In one of those quirks of fate, Janet Jackson has become the mod squad's point girl in the battle for decency. She is taking the arrows for a lot of scurrilous folk we'll never know. And somewhere a flatulent horse is whinnying with delight.
The halftime show at the Super Bowl now dominates the discussion. Ms. Jackson's bedizened breast overshadows the pervasive sleaze of the commercial content. So much so that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell put in a protest call to Mel Karmazin, president of the CBS parent, Viacom, to protest not the commercials, but the halftime event. The FCC will probe the entire halftime "entertainment," the crotch-hugging, flag-desecrating, copulation-simulating entirety of it that culminated in the visual proof of Ms. Jackson's mammalian nature.
This concentration on one grapeshot of a broadside of bad taste represents much of what is wrong with the apprehension of television itself, the inability to see the big picture, to comprehend more than one facet at a time.
Ms. Jackson now belies her dancing partner's claim of a "wardrobe malfunction" that produced her problem, and says it was a move the partners themselves inserted just before the act. Give her credit; she is trying to take blame (and the consequent fame).
But give the pundits and the politicians their due also: they are helping her with their laser-like concentration on the halftime act and their consequent willingness to ignore the rest of the insensibilities of the evening.
There is this: Janet and Justin might have decided at the last minute on the baring, or perhaps with a few co-conspirators. But the production of the series of offensive commercials took weeks and involved scores of people. As a network, CBS may never have seen the Jackson-Timberlake act in advance, relying on the production capacity of its Viacom sister, MTV. But the network can hardly say the same for the commercials.
It takes weeks for an advertising agency to conceive of a beer-fetching dog that bites a man's crotch and hangs on, a horse that breaks wind into a pretty blonde's face and ruins her makeup, a talking chimpanzee that propositions his master's girlfriend, a hapless massage customer who inadvertently becomes a bikini wax victim. Weeks of story boards, scripting, casting, location selection, directing, shooting, editing, and finalizing and getting approval from the standards and practices regime of the broadcast network.
In short, Ms. Jackson's impropriety could have been a spur-of-the moment idea (assuming she normally wears a nipple ornament and a break-away blouse) and one fairly closely held.
But the commercials featuring animal flatulence, bestiality, canine cruelty, and the like take weeks in the conception and execution and all with the knowledge of a large cross section of the business. We are speaking of the item that spells a big difference in television trials to come -- premeditation.
A lot of people in a lot of corner offices owe a lot to Janet Jackson. She is taking the heat, preserving that view. They should buy her something nice like, say -- well no, she's already got one at least.
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