February 4, 2004

The Boob Tube

Call me crazy, but I think I would rather try to explain Janet Jackson’s bare boob to a child than a four-hour erection. In case you missed it, the maker of Cialis ran a special Super Bowl edition of its commercial for the erectile dysfunction drug, adding a disclaimer warning of the possibility of a four-hour erection, and advising that anyone experiencing such a phenomenon might want to consult his physician. (I’m not sure this would impress many child viewers, but it surely scared the hell out of many unsuspecting wives.) The disclaimer is not part of the normal ad, which also merits discussion, since it depicts a loving couple reclining in adjacent antique bath tubs overlooking a beautiful landscape. Apparently, these are the Beverly Hillbillies, since normal people probably would not have antique tubs sitting on their decks. Is it any wonder they need chemical assistance?

But I digress. I happened to miss the Jackson publicity stunt, as I was fulfilling my pledge to briefly boycott CBS and watch an anti-Bush commercial run by Moveon.org on CNN. In case you missed that controversy, CBS refused to accept the political ad, which is a lot easier to explain to children than either the Jackson boob show or the Cialis promotion. Moveon.org arranged for the commercial to run on CNN and urged its impressive Web-based legions to join a momentary boycott of the Super Bowl broadcast. Apparently, several hundred thousand did so.

But again I digress. I have since seen the area of Janet’s allegedly bare breast at least 200 times, to the point at which I begin to hear cha-ching every time. That’s the sound of the cash registers racking up sales for her forthcoming album and Justin Timberlake’s next project. Ain’t America great? (I have also seen a close-up of the infamous breast/piercing, courtesy of the Drudge Report, and it is not a pretty sight.)

For the record, Jackson and Timberlake exhibited deplorable judgment in enacting what was essentially a predatory sexual attack, but the incident has become a feast for the American media monster. On the morning of seven presidential primary elections, with poison discovered in a Senate office building and the Bush budget having been submitted to Congress, a bare boob still dominated the news. First up on Tuesday’s NBC’s “Today” program was FCC Chairman Michael Powell, indignantly announcing an investigation into the incident. Consider, an administration that was dragged kicking and screaming into an investigation of the outing of a U.S. spy did not wait 48 hours to launch an investigation into an outed breast. Hey, we’re at war with a culture that forbids this stuff, remember?

Forgive me, but while I object to what Jackson and Timberlake did, I am a bit suspicious of all the outrage it has generated. I recall another celebrity, also named Jackson, performing at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, grabbing his crotch, humping the air and generating nothing more than raised eyebrows around the country. We could, of course, blame Bill Clinton for that public obscenity, but he had been in office only 11 days. Or we could blame Elvis, who first thrust his pelvis at America about 50 years ago, causing many to believe the world was coming to an end (and they may have been right).

Chairman Powell plans to investigate not only the Jackson unveiling, but the entire halftime show, which featured several questionable song lyrics, cheerleaders ripping off their clothes (to reveal, uh, more clothes) and Kid Rock performing in an American flag. Powell said the FCC could levy fines not only on the CBS network, but also every CBS affiliate, which could cost WLKY as much as $27,500.

Several Super Bowl advertisers have said they are considering a boycott of future CBS events, which, considering the themes of so many contemporary marketing efforts, is hypocrisy raised to shocking new levels. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases in which the penalty can never fit the crime, because the greater the furor, the more the perpetrators benefit.

If, as now appears to be the case, Jackson and Timberlake acted alone and without the knowledge of CBS or MTV (producer of the halftime show), it would be totally unjust to penalize parties that were also victims of the stunt. Even if Jackson were to be prosecuted for indecent exposure, her penalty would pale by comparison to the enhanced marketability of the Janet Jackson Nipple Medallion. She might never have to sing again.

Actually, it is fun to watch politicians scramble to exploit this embarrassing incident, struggling to explain why this is any different than what goes on 24/7 on contemporary American television. Methinks they doth protest too much. There are many times I would like to try to put toothpaste back in the tube, but we are at a point where only the marketplace, meaning the viewers, can change what we see on television. Maybe if everyone takes Cialis, there won’t be time to watch.

Contact the writer at JYarmuth@aol.com