Published on Monday, February 2, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Janet's Boob and Moveon.org's Commercial: What's Real Controversy?
by Eric Folkerth
Yesterday, like millions of Americans, I watched the Super Bowl. It was a great game. They say it might be one of the greatest games of all time.
Probably like many of you, I watched the game with friends, at a Super Bowl watching party. It was a party with some of the members of the church that I serve as pastor. Our church is a relatively progressive one, so among the attendees last night were gay and straight couples and their children. A wonderful, Americana-like event for all of us. It doesn't get any more American than a Super Bowl watching party with family and friends of all ages.
But, at the end of the halftime show, like millions of Americans, I saw Janet Jackson's exposed boob. And, it's that event that's got me thinking today. Not because I'm a prude. Not because I'm some kind of fundamentalist moralist. But because of the message of event juxtaposed with the controversy involving "Moveon.org's" banned Super Bowl television commercial.
If what happened at our party was any indication, the whole nation froze for a moment when Justin ripped off Janet's clothes.
Did we just see what we THINK we saw?
At our party, the adults stared at the TV, like deer the headlights. The kids did too. Nobody spoke for a moment or two. But after a time, it was clear there was an elephant in the room, and everybody started chattering at once. I happened to be sitting next to my six-year-old daughter at the time. Both she and the other kids in the room had questions. Lot's of questions.
Why would they do that?
None of us were looking at each other. We just stared ahead at the television screen. Then, very quickly, I started in on what became my mantra for the rest of the night:
"I'm sure it was an accident, honey. Nobody would do that on purpose during the Super Bowl."
Of course, I knew at the time that this was a lie. Sure enough, when I got home, I did a "Google" search for "Janet Jackson." There, I discovered a press release from her record company that had been put out just minutes earlier. It announced a free, online, digital download of one of her songs; available only today (Monday) to radio stations around the country. You have to admit this is pretty creative marketing.
Now, as I said, I am not really a prude, despite what you might assume given my chosen profession. However, this little media stunt really, really bothers me.You see, Janet didn't flash her boob on just any old show. This wasn't the MTV Music Awards. This was the Super Bowl. The kind of event that Dads watch, sitting next to their six-year-old daughters. It was a crassly designed media stunt, that seeks to create "buzz," to get us all talking. And, based on what I'm reading today, it worked.
OK, fine. But not at the Super Bowl halftime. The conversation that I had to have with my six-year-old daughter, and all the other kids in the room last night, was not one we ought to be forced into just then. We ought to be able to watch the Super Bowl without such "controversies."
But, as a fan of "Moveon.org" and their now famous "banned" Super Bowl commercial, I also was MORE bugged by this event .
Moveon's commercial, for those who have forgotten, shows children working at various jobs; dishwasher, garbage collector, hotel maid, etc... It ends with a salient question:
"Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 Trillion Dollar Deficit?"
CBS, as you probably know, chose not to run this commercial during the Super Bowl because it was, to their mind, "too controversial."
But, imagine if it HAD run. Imagine if it had run, instead of the thirty seconds wasted on Janet Jackson's boob. Imagine what children and adults all over the country would have had to talk about then:
Why would they do that?!
Sitting next my daughter --even though it might have also been awkward in a manner of speaking-- I would have relished that "teachable moment" with her. I might have said: "Well, honey, I wish I could say it was an accident. But it's not. That deficit is real, and we adults don't do something about it, you and children like you WILL be paying it off for years."
Sure, it could have been awkward conversation. Sure, it would have been, in its own way, controversial. But it also would have been true. It also would have been educational. It also would have had some redeeming social value, and maybe even would have allowed parents and children around America to discuss the future of this country, the dreams and visions we have for it, and what we hope to do to make it a better place for them.
But that didn't happen. Because it was "too controversial."
Instead, someone decided that it WAS ok for us to watch Janet Jackson and have a conversation about her boob.
As folksinger John Prine once said, "It's a big old goofy world."