop star that at her peak, appeared unstoppable, dipped sadly into b-level stardom.
I get Stack’s idea – in the entertainment world, the idea of “no such thing as bad publicity” and as long as people are talking about something, things aren’t all that bad. But let’s be honest: no one’s talking about Jackson’s singing or dancing – she’s been reduced to a breast. What the scandal around the performance taught us is that our culture is still riddled with sexual hangups.