Five years ago, a respectably-sizable furor broke out when, performing with Justin Timberlake in the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show, Janet Jackson suffered a “wardrobe malfunction” that resulted in the exposure of her nipple on national television for nine-sixteenths of a second. The FCC was displeased, and received complaints from viewers all over the country. A back-and-forth argument ensued in the courts, with CBS saying the incident was virtually impossible to predict or prevent, and the FCC claiming that the CBS had willfully violated standards of decency and 20 CBS stations should pay a fine of $550,000 for the mishap. In July of 2008, a unanimous Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overruled the FCC, and suggested that the FCC did not have sufficient evidence that CBS caught the nip slip on purpose, and so was protected by First Amendment. Two days ago, however, the case was sent back by the Supreme Court to be reviewed once more by the same Circuit Court that unanimously found CBS not guilty of any intentional wrongdoing, and free of paying the fine imposed by CBS.
My gut reaction is, why are we still talking about Janet Jackson’s nipple? It was exposed for a very brief period of time, and CBS and Justin Timberlake apologized for the whole thing, as did Janet Jackson, saying the stunt went further than she intended. I would happily make the argument that most all people in the world have two nipples of their own, but I do get the argument about context.
And yet, my head reacts differently than my gut when it comes to this. Taken in the grand scheme of things, this case could set an important legal precedent when it comes to the limits of both the First Amendment and the FCC for accountability of fleeting moments of indecency. And yet, this case doesn’t seem terribly complex from a legal standpoint. I wonder what it is we’re really talking about now when we talk about Janet Jackson’s nipple. A decline in American values? Celebrity? Sexism?
Whatever it is, let’s talk about that instead. I don’t care to see this dragged out over many years at a cost to taxpayers (during an economic collapse, no less), all so we can decide if the brief exposure of a woman’s nipple on national television was profane. There are much bigger things happening in media that deserve far more legal scrutiny–take, for example, cases like that of Michael Savage. His 15 years broadcasting hate on San Francisco radio has gotten him banned from Britain, and we’re told a “wardrobe malfunction” lasting less than a second is worth over five years of legal toil and our tax dollars? Puh-leeze.