Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nipplegate, February 1, 2004

An important element of television history is its measure of the pulse of American culture. Never was this more true than February 1, 2004. If nothing else, Superbowl XXXVIII defines America as a confused country with her head tucked deep in the Arab sand. Ensconced in war, the American shift toward overt conservatism created a climate of fear and mistrust, offering up to the Bush administration ample room to tighten the reigns on basic constitutional rights in the name of war. While George Bush and company checked America's phone records, bank statements, and emails, America ignored the mounting cost of war in Iraq, ignored the lack of checks and balances regarding the war. Instead, America turned her full attention to . . . nipples.

It is almost too ridiculous to write about it. For less than 2 seconds and via a camera long shot, Janet Jackson exposed her covered nipple and partially exposed breast, and the country lost control. The public outcry of indecency prompted a record-breaking 200,000 phone calls to the network from outraged viewers. Seemingly, the very violent nature of football itself was no problem, but the possibility that a child (or husband) caught a glimpse of a dangling breast for 2 seconds was seemingly further proof that America was collapsing into a dark, immoral pit. Even stranger, to even get a glimpse of Jackson's partial nipple, a viewer would need to rewind repeatedly, pause the playback, and enlarge the picture about 400 percent.

While America protested, Canadians and Europeans watching the Superbowl hardly noticed, and were left scratching their heads and wondering what were Americans thinking when news spread of the scandal. Janet Jackson attempted to defend herself from the disaster as an innocent wardrobe malfunction. But America would have none of it. No one would pull the wool over their eyes!

The incident sent shock waves throughout broadcasting. The FCC levied record amounts of fines against broadcast networks, including $3.5 million against Clear Channel alone. Congress enacted a bill increasing fines for indecency violations. An onslaught of censorship encompassed daytime TV, talk radio, and cable programming.

Janet Jackson's career has yet to recover. With 27 top ten hits prior to the incident, Ms. Jackson has not landed anywhere near Billboard's Top Ten Singles chart since February 1, 2004. Justin Timberlake skated away unharmed from the incident, also pointing out the double standards imposed on women and African-Americans in American society even in the 21st century. More level headed Americans theorized that fear and political rhetoric had gotten the best of America, and many internet bloggers suggested this type of mass censorship had not been seen since Germany in the 1930's.

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