The Illinois Review has a post by David E. Smith of the Illinois Family Institute about CBS‘s appeal of the fine they paid to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for televising Janet Jackson’s bare breast during their 2004 Super Bowl coverage.
While the government cannot regulate speech, they can prohibit indecent broadcast content on the public airwaves. The case of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl striptease in 2004 cost CBS $550,000 — a mere slap on the wrist for a multi-million dollar broadcast corporation.
Yeah, it was crass of Janet Jackson to bare her breast when she had to know that some of the people watching would be offended. Why do something like that during a family sporting event? And yeah, the fine was slap on the wrist, especially compared to the multi-million dollar revenues from Super Bowl coverage.
But really, have some perspective. It was just a titty.
I’ve never seen video of the incident, but since I was writing about it, I figured I should make sure there wasn’t more to it than I imagined, so I hunted down an online video of the performance—it took about 12 seconds—and checked. There’s even less here than I thought. This video shows the whole performance, and her breast was out for about one second before the lights went out and the camera cut away to the fireworks. This video clip of the incident itself is cropped closer and has slow-motion replay, and her right breast is clearly out and jiggling, but her nipple seems to be obscured by something. Only if you actually go through the trouble of looking at a detail of a video frame capture can you actually see some bare nipple. Why so much fuss about something this hard to see?
Their lawyer also said the FCC fine has had a “profoundly censorious effect” on the broadcasting industry by discouraging them from showing material that the FCC might judge indecent.
Well — duh! Yes, enforcing indecency laws will actually have a deterrent effect. But unfortunately, a few small fines for broadcast indecency — assessed sporadically– has only served to send mixed messages to broadcasters about what the FCC will tolerate.
The Illinois Review website bills itself as “the crossroads of the conservative community.” I seem to remember that in the distant past (the Clinton presidency) the conservative movement in this country spent a lot of time talking about the perils of “big government.” How is cranking up FCC enforcement of rules for the broadcast industry not big government?
I can’t help but think that one way to avoid sending mixed messages would be to get the FCC to stop censoring our television channels.
The executives and producers at CBS knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew it in 2004 when they gave a high profile stage over to MTV, Janet Jackson, and Justin Timberlake. They wanted to push the envelope and create a media buzz — and boy did they get it! It’s three years later and we’re still talking about it. There is no way they could have gotten this kind of publicity for a mere $550,000.
So CBS did this for the publicity? Really? Does David E. Smith really believe that a television network with world-wide rights to televise the Super Bowl needs to attract attention by showing a woman’s breast?
How does that pay off for the network? Were some people still tuning in to CBS months later just to see if they’d show another breast?
I don’t think so.
Only one person was in a position to both stage the incident and benefit from it. You might say I’m a believer in the lone-titty theory: Janet Jackson did this to attract attention to herself.
That’s not to say that Janet Jackson is the only person who benefited from this incident. Far from it. In fact, I’d say the biggest beneficiaries are the organized religious right, people like David E. Smith and the Illinois Family Institute. Three and a half years later they’re still milking it for publicity.