The 2004 NFL Super Bowl may be long gone, but as far as thelegal problems of the CBS TV network are concerned, the games arejust beginning.
According to an article released by BBC News on September 23,the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS $550,000 for theinfamous breast-baring Janet Jackson halftime fiasco on February 1.This latest fine is the strictest penalty the agency can give thecompany, who has only 30 days to contest.
The fine was likely a result of the more than 540,000 complaintsthat the FCC received after the incident, to which CBS quicklyapologized, even after claiming that the exposure was “notintentional,” according to Geraldine Fabrikant of The DenverPost.
However, this current scandal seems to be the icing on the cakefor CBS. Jackson’s public indecency, affectionately nicknamed”nipplegate” at the time, was the second strike-out forCBS, whose news division is currently “embroiled in acontroversy” over the use of “questionabledocuments” that criticized President George W. Bush’smilitary record in the National Guard.
CBS, although apologetic for eliciting a record number ofcomplaints continues to claim that they “believe that nothingin the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws,” andthat their investigation “proved that no one in our companyhad any advance knowledge about the incident.”
FCC Chairman Michael Powell seems to think the contrary,claiming, “the context of the half-time show leads us toconclude that the breast-baring finale was intended.” Hefurther justifies the passing of the fine by stating that”Nudity, while not necessarily indecent itself, certainlyshould raise a red flag for a broadcaster contemplating its airingduring the hours in which the law restricts indecency becausechildren are likely in the audience.” Although Powell grants,”the U.S. Constitution is generous in its protection of freeexpression,” he also says that it is “not a license tothrill.”
While the penalty may seem harsh to most free-speech advocates,others are pushing the issue further. One group is the ParentsTelevision Council, who, according to the Houston Chronicle, willask the FCC to consider its “sidestepped complaints about therest of the halftime show,” including Nelly grabbing hiscrotch and Kid Rock wearing a poncho fabricated from an originalAmerican flag.
When I first heard word of the CBS fiasco involving JanetJackson, my mind was racing with so many thoughts that all I couldreally do at the moment was roll my eyes and chuckle cynically.
Since I was one of the 90 million United States citizens whoweren’t fortunate enough to be blind for that particular lewdmoment of public broadcasting, I would naturally stand behind theFCC’s sentiment on the inappropriateness of such conduct onnationally-broadcast programs 100 percent. Not only is such adisplay not fit for children’s eyes, but it also disrespectsthe dignity of women everywhere by making a mockery out of JanetJackson for entertainment value and reducing her to a sex object.The act, whether intended by Jackson or not, portrays a message toyoung women everywhere that, in order to get attention, one mustpublicly disrespect one’s own dignity by displayingthemselves in an inappropriate and unnecessary way.
To illustrate my point, let me remind the public that, since theact, she has been on four late-night shows, including DaveLetterman’s. What’s more, these shows didn’t evenfocus on her “accident.”
Why is it that Americans will scorn and shame women artists,such as Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, forsuggestively displaying themselves, yet at the same time createdouble standards by condoning such acts by buying more of theirrecords, looking at nude photos in magazines, and talking about how”hot” they are in the bathroom?
Furthermore, why aren’t we hearing more about howtasteless it was for Justin Timberlake to rip off Janet’sclothing in public? If anything, I’ve overheard my male peersenvying how lucky he was. Judging by the context of their sensualdance on stage, and the lyrics in the song, he did “have hernaked” in the end I doubt there was no thought behind thestunt.
Let’s also not forget that, as the Parents TelevisionCouncil has reminded us, Nelly’s uncalled-for behavior wasbarely given a thought by the FCC. Sorry Nelly, but it’s beendone, and it’s not only crass, but it went out of style about15 or 20 years ago when Janet’s brother did it. Kid Rockshould not be able to get off scot-free from his actions either,which plainly violated our federal law against the disrespect andmisuse of the American flag.
While I will grant that the FCC’s intentions are good, andthat its focus on removing inappropriate material fromfamily-targeted broadcasting is a step in the right direction, Imust protest the manner in which it goes about furthering itsobjectives. First of all, does CBS really deserve to take fullliability for the Super Bowl mishap if, according to its claims, ithad no knowledge of such plans beforehand? And should theperformers themselves really be allowed to use their freedom ofexpression distastefully in front of millions of children withoutaccepting the consequences of their actions?
One might argue that CBS, as a national broadcaster, should stepup its program controls a notch, since the Jackson controversy hasnot been their only recent fall-through; they are already introuble for their exposure of unauthorized documents regardingPresident Bush’s military records. However, while it may needto raise its standards regarding what is considered appropriate forfamily viewing, it cannot be complete babysitters of artists whohave little respect for our young audiences.
In short, why not levy a fine on the artists themselves, if onemust be given to CBS? Exposure or no exposure, Jackson andTimberlake’s conduct alone on the stage was not suited forchildren’s eyes, or helpful in furthering society’sview of women in general. Nelly’s behavior was a far cry fromcute as well.
I firmly believe that free speech is a constitutionally givenright in this country that should not be denied of any citizen, butthere is a line that has to be drawn when considering the audienceinvolved. It’s the artist’s own prerogative when thematerial is on MTV, HBO or after-primetime programs, but it’sirresponsible to behave in such a manner when he or she –yes, male or female — knows that the audience involved is notthe right audience. Forgive the cliché, but let’sconsider the children here. Do we really want young girls paradingaround in barely-there clothing and suffering from body-imageissues caused by the unrealistic standards our society portrays? Dowe really want young boys growing up with the view that women areonly sexual objects or walking around grabbing themselvessuggestively? Celebrities should do their best to be role models inthe presence of children, who will follow in their footsteps.
CBS, NBC, and ABC can only do their part as far as implicatingrules goes. Babysitting is not in their job description. It’stime for artists to consider whom their actions might affect.