At the close of the '80s cult classic Repo Man, the reaction of the studio's publicity director was a horrified "I hope they don't show this in Russia." After the completion of MTV's latest halftime show, the reaction of anyone who loves America is a horrified "I hope they don't show this in the Middle East."
There are two problems with the analogy above. First, the halftime show was broadcast throughout the Middle East on digital satellite by METV, which is "committed to bringing the Gospel message of hope and peace to the troubled [region]" through "wholesome family entertainment." Second, Repo Man is a scabrous satire of American culture, while the Super Bowl is supposed to be a celebration of it.
Back in 1984, during the Cold War, the U.S. worried about giving credence to the Soviet assertion that America was "decadent." A generation later, the Cold War is a fading memory, but the War on Terror ensures that the global battle for "hearts and minds" continues. If MTV's extravaganza is any evidence, the America of 2004 is proudly decadent.
The primary meaning of "decadence" is a decline in standards. This was demonstrated on Super Bowl Sunday not so much by the "wardrobe malfunction" that led to the exposure of the collapsed soufflé that is Janet Jackson's right breast, nor even by everyone responsible for this stunt lying about it afterwards, but, crucially, by the postmodern winks that accompanied the lies.
MTV WAS SHOCKED -- SHOCKED! So was CBS. So was Viacom, which owns MTV and CBS. So was the NFL. That's their story, and they're clinging to it. Never mind that MTV promised "shocking moments" and then delivered on the promise. What did the NFL imagine it was getting? MTV is the network that televised the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss and then attempted to top that with Christina Aguilera stripping down from a nun's habit. Justin Timberlake is the young fellow who dry-humped Kylie Minogue onstage at the Brit Awards.
And Janet Jackson's career is a prolonged attempt to prove she is no longer Jacko's kid sister, nor the apple-cheeked goody-goody we watched grow up on Good Times, Diff'rent Strokes, and Fame, but rather as "nasty" as she wants to be. Janet has a new album out this spring and is obviously not going to be shown up by youngsters.
"Wardrobe malfunction," indeed! That's as po-mo delicious as "I did not inhale."
A decline in standards also explains the decision to allow the egregious Kid Rock to traduce Old Glory like some cheap schmatta, as well as allowing to P. Diddy and Nelly to perpetuate the Stepin Fetchit stereotypes one hoped had died with Jim Crow.
BUT THE SECONDARY, MORE popular, meaning of "decadence" has to do with moral or cultural deterioration. The word is often prefixed with the intensifier "Weimar," referring to the republic and the rout it engendered in Germany after the First World War. And Weimar is certainly the word that comes to mind after Janet Jackson's choreographed tribute to Cabaret.
There we had La Jackson, kitted out in a greatcoat that would have made Joseph Goebbels blush with envy, striking "Rhythm Nation" fascist poses, while at her feet lolled lovelies attired in corsets, stockings and Sally Bowles bowlers pretending Sapphic ennui. How droll!
We are all heartily sick (and rightly so) of the "Bush = Hitler" idea that so exercises the Hollywood Left. So what are we to make of the spectacle of Hollywood conjuring the Zeitgeist of 1920s Berlin during America's most-watched television event? Do they think Cabaret has a happy ending?
Janet Jackson has for years professed a wholly unconvincing penchant for S&M, but could it be true that Hollywood's darkest perversion is a secret longing for discipline of the strictest and nastiest kind imaginable? Hey, say what you like about those Nazis, they certainly had style.
Life may be a cabaret, old chum, but this is one show that can't go on much longer.