Monday, February 02, 2004

The Breast

Instead of writing about all the important, serious and upsetting news in this world, I am going to write about The Breast. It belongs to Janet Jackson, though similar versions are widely known to exist elsewhere. They are part of the female anatomy, and the ultimate reason why humans belong to the group mammals.

The Breast was revealed during the halftime show of this year's Superbowl, the final match in the American football season. Two performers, Janet Jackson and Justing Timberlake, were singing a duet:

"...with Timberlake singing, "Rock Your Body," and the lines he sang at the moment of truth were: "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."
With that, Timberlake reached across Jackson's leather gladiator outfit and pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration.
The network quickly cut away from the shot, and did not mention the exposure on the air."

Was this intended, a choreographed part of the act, or just an unfortunate wardrobe mistake ? Surely the answer to this question matters. The Breast does not belong to the American public; it belongs to Janet Jackson, and if she was stripped without her consent in front of millions of viewers she's likely to feel a little bit outraged. On the other hand, maybe she was in on the stunt. I cannot tell, not having been present myself.

What I can tell is that everybody feels very apologetic about this revelation. Some examples:

""CBS deeply regrets the incident," spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said."

"MTV, CBS' corporate cousin in Viacom, issued a contrite statement in which it also apologized, saying the incident was "unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance." "

"Timberlake said he did not intend to expose Jackson's breast.
"I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl," Timberlake said in a statement. "It was not intentional and is regrettable."

Lots of apologies, none of them directed at Janet Jackson. So either she was in on the stunt or everybody involved suffers from the idea that the dangers in baring The Breast are all to do with its sudden and devastating impact on the viewers, not on the woman whose body part it happens to be. Even if the whole thing was preplanned, an appearance of sincerity in the apologies would have required that at least one of them be directed to the woman who was most affected by this exposure.

It's something very powerful, The Breast. Even breastfeeding in public raises deep primal fears in some people. The Superbowl is marketed as a family-oriented show, and revealing a naked breast to children is an indecency (well, except, of course, when they are small enough to be still breast-fed). Hence the outrage, the planned FCC investigation into this event, and all the apologies. Except to Janet Jackson, of course.

If totally preplanned, the way in which Jackson's breast was revealed and her reaction to it convey an additional message: It's ok to disrobe women in public as long as they pretend to be shocked by it. "No" means "yes" and so on. Not the development most feminists would like to see in the honesty of communication about sex between men and women. But then the Superbowl halftime isn't exactly the earthly paradise of gender equality.
Postscript: The incident seems to have been 'sort of planned but sort of not'. And Jackson apologized, too. But this was an unfortunate choice of words from Michael Powell, the head of the FCC:
"Powell told CNN he was not convinced the incident was an accident.
"Clearly somebody had knowledge of it. Clearly it was something that was planned by someone," he said. "She probably got what she was looking for." "

Verrry unfortunate, I'd say.