So what if Super Bowl viewers saw a little more of Janet Jackson than they expected?
Justin Timberlake and Jackson were finishing a steamy duet of "Rock Your Body" during Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show Sunday when he reached across her leather outfit and pulled off a section of her bodice. Jackson's right breast — the nipple masked by a sun-shaped, metallic decoration — was exposed to an estimated 89.6 million viewers. CBS quickly cut away from the shot as she began covering up.
Shouldn't we be used to this kind of thing? The same-sex kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna on MTV's Music Video Awards show was not all that long ago, and sometimes it seems Spears' fashion sense is just a little tamer than Jackson's boob-popping incident.
Television in 2004 has come a long way since The Ed Sullivan Show refused to show Elvis' swiveling pelvis back in the 1950s. Between seeing David Caruso and then Dennis Franz bare rear ends on NYPD Blue to the popularity of HBO's violent and vulgar The Sopranos, we should be used raunchy behavior and skin on television these days, right?
"I think people have become indifferent to these kinds of things," said Damien Cave, an associate editor at Rolling Stone. "They see Janet, they see Britney and Madonna kiss, and say, 'Yeah, OK. Who cares?' I think it's becoming more difficult [for artists] do something that's creative and says something about them as an artist. Something like this [story] is going to go away real quick."
The Worst Publicity: No Publicity
The Federal Communications Commission and CBS executives were not so indifferent and apparently, neither were some Super Bowl watchers. The Super Bowl is the most-watched sports spectacle in the country — by both adults and children.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell called the incident "a classless, crass and deplorable stunt" and ordered an investigation. After receiving some angry calls, CBS and MTV, which hosted the halftime show and is a corporate cousin of the Eye Network through ownership by Viacom, both apologized and said they did not know the display would be part of the act.
An apologetic Jackson later corroborated the statements from CBS and MTV and said in a statement, "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. … It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL."
Investigation aside, Jackson — like other celebrities who have been embroiled in "shocking" performances — may only reap rewards from her "boob tube" performance.
"You know the old saying, 'The worst publicity is no publicity at all,' " said Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York. "In the extremely competitive world of the music industry, any little edge that you can get that makes a difference in your career is a good thing."
When Shock No Longer Shocks
However, shock tactics can backfire if the controversy is either too volatile, or a jaded public grows to expect behavior from the artist — or senses the celebrity is only trying to attract attention.