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Ten years later and we're still talking about the nipple
January 28, 2014 10:07 PM   Subscribe

It's been a decade since the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction. What happened is still somewhat a mystery, writes Marin Cogan in ESPN Magazine.

Janet Jackson has never revealed the full story--here's Jackson appearing on Oprah.

Also: the legal battle Nipplegate spawned ended only in 2012, with the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the FCC's appeal of an opinion reversing its $550,000 fine of CBS.

Nipplegate, previously
posted by MoonOrb (99 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hopefully the RHCPs will have their socks fall off this year.
posted by Catblack at 10:16 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


That was the year it dawned on me that we weren't progressing anymore, as a society, but instead going backwards.
posted by Sara C. at 10:24 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


We?
posted by ocschwar at 10:27 PM on January 28 [16 favorites]


Americans, I guess?

Up to that point (note that I was 22 when the "malfunction" occurred), I had assumed that things just got better, culturally speaking, as a rule. That we were moving from backwardness to enlightenment. That society wasn't a pendulum but a rocket. That, throughout my lifetime, I would be able to look at everything that went before as the "bad old days" when people were socially conservative due to ignorance, and to regard the future as the vanguard of new, exciting liberalism.

Then America saw Janet Jackson's nipple and I realized we were rapidly swinging back towards the 50s, in terms of cultural mores.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


There was a second nipple on the grassy knoll
posted by Teakettle at 10:36 PM on January 28 [31 favorites]


That was the year it dawned on me that we weren't progressing anymore, as a society, but instead going backwards.

Then America saw Janet Jackson's nipple and I realized we were rapidly swinging back towards the 50s, in terms of cultural mores.

I think this is a bit rash. Government isn't typically the vanguard of culture, more often they're behind the curve, trying to preserve something that is long past. The FCC certainly isn't the arbiter of our cultural mores - does anyone even watch network TV anymore? There are myriad issues where we have and continue to progress as a culture. Maybe Janet Jackson's nipple isn't one of them, but this doesn't seem like the end of progress to me.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:37 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


The only acceptable wardrobe malfunction is the one that leads to Narnia.
posted by problemspace at 10:38 PM on January 28 [66 favorites]


That's Miss Jackson, if you're nasty.
posted by tim_in_oz at 10:45 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Government isn't typically the vanguard of culture

The problem wasn't the government. The problem was that, somehow, all of America seemed to be scandalized by it. I didn't particularly care about the FCC fine.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Then America saw Janet Jackson's nipple and I realized we were rapidly swinging back towards the 50s, in terms of cultural mores.

It's true. Since then it's been all long skirts and modest tops. Sometimes I miss seeing skin but it is nice to get excited by the occasional ankle.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:48 PM on January 28 [14 favorites]


I can't believe it has been a decade. Although I suppose nipples are kind of dated... We're more into ass cheeks now.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


does anyone even watch network TV anymore?

Yeah, lots of people, especially CBS. Most of them don't care about stupid manufactured sex crisis' though, it's been just the same 50 PTC idiots sending 10,000 letters for decades now.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:51 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


"EDITOR'S NOTE - This story contains mature subject matter and language."

If you say so.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:53 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


"One line was about whipping someone's toosh."
posted by Drinky Die at 10:53 PM on January 28


all of America seemed to be scandalized by it

Like most events that happen in this world: the public could care less, and the media manufactured a story out of nothing.
posted by MillMan at 11:11 PM on January 28 [21 favorites]


It's been 10 years? Where is my life going.
posted by jayder at 11:15 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


Up to that point (note that I was 22 when the "malfunction" occurred), I had assumed that things just got better, culturally speaking, as a rule. That we were moving from backwardness to enlightenment. That society wasn't a pendulum but a rocket. That, throughout my lifetime, I would be able to look at everything that went before as the "bad old days" when people were socially conservative due to ignorance, and to regard the future as the vanguard of new, exciting liberalism.

I think this is just called "turning 22."
posted by phaedon at 11:22 PM on January 28 [25 favorites]


Even more ridiculous than this fauxrage was the other incident back in the early 2000s that made me cringe so hard I think I shrank two inches. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft was, it seems, embarrassed at having a semi-nude sculpture behind him during his speeches so he had the statue covered with a toga so as not to be embarrassed anymore. (I looked for covered statue pics but couldn't find any).

What kind of mindset is this? I still can't even understand what goes through people's heads that equate nudity with sex: if there is nudity, that can only mean that the subtext is sexual. Of course, this is ridiculous, but some people don't really think all that much.
posted by zardoz at 11:23 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


Sara C.: Up to that point (note that I was 22 when the "malfunction" occurred), I had assumed that things just got better, culturally speaking, as a rule. That we were moving from backwardness to enlightenment. That society wasn't a pendulum but a rocket. That, throughout my lifetime, I would be able to look at everything that went before as the "bad old days" when people were socially conservative due to ignorance, and to regard the future as the vanguard of new, exciting liberalism.

Then America saw Janet Jackson's nipple and I realized we were rapidly swinging back towards the 50s, in terms of cultural mores.


I can't abide by this. It's so contrarian, negative, harumphy, and cherry picking.

While i agree that society isn't a rocketship, there's many other points you could use to argue that it's maybe like a steamroller, or one of those corn harvesting machines that rolls along at like 2mph max. It moves slowly, and a lot of times it seems to get jammed and needs to be shut down and unclogged before it can keep going.

There's lazy stuff you can point to like the repeal of DADT, defeat of DOMA, states legalizing gay marriage and weed, and the fact that everything that newspapers were too uptight to publish, major TV stations couldn't or wouldn't air, etc can be openly published online without any government backed pitchfork mob like the FCC if someone drops an F-bomb on the radio showing up to be the morality police. But there's also a lot of small changes i've noticed, like for example how much they actually get away with on modern popular TV shows like american horror story, game of thrones, etc. The MPAA type disgust with womens sexual pleasure while male pleasure was considered normal has been eroded, if not abolished. Fuck, childrens cartoons like adventure time and several others are presenting some pretty forward thinking shit. For fucks sake there was a gay couple in a disney movie. Disney is like, the stronghold of whitebread american values that only the most staunch and hardcore "Witchcraft is evil!" type of parents shield their kids eyes from.

There's been some mis steps, side tracks, and even steps backwards. But i think if taken in aggregate we are slowly moving forward. Yea, as i just said, we lose ground sometimes. But focus on the big picture, wider changing societal views, and wins Vs losses.

You also have to remember that the "O MY GOD THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER" complainers are often a small but very vocal group who tries to pretend they're the majority and represent the Average American™. They show up in every "controversial" situation, and the worst thing you can do is legitimize them by pretending it's anything but a proportionally small group of westboro type backwards assholes.

I'm also still, all this time later, of the opinion that a good 80-90% of the "outrage" around this was from the media, and the "normal people" they showed were the same types of assholes who listen to one of the student radio stations in my area in shifts and speed-dial the FCC if they hear a single swear word of violation of any rules just to "uphold the moral integrity of america"(yes, these are real people, and god they're a pain the ass)
posted by emptythought at 11:24 PM on January 28 [17 favorites]


Shit, so it's been 9 years since the Onion published U.S. Children Still Traumatized One Year After Seeing Partially Exposed Breast On TV. I feel old.
posted by NoraReed at 11:25 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I love that Mefi is old enough that we can reference the original discussion thread for 10 year old cultural events.

Back then I had a few friends who did design work at a broadcast television equipment vendor. In the days immediately after the incident, they whipped together a standalone unit for introducing X seconds (up to 30, I think) of delay into a live video stream. Sort of like a broadcast grade D-2 TiVo for commercial network feeds.

It sold like hotcakes as broadcasters scrambled to implement feed delays ahead of a possible FTC mandate. Salesmen were calling it the JJ Special.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:27 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


The problem was that, somehow, all of America seemed to be scandalized by it.

How many people did you personally hear express scandal?
How many people did you see do so on the Internet, I mean in the comments?
I mean I'm in a NYC bubble so maybe I'm off and America is this fucked.
But I think the news is telling stories is all.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:28 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Oh. My. God.

It's been ten years.
Ten friggin years.
That's not possible. I refuse to accept my age. Oh MeFi, we met in 2000 and I still feel like it was only yesterday.
posted by Malice at 11:43 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


It is weird because we men have nipples too, and we can expose them any time we want. Seems unfair.

Although, I was shocked to recently find out that men were arrested for going topless as late as the 1930s (NSFW, because, nipples).

I guess there is some hope, since men won the right to go public without a shirt, and it was once unthinkable. Yet advertising and media love the sexualization of the female breast so much, it may take a long time for there to be any progress.
posted by eye of newt at 12:11 AM on January 29


540,000 complaints sounds like America was scandalized to me.
posted by mannequito at 12:12 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


How many people do you think live in America?
posted by Drinky Die at 12:15 AM on January 29


600,000 ?
posted by Pendragon at 12:15 AM on January 29 [21 favorites]


I just discovered that the gotopless site I linked to is run by Raelians, a UFO religion. I'm not sure that is helping anything.
posted by eye of newt at 12:23 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Interesting read...I turned on 24/7 Comedy Radio beforehand and as I was reading, Bobcat Goldthwait starts into a bit on Nipplegate...RAPTURE
posted by lordaych at 12:26 AM on January 29


I mean I'm in a NYC bubble so maybe I'm off and America is this fucked.

I lived in NYC at the time, too. That's what I found so weird about the whole situation. The whole time I thought I was living in the most progressive city in the most progressive country in the world, where we were quickly throwing off the shackles of puritanical ideas about sex and gender.

Then this happened.

Of course everyone is right that a lot of it was media hype. Then again, the years between 9/11 and Katrina seemed to me to be some kind of bizzaro Brave New World universe where people would suddenly start parroting the most ridiculous bullshit they saw in the media, in a way I hadn't noticed prior to that. This was just yet another symptom.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


Think of it this way: the religious right stereotypical person who would flood the FCC with phone calls for Nipplegate and the polls to block gay marriage is a product of old "social media," mobilized by a common religious meme implanted early after birth. They should embolden "us" into better using rapidly-moving social media to amplify our own voices. Naturally, the value of collective action over social media needs to match the value of collective action when it comes to phone calls, letter writing, lobbying, etc, so there needs to be an actual physical transformation and translation of "social media slacktivism" into actual mobilized work. But this should be motivating. There will be a bias for awhile in favor of the religious right stereotypical person but this stereotype / archetype only really rose to prominence in the Jerry Falwell era and it will not last much longer.

* speaking of Comedy Radio, before that bit specifically about Nipplegate, George Carlin was on talking about how the FCC started its regulation of broadcast (specifically during hours in which "children might be watching") because a single pastor / preacher / I forget called and complained about it and it turned into a supreme court case.
posted by lordaych at 12:34 AM on January 29


And the part where it says the FCC only received 161 complaints for MileyTwerkGate...that's heartening. Which is weird!!!!!111eleven for me to say, to say the least.
posted by lordaych at 12:39 AM on January 29


mannequito: 540,000 complaints sounds like America was scandalized to me.

To expand on my previous comment about the radio station profanity reports, i have a seriously hard time believing that this wasn't ballet box stuffing to some extent. Many christian organizations, etc organize to mass-report this sort of thing. There's utterly nothing stopping one person from calling 12 times and giving a different name every time, and the people who really get worked up about this sort of thing are generally that sort of dishonest squeaky wheel complainer.

lordaych: They should embolden "us" into better using rapidly-moving social media to amplify our own voices. Naturally, the value of collective action over social media needs to match the value of collective action when it comes to phone calls, letter writing, lobbying, etc, so there needs to be an actual physical transformation and translation of "social media slacktivism" into actual mobilized work.

The thing is, with the exception of lobbying phone calls and letter writing are going to be replaced with tweets and whitehouse.org petitions and such within even just the next few years. Seriously, in under ten years i bet that will have replaced that. It's not like what they're doing is any more or less of "slacktivism" than whining online if you're targeting it at the right channels. I think what will phase out that sort of pushback towards crappiness won't just be those people aging out of doing it either by losing interest or dying, but by their methods of attack become outmoded and the sheer numbers of people willing to contact washington online Vs phoning in/mailing like all the uptight old boomers do. It takes less time and effort to tap a couple icons on a smartphone then it does to write/print out a letter and mail it, and a million messages or signatures can pour into a sight or inbox a lot faster than the mail can bring them there.

Sara C.: Of course everyone is right that a lot of it was media hype. Then again, the years between 9/11 and Katrina seemed to me to be some kind of bizzaro Brave New World universe where people would suddenly start parroting the most ridiculous bullshit they saw in the media, in a way I hadn't noticed prior to that. This was just yet another symptom.

You know, i remember that too. But it was weirder for me because that little bizarre bubble of american culture happened right when i was coming of age. the year nipplegate happened was right when i was the age to be starting highschool. The market collapsed the year i was out of highschool. 9/11 happened right when i was starting to be old enough to really think about the world and critically think about the weird shit that was going on.

Looking back on it now, it definitely shaped me as a person watching all that weirdness. And i think anyone born from like, 87 or 88 to 92 or 93 hit the sweet spot on that one(which basically encompasses all my friends, amusingly).

The circlejerk amongst my friends, especially around highschool age about how fucking crazy/stupid everyone was acting was strong, but the recession and everything that surrounded it seems to have kinda slapped everything but the most hardcore dickheads out of it. It's like one series of events uncorked it, and then another shut it back up... or ... something
posted by emptythought at 12:54 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


superbowl reunion: janet suddenly unzips justin's fly. cocktail wieners simultaneously in hand and on screen.
posted by bruce at 1:27 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I didn't know about this:

Following the incident, media conglomerates involved with the broadcast who were fined by the FCC, including Viacom and CBS, and subsidiaries MTV, Clear Channel Communications, and Infinity Broadcasting, enforced a blacklist of Jackson’s singles and music videos on many radio formats and music channels worldwide.

Needless to say, Timberlake was not blacklisted.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:49 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


That some people were upset by this is just a sign that you can't broadcast one show that will make the whole fucking USA happy.

They should sell Super Bowl rights to multiple different simultaneous narrowcasts, with maybe a vintage channel that looks essentially like Super Bowls from the days of Bart Starr and Joe Namath, an "adult" Super Bowl party channel aimed mainly at drunk men who are not against televised swearing and soft-core porn and dirty jokes, a channel for actual athletes (including children) who want to know about the game as a game and not as a Hollywood entertainment, music-specific broadcasts (hip hop, rock, country, etc.), and so on. Sell audience-appropriate ads on all channels and rake in the money. The actual halftime show on the field wouldn't have to be what they televise. Just bring out some high school marching bands, but let the different channels cut to remote concert halls and studios to suit their audiences.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Or they could skip the football game entirely.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:15 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't have been an issue without TiVo.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:52 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


You would think that showing nipples on men... *nipples!... on men!* ... would be more controversial. I mean they kinda stick a fork into the eye of creationism and support evolution and gender ambiguity.
posted by panaceanot at 3:07 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


ocschwar: "We?"

Really. Just let it go.
posted by Splunge at 3:14 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't lay all the blame for the faux outrage on the media. As I remember it, there where bunches of screen caps, gifs and analysis all over the internets. Sort of a web 1.0 precursor to the Boston Bomber crowd sourcing. A short glimpse of a fleeting moment was caught by the web and kept on display for days.
posted by klarck at 3:14 AM on January 29


You would think that showing nipples on men... *nipples!... on men!* ... would be more controversial.

Love that classic Seinfeld moment when Jerry and Kramer bare all.
posted by fairmettle at 3:16 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Let's not play the MeFi semantics game to drive Sara C. into the ground. It was 540,000 actual complaints and millions of other people giggling and tittering for months and years afterwards. Not because they were scandalized but because it was scandalous. These were my coworkers, friends, and family. Normal people. Liberal people. Educated people. They lost their collective crap over a breast on television for 9/16 of a second. We're in the Philadelphia area too, so the red-state/flyover state generalizations do not apply. Pearl-clutching can also include jokes and laughter.

Ten years later I'm still irritated that Justin Timberlake -- he who actually tore the cloth off from her top -- skated away and is a darling now, and Janet Jackson will have this follow her for the rest of her days.

I'm 100% with Sara C. on this one. I was 31 at the time (so tut-tutting over being 22 doesn't apply) and in the aftermath I thought that this is pretty close to what would have happened in the 50s. There probably would have a been an overnight jail stay for Ms. Jackson then, and more racially charged rhetoric. I agree that it was the beginning of a darker turn for US culture when it comes to how women are seen.
posted by kimberussell at 4:21 AM on January 29 [7 favorites]


When it comes to sexual scandal, we are never going to get to a point where something like this happens and we're all "meh, it's no big". It's not because "America is not an enlightened society", and it's not because of any cultural backlash. It is simple human nature, and it has been going on since we started walking upright as a species.

And the old days weren't as prudish as you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


While I'm 100% certain the American media blew up this story about outrage and scandal into something way bigger than it actually was, it's important to remember that most people outside America know America primarily or even entirely through its media. Nipplegate was a "when it comes to bodies and sexuality, something is deeply, creepily wrong with that country" non-internet meme amongst people I knew for years afterwards.
posted by erlking at 5:47 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Ten years later I'm still irritated that Justin Timberlake -- he who actually tore the cloth off from her top -- skated away and is a darling now, and Janet Jackson will have this follow her for the rest of her days.

That was, to me, the very not-cool part about the whole thing. If you are going to care about exposed nipples, it would seem like basic fairness to at least consider the culpability of the guy who does the exposing. Interestingly, Timberlake seems to agree:

Timberlake himself said he believed Jackson had taken a disproportionate amount of the backlash. "I probably got 10 percent of the blame," he told MTV. "I think America's probably harsher on women, and I think America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people."
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


And the old days weren't as prudish as you think.

I'm kind of getting towards thinking that since whenever there's basically been 0 lasting movement in sexual norms broadly speaking, merely a slow oscillation and movement on some specifics like gays. But if you read documents giving you the past's fantasies about the past rather than the present's fantasies about the past it starts to sound like Fuck Mountain. You can't look at a Renaissance painting without reading about how 5 different images in the work were dicks & pussy references for the contemporaries. Ben Franklin got crazy laid Slick Willy style. Prostitution used to be NBD half the time. I've read the assertion once that in the medieval period bastardy wasn't even much stigmatized among the commoners, issues of title, land, and wealth being irrelevant.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:07 AM on January 29


^ The "aha!" moment for me was reading 17th century libertine literature, particularly Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, which is from 1684. There's a character called "Fuckadilla," and that's the very least of it. My mind was blown. The FCC would not even be able to cope.
posted by erlking at 6:17 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


If you liked that, you may also enjoy the song My Thing Is My Own (autoplay on that link, along with lyrics); on the face of it, it's in the words of a girl explaining how all the boys wanted her, but she plans on being a GOOD girl, thankyouverymuch. But really, it's an excuse to come up with as many possible puns and innuendoes referring to female genitalia as you possibly can. It's from the late 1600's or early 1700's.

I worked on a play that used a lot of early American folk music, performed live mid-show; we also had the cast playing live before the show and during intermission. This was one of the songs we did before the show started, and the looks on people's faces as the words registered with them were fantastic. One woman on one night loved it so much she would break into uproarious laughs during each and every verse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Where exactly is the Nipplegate complex? And why won't Justin Timberlake admit to the wiretapping after all these years?
posted by anthom at 6:27 AM on January 29


What's interesting is that nobody ever mentions the streaker at the beginning of the second half. Remember the guy dressed in a faux-ref uniform who got onto the field just before kickoff? And stripped down and started dancing around, and finally got checked by one of the players and dragged off? And nobody said a fucking word about it? This in the days of extreme paranoia and security people screaming their goddamned heads off about terrorist attacks on the Souper Bowl and holy shit were they ever going to make sure That Didn't Happen, and oh look, a guy sneaks past their massive security. But no, let's talk about a clearly staged production where OOPS MY BOSOM FELL OUT OH NO WHAT DO I DO???
posted by disconnect at 6:52 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


"And the next morning I awoke and turned on the TV and watched as my beloved country lost its goddamned mind."
posted by entropicamericana at 7:05 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


It was never the nipple that bothered me, but the simulated sexual assault. No one else ever seems to be bothered by that bit.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:20 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


What happened is still somewhat a mystery

No, it's really not. The entire thing was planned and staged for ratings and grabbing bandwidth on news cycles. The cloth 'ripped' far too conveniently, the movements of JT and JJ through the incident were highly stylized (choreographed), and I somehow doubt that an active dancer wearing a pretty tight outfit would, simply for comfort reasons, wear such an enormous piece of nipple jewellery if it wasn't meant to be seen.

The whole thing was a put-on to generate faux outrage, JT and JJ were in on it (I suspect that JJ thought it would end up in a boost for her career, being edgy like Madge), and not a single person filming or producing that broadcast was surprised in the slightest.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:21 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Not a single person filming or producing that broadcast was surprised in the slightest.

You've got to be wrong on that. Nipples don't fly on broadcast TV. Never have (outside of the odd Schindler's List broadcast or maybe the very occasional PBS show). I might buy the idea that the MTV people were in on it — cable can do what it wants — despite the denials, but I'd have a really hard time believing that anyone with a career to protect at CBS Sports or the NFL would have been aware. Not that anyone expected quite the magnitude of controversy that would follow — certainly Jackson misjudged it — but FCC fines were certainly a possibility and I don't think there was an obvious upside for CBS or the NFL.
posted by Mothlight at 7:30 AM on January 29


FCC fines were certainly a possibility and I don't think there was an obvious upside for CBS or the NFL.

The FCC fine was a fraction of the money paid to CBS for a single commercial during the Superbowl.

We're still talking about CBS 10 years later, for a total cost of $55K/year.

That's some pretty effective marketing dollars right there.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:33 AM on January 29


I always got the impression people were extra offended because of the nipple shield thing. It was as though her having sexy jewelry on her breast somehow made her a slut and less sympathetic than a woman who'd had a plain nipple exposed. I also think a lot of paranoid folks took it as proof of premeditation, like she'd been planning on flashing America and dolled up for the occasion.

There was a lot of prudery and slut shaming centered on that nipple shield, IMO.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:37 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I'm the opposite of a prude and I'm not slut-shaming. I'm talking about simple physical discomfort as a dancer; there's no way that thing would have been comfortable to wear while dancing, it was meant to be seen, the same way the outfit was designed to rip that way.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:42 AM on January 29


Sara C.: "Americans, I guess?"

Christian Right Wing.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I was talking about the reaction ten years ago, not anything going on here today.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:44 AM on January 29


Gotcha.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:45 AM on January 29


Really, there is a case the nipple shield was meant to be seen. That's an entirely reasonable thing to speculate. But there was something beyond that, back then, it seemed, something like sex thing I don't get, therefore: whore.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:49 AM on January 29


Really, there is a case the nipple shield was meant to be seen.

I've never heard a credible explanation that it wasn't meant to be seen. But yeah, the reaction at the time from a tiny majority (which got blown up into an apparent majority by the media circus oh gee we don't see that happening in every US election do we maybe there's a pattern) was very much as you say.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:51 AM on January 29


That's some pretty effective marketing dollars right there.

Because people don't talk enough about the Super Bowl? I still don't see the upside, especially given the amount of time and energy that has gone into investing in new technology for adding extended video delays to broadcasts as a direct result of this. I don't think any of the networks were really happy about the increased scrutiny that went into their indecency standards in prime time, either, since they had been systematically loosening those standards in an effort to better compete with cable shows on HBO and Showtime. For instance, there was a time when you regularly saw butts on shows like NYPD Blue. It felt like the network showrunners were really getting bold. And then, Nipplegate, and all that boldness started to recede. (I know, I know, the sitcom jokes got filthier than ever, but you certainly didn't see as many actual naked human parts after Nipplegate.) Heck, I remember the Letterman show loosened up to the point where Will Smith got to say "holy shit" without censorship one night in the late 1990s. Everything has tightened up in the years since.

But I'm getting afield of my original point, which was that I just can't imagine someone with a position of sufficient power at one of the Big Three television networks would be OK with, essentially, daring the FCC to come at them. These kinds of decisions tend to skew unerringly conservative. Certainly the NFL prefers to keep its T&A on the sidelines.
posted by Mothlight at 8:01 AM on January 29


I'm still not sure you've convinced me the production team knew this would happen, but you have convinced me JJ and JT knew. Not so paranoid after all, I guess. But then the premeditated nipple shield theory (there's a band name for you) is a lot easier to swallow when paired with talk about what it would mean for a dancer to be wearing that and the ease with which the fabric tore. As opposed to the widely disseminated notion at the time that nipple jewelry equals slut, slut equals flasher.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:05 AM on January 29


Can you come up with an alternate hypothesis that accounts for the following facts?

1) JT and JJ's movements during the incident were obviously choreographed

2) JT 'happened' to grab JJ's costume at the exact right point to make it rip (tearaway, looks like) in exactly the right way to expose her breast

3) JJ, who is not exactly small in the chestal area, isn't wearing any sort of support for dancing

4) JJ is wearing an enormous piece of nipple jewellery that would be uncomfortable to wear under snug clothing anyway, let alone while dancing
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:05 AM on January 29


There probably would have a been an overnight jail stay for Ms. Jackson then, and more racially charged rhetoric. I agree that it was the beginning of a darker turn for US culture when it comes to how women are seen.

Again, Janet Jackson is a red herring. Anybody who is shocked by the Puritanical nature of the media (in particular television) I guess isn't really paying attention. It's more of a return to the "Parental Advisory" stickers of the 1990's and Tipper Gore than McCarthyism. The fact that this even became a news story, is in and of itself totally within the limits of "playing it safe." You can pile on all the rhetoric you want, it doesn't make Janet Jackson Rosa Parks. Ten years later, you have revelatory teenage pop artists dancing on stage with Teddy Bears and midgets, sucking on lollipops, baring all and saying nothing. So her legacy is actually thriving, and on top of that anyone old enough to actually listen to Janet Jackson in her prime doesn't associate her with that Super Bowl event all that much.

Anybody talking about MIA, and how she has been essentially deleted from the American mainstream for flashing a middle finger in the same venue? Not to mention having problems with visitation rights and entering the country to perform? How about the Dixie Chicks ten years later? I didn't think so. So please. This is the turning point in American culture the media told you to have. Manufactured controversy.
posted by phaedon at 9:10 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


kimberussell: "in the aftermath I thought that this is pretty close to what would have happened in the 50s. There probably would have a been an overnight jail stay for Ms. Jackson then, and more racially charged rhetoric."

The way that the controversy was overblown and the disproportionate shaming of Ms. Jackson was ridiculous and sexist and racist, but I find it incredibly odd to invoke the 1950s as a comparison.

How do you compare the reaction to a time when this performance would have been impossible and unthinkably obscene in every aspect? A 22 year old white man and 37 year old black woman were singing a sexually provocative duet as mainstream entertainment for an audience of 143 million people...which wasn't particularly controversial until her breast was exposed.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 AM on January 29


Never Forget.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:18 AM on January 29


Nipples don't fly on broadcast TV.

Hence the fancy pasty. Pasties do fly on broadcast TV. If it had been a big pink or white doily, it might have played better, but they decided to be cute and make it appear at first glance to be her skin, inviting more scrutiny. I saw it at the time, and there was never any doubt in my mind that it was planned. Not well-planned, but not an accident.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:19 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


(And then I remember the baffling furore over MIA flipping the middle finger on the superbowl a couple of years back and I heave a giant sigh for America)
posted by erlking at 9:33 AM on January 29


Let's not forget that the lyric JT sang just before he pulled off that little swatch of fabric was "bet I'll have ya nekkid by the end of this song."
posted by wabbittwax at 9:34 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Bingo bingo bingo.

Everything about this stunt was manufactured and I was incredibly disappointed at the time that the entire media circus focused on the nipple instead of "Wait a second, this is precisely what they were aiming for."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:35 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson: "Hence the fancy pasty. Pasties do fly on broadcast TV. If it had been a big pink or white doily, it might have played better, but they decided to be cute and make it appear at first glance to be her skin, inviting more scrutiny. "

It wasn't a pasty. It was a piece of jewelry that surrounded and emphasized the bare nipple in the center. Sales on those items spiked for a while afterwards.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:48 AM on January 29


Sales on those items spiked for a while afterwards

ISWYDT
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:49 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


It was obviously "manufactured" at some level. I just take issue with the idea that producers at CBS and the NFL knew about it and gave it the big thumbs-up ahead of time. They must have known that it would create a massive headache for everyone involved. And what would the benefit have been? It's not like they were trying to boost buzz and awareness for the Super Bowl scheduled for broadcast next week. As a publicity stunt for Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, it makes sense. It might have looked good to the folks at MTV, who could have enjoyed feeling like an edgy and disruptive influence on the spectacle. And, sure, the nipple jewelry industry probably had a heyday. But CBS and the NFL? I don't see it.
posted by Mothlight at 9:50 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


ocschwar: "We?"

A plural first-person pronoun, indicating those in Sara C's self-described group.

Your worst-imaginable-readings are not the speaker's fault.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:51 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


It was a piece of jewelry that surrounded and emphasized the bare nipple in the center.

I guess I didn't look closely enough. Mission fail.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:52 AM on January 29


Anyway, can we talk about what's really been bugging me? How does ESPN figure that the breast was on screen for "nine-sixteenths of a second"? TV runs at 30 or 60 frames (or fields) every second, right? How many frames must her breast have been visible in for the math to work out to 9/16?
posted by Mothlight at 9:53 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


It was obviously "manufactured" at some level. I just take issue with the idea that producers at CBS and the NFL knew about it and gave it the big thumbs-up ahead of time.

Any underlings engaging in that kind of obviously manufactured stunt without at least tacit approval from whoever's in charge would see their heads roll before the second half kicked off.

There is no way that the top dudes at CBS and NFL didn't know this was going to happen.

And what would the benefit have been.

Again. You are still thinking about CBS, for a $55k/year investment. So are however many thousands of other people. Marketing isn't always about "You must think of our brand and want it!" It's simply often about top-of-mind recall. A huge splashy incident like this puts the letters 'CBS' higher in peoples' minds. For very, very cheap.

It might have looked good to the folks at MTV, who could have enjoyed feeling like an edgy and disruptive influence on the spectacle.

How much was MTV actually involved in the production?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:54 AM on January 29


I just can't imagine someone with a position of sufficient power at one of the Big Three television networks would be OK with, essentially, daring the FCC to come at them.

I think this gets at the heart of what bothered me about it at the time.

In the context of what was happening in media at the time (Tony Soprano, a liberalization of swearing on TV, extreme violence on shows like 24 and The Shield, "darker and edgier" everything, etc), my expectation was that this was something CBS absolutely would toe the line on. And that they'd take their lumps, pay their negligible fine, and now it would be OK to sometimes show nipples on network TV.

Instead, the exact opposite thing happened.

So I can totally see CBS being in on it, and thinking it would all be OK. They just couldn't have been more wrong.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on January 29


Can you come up with an alternate hypothesis that accounts for the following facts?

1. I don't know how you would escape there being choreography in a situation like a Superbowl Halftime Show with two people known for their dancing talent. There was dancing. It was choreographed. Seems pretty typical to me.

2. It's possible that JT was meant to paw at her costume, but it was not meant to rip. There's a reason it's been immortalized as a "wardrobe malfunction". Shit happens when people dance. When I used to do ballet as a pre-teen it seemed like every performance at least one person involved would lose a shoe or pop a button or break a strap. And that was with preteen ballerinas.

3. Bralessness was a style of the time*, and it was a short performance. Jackson isn't so well endowed that it would be impossible for her to perform without a jogbra or whatever you're imagining.

4. Re the nipple jewelry, eh, I got nothing. Then again I have no experience of nipple piercings and never wear any jewelry at all.

*I'm tempted to call this another symptom of the pendulum swinging back, but then again we consider leggings pants now.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


How much was MTV actually involved in the production?

It was promoted beforehand as "the MTV-produced AOL Top Speed Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance." The ESPN article says MTV "was contracted by the NFL to produce the halftime concert," and then quotes an NFL exec as blaming MTV completely: "We turned over the keys to MTV, and they crashed the car." I think it's plausible.

But Jackson's camp definitely tried to cover up afterward. The official story (per the linked ESPN article) was that the costume was meant to be pulled apart "to reveal only a lacy red undergarment." But if you look at one of the images included in the article (scroll way down) you can see that the costume included only a thin decorative strip of red fabric attached to the breast cup in such a way that it only appeared from the front that there was a lacy red undergarment underneath. In reality, there was no red "undergarment" at all, meaning the top was specifically designed for a peek-a-boo moment.

So certainly Janet Jackson's people had to be in on it, at least the choreographer and the costume designer. Beyond that? I dunno. The Super Bowl strikes me as a fundamentally conservative spectacle. Does the decision to flash Janet Jackson's tit at half time jibe at all with the NFL's idea of itself? Or at least the one it wants to promote to the middle American football faithful?
posted by Mothlight at 10:15 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


It was promoted beforehand as "the MTV-produced AOL Top Speed Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance."

Sorry for the digression, but it's hard not to LOL that AOL used to be such a thing. It'd be like hearing of a 1955 performance presented by Woolworth's and Dippity-Do.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:18 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Does the decision to flash Janet Jackson's tit at half time jibe at all with the NFL's idea of itself?

Well, of course not. The NFL would never countenance women displaying their bodies in any prurient manner during one of its games.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:09 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


1. I don't know how you would escape there being choreography in a situation like a Superbowl Halftime Show with two people known for their dancing talent. There was dancing. It was choreographed. Seems pretty typical to me.

No, I mean the exact movement of JT and JJ's reaction to same were obviously choreographed.

2. It's possible that JT was meant to paw at her costume, but it was not meant to rip. There's a reason it's been immortalized as a "wardrobe malfunction".


Look at his fingers. He's not aiming to 'paw,' he's aiming to rip. And it's just amazing that it happened to rip perfectly to expose her jewellery, which...

3. Bralessness was a style of the time*, and it was a short performance. Jackson isn't so well endowed that it would be impossible for her to perform without a jogbra or whatever you're imagining.

Perhaps, but with a giant hunk of metal attached to your nipple, I can't imagine your boobs bouncing around inside a costume to be particularly comfortable.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:16 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Your worst-imaginable-readings are not the speaker's fault.

Maybe I misinterpreted, but I initially assumed ocschwar was referring to the title of the post, since that was my first thought when I read it.
posted by ODiV at 11:21 AM on January 29


Interesting that subsequent Super Bowl acts until 2011 were men (starting with Paul McCartney, pretty much the opposite of breast flashing).
posted by JanetLand at 11:30 AM on January 29


a 1955 performance presented by Woolworth's and Dippity-Do.

NB: Dippity do wasn't on the market until the late 1960s.
Carry on.


Also on TV, but a bit lower:  

* Barbara Eden's navel remains covered even when the show 'goes to the beach', despite other women sporting binikis in beach scenes. Apparently the objection was to a major character's every day costume exposing the navel. See also, Mary Ann Summers.
**The opposite of the Jeanie case. It was Uhura's evil navel that appeared, not her good one, and only in that one episode. So it's OK (?!)
posted by Herodios at 11:37 AM on January 29


No pregnant woman is permitted to appear on television without someone's hands -- her own, her 'husband', her 'sister' -- somebody's -- wrapped around her belly. Y'know, in case we rubes miss the point.

Are you sure that's a censorship issue and not a technical issue? It's only recently that prosthetic pregnancy bellies could even be "revealed" to show "skin". Even now, IMO it doesn't look super realistic. The presence of a distraction in the form of a hand might make things look a little less "uncanny valley".
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 AM on January 29


Are you sure that's a censorship issue

Eh?
 
posted by Herodios at 12:04 PM on January 29


ODiV: "Your worst-imaginable-readings are not the speaker's fault.

Maybe I misinterpreted, but I initially assumed ocschwar was referring to the title of the post, since that was my first thought when I read it.
"

In which case I should take my own advice...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:06 PM on January 29


> Perhaps, but with a giant hunk of metal attached to your nipple, I can't imagine your boobs bouncing around inside a costume to be particularly comfortable.

Ehhh, as a woman with a hunk of metal attached to my nipple, I'm gonna dispute this assumption.
posted by desuetude at 9:51 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


In reality, there was no red "undergarment" at all, meaning the top was specifically designed for a peek-a-boo moment.

Huh. To the extent that I ever paid attention to this controversy, I believed it was possible/likely that it hadn't been planned for the whole top to come away. But you're right, the picture of the cup in Timberlake's hand kinda puts the lie to that story.

In that light, the whole thing seems really gross to me... the ripping of the bodice and then Jackson's faux shock and covering up. Because es_de_bah upthread is right; if it wasn't (at least partially) an accident, that makes it a pretty disgusting show of sexual-assault-as-entertainment.

I guess our thinking about consent has come some distance over the past decade, if what we view now pretty clearly as assault was seen (by JT and JJ at least) as edgy-sexy-bodice-ripping only ten years ago.
posted by torticat at 9:56 PM on January 29


Ehhh, as a woman with a hunk of metal attached to my nipple, I'm gonna dispute this assumption.

I'm kind of assuming you have a barbell or a ring, not a gigantic sunburst surrounding your entire nipple and partially covering your breast.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:39 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I think this was a last minute attention-grabbing ploy. There is no way that removable cup was going to reveal lace. that lace is sewn in at the top of it like an accent piece. Her piercing covered her entire nipple; which they probably thought that was enough to cover for censorship.

The entire debaucle was stupid. And so was the whole performance. Why she thought doing that was going to be a good idea was beyond me. It's only shocking to prudes. Like Miley's twerk performance, it just looked incredibly stupid all the way around. Like "hey look at me" just for the sake of "hey look at me".

They need to go back to Evel Knevil jumping over some things to get me excited for shock value. Boobs, twerking, tongue sticking out? Boring.
posted by stormpooper at 6:30 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Then Attorney General John Ashcroft was, it seems, embarrassed at having a semi-nude sculpture behind him during his speeches so he had the statue covered with a toga so as not to be embarrassed anymore.

I seem to remember at the time people saying that photographers were frequently framing their pictures so the nude statue was right next to his head, for the lulz. Supposedly Ashcroft covered the statue because he was sick of the photographers using it to mock him. If true, it's really more a case of the media being "ha ha Ashcroft & boobz!" than Ashcroft being a prude.
posted by straight at 1:10 PM on January 30


I don't really get all the "They wouldn't do it because fines!" stuff in here. It's like the "if the cost of lawsuits and etc is less than doing a recall, they don't do a recall" line, or the wall street style "the fines are part of doing business, we made however many millions and get fined 900k? fuck it, it's like money laundering tax".

They've been paying the fine off at what, 50k a year? as mentioned up-thread that is literally nothing. Anyone at any level who authorized this had absolutely done the math for even the worst case scenario and known that A, they were making bank anyways and B, any fine they got would be minuscule compared to the amount of free advertising this would give the superbowl and many other things involved in it.

The only really fucked up thing here, and imo, what's really worth discussing is that clear channel and all those other conglomos destroyed Janet Jackon's career over this. Since they're playing this straight as an "accident", and on freeze frame it's obvious it was intentionally ripped by JT, then this is essentially victim blaming a woman for a sexual assault. They can't have it both ways, either it was manufactured, or it wasn't and that's what they're doing.

Kinda dug their own grave of being shitty assholes there.
posted by emptythought at 2:26 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "I'm kind of assuming you have a barbell or a ring, not a gigantic sunburst surrounding your entire nipple and partially covering your breast."

Look, I agree with you that this was most certainly a choreographed, intentional move and that this "wardrobe malfunction" explanation was backpedaling.

Presuming that she wouldn't have worn a nipple shield unless it was intended to be seen? Sure, that could be a considered a very legit point in favor of this being intentional. That would indeed be odd, what would be the point?

But not because it's generally physically uncomfortable to wear a nipple shield beneath tight clothing while dancing. I mean, sure, depending on the shield and the breast and the dancing and the costume things might not work together, but it's not any sort of safe assumption to prove the point.

I don't know why you're so attached to this theory, but what I'm trying to tell you -- as a woman with boobs adorned with not-delicate nipple jewelry which have bounced against costumes of sundry levels of snugness -- is that this particular "it would be too uncomfortable" presumption is kind of a stretch and not really working for me (or necessary!) as supporting evidence.

Sheesh, if you need more information about my piercings to believe me, MeMail me, I guess?
posted by desuetude at 8:09 PM on January 30


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