The Other Charlotte and I have spilled quite a bit of InkWell ink on the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake breast caper on Super Bowl Sunday. (See “Janet’s Bazoomba Blowout,” Feb. 3; “My Mother’s Daughter…,” Feb. 3; “Keeping Abreast of the Janet Jackson’s Controversy,” Feb. 5.) Now comes an e-mail from G.G. on the topic that like Janet’s silver-tipped nipple on the video, just won’t go away:
“It is not Janet Jackson’s breast that was upsetting. It is after all, a woman’s breast. Big deal. It is a part of a woman’s anatomy. The part that was disgusting about the show was the manner it which it was exposed. Indeed, the theme of the show really was how males can and should dominate females sexually….Justin Timberlake says you will be naked by the end of the song and by golly, whether or not Janet Jackson agrees with that idea is unimportant because Justin takes matters into his own hands (pun intended) and insures that she shows bare flesh. The show basically glorifies the male doing what he wishes with the female, without her consent. That seems to me, to contradict what an independent woman would want.”
You make a valid and important point, G.G. Mickey Kaus (scroll to Feb. 2) makes the same argument (thanks to Peggy Noonan, for alerting me to Mickey’s thoughts). When a society starts letting everything hang out, literally and figuratively, one of the things that hangs out is brute male sexual aggression, unchecked by rules and customs of behavior and propriety. Justin’s caper was akin to rap music’s frequently coarse and degrading depiction of women.
But I take issue with your statement that it wasn’t “Janet Jackson’s breast that was upsetting.” Actually, it was Janet Jackson’s breast that was upsetting. Yes, the naked human body, including the female breast, is a glorious thing (although most naked human bodies I’d rather not see, thank you). And yes, in some tropical cultures women go bare-breasted all the time. Twenty-first-century American culture is not one of them, however, nor, for that matter, has any Western culture been in that group since the days of Homer. Whether for cultural reasons or natural reasons (I’m inclined to the latter view), women’s breasts are associated with keen and even obsessive erotic sensations. “Big deal” is not the reaction of most men to a breast, which is why most women regard the viewing of their breasts as an intimate matter, to be restricted to their most private moments with the men they love. And it’s why most people regard the exposure of a breast–and a breast decked out to highlight its erotic appeal–on a network television show watched by millions of children to be seriously inappropriate. Mickey Kaus hopes that a few broadcast licenses get yanked as a result of this, and I’m with him 100 percent.
As Peggy Noonan points out, it’s all part of the coarsening, and also the dumbing down of the once-vibrant American popular culture. Read this article by the WaPo magazine’s Liza Mundy, for example, about the tendency of PG-13-rated movies–films deemed suitable for even the youngest of youngsters–to feature foul language, partial nudity, simulated sex, terrifying levels of violence, and bathroom humor. The Janet Jackson breast flap will, I hope, bring us to our senses on issues like these.