Eight years and four days after that Mickey Mouse Club guy introduced the world to Michael Jackson’s sister’s right breast, we have a new controversy stemming from a Super Bowl halftime show. This time, a rapper who goes by the name M.I.A. flipped the cameras the bird.
To be clear, I was not offended by either act. Like the majority of the 100-odd million people who saw both incidents, I have been personally flipped off before, and have — believe it or not — seen a female boob. Thus I am not haunted by the sight of either, and I’d imagine that the rest of you are in the same boat.
That said, doesn’t it strike people as odd that the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Nipplegate episode seemed to garner significantly more outrage than M.I.A.’s middle finger?
In the first case, we were exposed to something synonymous with love, sex and even motherhood. Oh, and the majority of the nipple was concealed by a pasty. You can see more skin in that exact same time slot on prime-time television any night of the week. Correct me if I’m wrong, but very few men and women strongly dislike boobs.
In the second case, we were told to f— off. Who the hell wants that?
When comparing the two events on the surface, I think the M.I.A. act was more malicious, more disrespectful and more inappropriate.
But for whatever reason, Jackson’s right headlight inspired mass anger, a record fine from the FCC, lawsuits and a 4,600-word Wikipedia page. Everyone involved apologized, but it was still called a travesty. “It’s truly pitiful that my children can’t watch the Super Bowl now,” wrote Maureen, a Dallas mother and Helen Lovejoy impersonator.
M.I.A.’s finger hasn’t caused close to the same stir. Instead, we’re defending her. We seem to grasp that this was, at the very worst, a publicity stunt, and for the most part, we’re refusing to buy in.
So why the separate reactions?
Maybe it has to do with the Western world’s discomfort with sex and the body, compared to its obsession with violence and intensity as seen everywhere you look in American pop culture. Then again, that would entail some serious hypocrisy — why cry foul over a partially exposed breast while laughing and clapping as M&Ms lose their innocence and GoDaddy does its best Brazzers impression?
Maybe it’s just progress. Maybe we were desensitized a bit by Janet and now are less susceptible to becoming shocked and offended by incidents that, frankly, aren’t supposed to shock or offend us.