Letting it all hang out
Like every, warm-blooded, female-obsessed boy of a certain age (and that age would be roughly 13 years old until a man's last dying breath) I remember vividly the naked female breasts that have made an impression on my life.
While I won't bore you with any personal (and highly exaggerated ... by me) conquests of the flesh, there is one set of sweater dumplings that 70,000 people in a sold-out stadium, a viewing audience of over 144 million and I will never forget.
Ladies and gentlemen, in honor of Janet Jackson's return to Reliant Stadium on March 4 to perform at RodeoHouston, allow me to take you back to ... Nipplegate 2004!
Should my writing career end tomorrow, I will always be able to tell my grandchildren that I was literally on the sidelines for the most significant social and political pop culture moment of the early 21st century.
(I also can tell them that I was standing not more than 20 yards from the most famous right bare breast in the history of television during the moment of its unveiling. I'll probably wait until the grandkids are a little older before I divulge that part of the story though.)
When Jackson's breast was exposed following an alleged "wardrobe malfunction" during her halftime performance with Justin Timberlake at Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1, 2004, at Reliant Stadium, everyday life — particularly the way we view television and video entertainment — changed forever.
In case you wonder if I am overstating the facts, please consider:
- The FCC received over a half-million complaints from offended viewers who never had any intent on finding out what was under a women's brassiere.
- Former Democratic Senator Zell Miller condemned the act on the floor of the Senate and claimed it was an attack on morality in America.
- A class action lawsuit was launched against Jackson and Timberlake by a Knoxville banker on behalf of "all Americans who watched this outrageous conduct."
(I was going tell a joke here about a lawsuit or two I would like to file against a couple gals in my past that I was forced to see naked, but my current - and very beautiful, I might add - girlfriend warned me against it.)
- Halftime sponsor, American Online, wanted a refund of the $7.5 million they contributed to this on-the-fly soft-porn music video.
- The NFL threatened to sever its ties with MTV. The music television station helped to produce the event and promised "shocking moments" prior to the Super Bowl which led many to believe they knew what was coming.
- CBS insisted that Justin Timberlake (who was performing on Jackson's halftime stage and an accomplice to the incident) and Jackson would only be allowed to appear on 46th Grammy Awards show if they made a public apology to the network without calling it a "wardrobe malfunction." Timberlake complied, but Ms. Nasty refused.
- Financially, the incident has meant untold millions of dollars in fines that the FCC has levied against television stations and on-air production giants in the years since, a result of much stricter sanctions on questionable and risque television. In the year before "Nipplegate" (2003) total FCC fines for indecent viewing or questionable language was less than $500,000. In 2004 it rose to nearly $8 million.
- Politically, phrases like "cultural morality" and "public decency" and a call for a cleansing of popular culture have been at the heart of campaign speeches ever since Ms. Jackson's cup runneth over... and onto Reliant Stadium on prime-time television.
- The parent-approved Super halftime performances since 2004 have included Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers & Bruce Springsteen. If you're thinking," Man, that's a lot of older, male artists nobody wants to see naked," well... you got the point. The NFL would be taking no chances in the future.
(On February 6, The Black Eyed Peas will be the featured halftime entertainment at Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. BEP vocalist Fergie will be the first woman to perform at a Super Bowl halftime since Janet Jackson and I am begging her to keep her clothes on. While I am generally in favor of woman being naked, should she so much as bare too much shoulder we all might be watching My Three Sons and Petticoat Junction in prime-time again for the next decade
Believe me, not since a glimpse of Jayne Mansfield's bare body in 1963's Promises! Promises! (a scene that got the film banned in Cleveland and caused a public stir that made Mansfield a sexual icon) has a quickie boob shot caused such a public panic.
For me, at the moment Jackson's breast flopped into view I remember feeling that all my senses had been overstimulated. (Not that kind of "stimulated," ya sickos.)
Suddenly a vortex of all the things I considered most important in life — football, live music and the female body — were all coming together at once during the biggest international entertainment event held each year and I was lucky enough to be standing on the New England Patriots sidelines to watch events, uh, unfold.
The Patriots were the team that won Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. They beat the Carolina Panther 32-29, and when I woke up the morning of the game I couldn't imagine that there would be anything more important to me on that day than the football action on the field and the final score. This was the first Super Bowl that I had ever seen live and I didn't want to miss a thing.
In retrospect, the game now seems such a side note to the day's events. Seven years later, I still remember the teams that played (but I'm NFL-obsessed and can probably tell you the teams that played in every Super Bowl off the top of my head). I even remembered that the Patriots won. But I did have to look up the score before I started writing this story. Those kinds of details melted away from my memory as the topic of the day quickly became Jackson's mammaries.
A music critic for the Houston Chronicle at the time, I was treated very well by the NFL and given rare access to the field and entertainers for the Super Bowl held in Houston's then-nearly brand new multimillion-dollar gem of a football stadium. Two NFL executives escorted me to the sidelines for the halftime show. I was standing with them, comedian-turned-sports talk host Tom Arnold and Janet Jackson's brother, Jermaine.
After the stage was put in place, I remember the light's dimming and the all-star halftime performance beginning. Jackson ran through a medley of her past hits like All For You and Rhythm Nation before Timberlake appeared to sing the final refrain of his then monster hit, Rock Your Body. The two danced close, grinding around playfully on each other a bit.
And then when Timberlake uttered the infamous final lyric ...
"Gonna have you naked by the end of this song," Timberlake hiccuped while simultaneously ripping the right breast cup of Jackson's pleather bustier off to reveal Jackson's breast adorned with a fancy piece of silver nipple jewelry.
Jackson seemed instantly surprised and claimed later it was an accident, but the nipple adornment still begs the question, "Why accessorize your breast unless you plan to show it off?"
I remember not believing what I just saw for a few seconds before turning to the two NFL execs and asking, "Was that her boob?"
I have never seen two multimillionaires simultaneously turn green and appear ready to vomit. I doubt I ever will again.
Next to me Arnold was whooping it up while Jermaine Jackson had his head down with an expression that said, "Really, sis? Did you just do that? Are you trying to out-crazy Michael with this stunt?"
It wasn't until statements from Timberlake, the NFL, CBS, MTV and every other body that could be held responsible for Janet Jackson and Timberlake's performance started flooding into the Super Bowl press room during the game's second half that I truly grasped the gravity of what had just happened. All these powerful entertainment entities were offering boatloads of contrition, plausible deniability, surprise and distance from the performance.
It soon became clear: This wasn't just a simple case of a little unplanned "peek-a-boo" show for all the world to see on television. This was an event that changed the way we view things, are allowed to view things and how what is appropriate and moral for public consumption is defined.
It was a moment that we still feel ripples from anytime a watchdog shouts "indecency" over the content of a movie or a TV show — or forces a reedit of a literary classic like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn so that it is more politically correct.
I would love to know what's going through Jackson's mind when she arrives at Reliant Stadium on March 4, her first time performing at the stadium since Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Just like Super Bowl XXXVIII, you know I'll be there to hear what she says ... and see what she does.