SOMEONE AT VIACOM and CBS must be whispering that the MoveOn.org ad was not so bad after all. The media giant said it was wrong to show an ad criticizing President Bush during the Super Bowl. The ad showed sad-faced children as assembly-line workers, dishwashers, and trash collectors. The ad asked, "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"
CBS Executive Vice President Martin Franks declared, "We do not accept advertising on one side or the other of controversial public issues, partly because we don't think the debate ought to be controlled by people with deep pockets."
With such pomposity about controlling controversy, it was fitting that the Super Bowl halftime show erectiled out of control. The same network that decided that we could not have our mood ruined by thoughts of mortgaging our children's future gave us instead a crotch-grabbing, butt-humping, breast-baring extravaganza that perfectly fixed the nation in a cultural moment. Questioning the president is taboo. Near porn is not.
The Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake breast baring was merely the exclamation point. On Super Bowl Sunday, an 11-year-old girl was abducted off the streets of Sarasota, Fla., an abduction that horrified Americans with a videotape of the crime. Yet, the halftime show featured Timberlake stalking Jackson around the stage, feeling her up from behind, and singing, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."
Maybe CBS does not qualify that as politics. But context is everything. Networks and cable stations have for years now pumped out sitcoms and music videos with the same messages of aggression (not to mention racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes). Meanwhile, budget cuts have forced states and municipalities to slash staff for rape crisis centers and domestic violence services. Massachusetts is one such state. Last year the Legislature cut rape crisis centers from $2.5 million a year to $800,000. According to Jane Doe Inc., the state's umbrella organization for domestic abuse services, the cuts resulted in pink slips for a quarter of its approximately 120 counselors.
A supplemental budget late last year brought the funding back to $1.9 million, but some services still remain curtailed, such as immediate medical counseling for rape victims in hospitals or immediate emotional counseling for women who waited months or years to report or discuss a rape. Jane Doe spokeswoman Toni Troop said, "Can you imagine a woman who held inside of her this terrible thing for years and then tell her, `Can you wait another couple of months?' "
Education and enforcement has helped reduce violence against women over the last 20 years, but the violence remains a fact of life. According to federal statistics, one in 12 women say they have been stalked during their lives and one in six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Within relationships, one in four women were raped or physically assaulted in their lifetime by a current or former spouse, partner, or date.
Janet Jackson merely lost her bustier and her dignity during the performance. In real rapes, one out of every three women is injured during the act.
One particular statistic should make clear Viacom's and CBS's hypocrisy. Of women who said they had been raped in their lifetime, 22 percent were under 12 at the time of their first rape and 32 percent were 12 to 17 years old. Thus, a solid third of first rapes occur to precisely the target audience of Viacom's oversexed programming.
To add insult to insanity, the halftime show came between four quarters of dumb and degrading commercials. Never were men so preoccupied with their penises, from erectile dysfunction medicines to a dog that bit a certain area of a man's anatomy to get him to surrender a bottle of beer. In two ads, women were mere objects involving a flatulent horse and an excited monkey.
Even without Janet Jackson's breast, there were plenty of personal fouls that should have resulted in yellow flags from Viacom, CBS, or the National Football League. The bump and grind in between the bumping and running between the Patriots and Panthers was so ridiculous that you almost forgot the usual violence on ads for movies and Philip Morris claiming to want children not to smoke when, if it really meant it, the company would just stop selling cigarettes. (Those deep pockets don't matter. Philip Morris spent $3.9 million on the 2000 elections, giving 81 percent of its money to the Republican Party).
CBS and Viacom said an ad featuring children to make a political statement was over the top. Yet a male entertainer stalking his female prey was not. The president was spared by the media moguls. Not so lucky were America's girls as CBS and Viacom told them it was just fine for boys to sing, "I'm gonna have you naked at the end of this song."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.