Once again, this year’s Super Bowl gave us a short course in contemporary American mores. Everyone’s talking about the Janet Jackson incident, but that’s not the half of it.
We can start by trying to appreciate the incredible hype for this particular sporting event. Even though soccer is much more popular around the world, this football contest is seemingly the planet’s greatest spectacle every single year. There is explanation other than pure marketing hype, since the game is usually awful, and is seldom even between the two best teams in the league. This year, for example, we had to wait until almost the end of the first half to see any offense, the officials were far too much a part of the game, and the television announcing crew was barely mediocre.
Former Dallas Cowboys star running back Duane Thomas put it best when he was asked by some idiot sportswriter at the beginning of a 1970’s Super Bowl,”How does it feel to be playing in the ultimate game?” Thomas replied, “If it’s the ultimate game, why are they having one next year?”
As far as Janet Jackson’s half time performance, it was obviously planned, since we must assume that she doesn’t normally wear a pasty. Beyond that, the overreaction is quite amusing. So much of broadcast TV has been dominated by tawdry, salacious images that never actually deliver for so long, you’d think that everyone became Rip Van Winkle for a day!
After all, the great schlockmeister himself, Aaron Spelling, made his fortune on T&A programs, that never showed T or A. And don’t forget that the theme of essentially every situation comedy since the beginning of the medium is that guys are stupid, and that women are in control. Implied sexuality has always been around, and it didn’t start with Barbara Billingsley’s famous line,”Dear, you were a little hard on the Beaver last night,” nor even the various quips that got Soupy Sales into so much trouble some years earlier.
We should really ask what was going through Jackson’s mind that convinced her that her little flash was such a great idea. Does a fleeting moment of semi-nudity make the music better? While it might liven up the performance, will it increase sales? Are there enough sickos out there who think that a disrobing Janet will pop out of their CD or DVD, à la The Ring (2002)? Perhaps JJ and her handlers believe that this is truly cutting edge stuff, when in reality Louise Brooks was doing the titillation thing far better in the 1920’s.
For as long as art has been around, there has always been the conceit that something merely out of the ordinary or “outrageous,” that pushes someone’s boundaries or comfort zone is, by definition, noteworthy or worthwhile. Many examples can be cited, but the case of the film Putney Swope (1969), springs to mind.
Created by Robert Downey, Sr., the story revolves around the Black music director of a New York ad agency, who becomes its board chairman by a silly misadventure. This gives Downey plenty of opportunity to introduce outrageous characters, including a midget foreign-born US president, a car named after Nazi figure Martin Bormann (presumed to be alive at time the movie was released), a trench coat flasher creative director, and a panoply of ethnic stereotypes. While the movie has its moments, it is eminently forgettable given its poor dialogue, pointless story, and hair trigger changes in tone. Yet, simply because it pushed the envelope, the pic had a huge buzz for months.
Downey, Sr. is also remembered for another outrageous act: giving drugs to his seven-year-old son, whom we all fondly know as the severely drugged out and troubled Robert Downey, Jr. Way to go, dad.
Finally, the much publicized $2.3 million for each 30-second spot commercials failed to impress, save the one about the old couple fighting over the snacks, ending in a standoff with the man holding the product, and the woman holding his dentures. If flatulent horses and washing mouths out with soap represent the pinnacle of Madison Avenue creativity, the advertisers should save their money, and instead base the next ones on focus groups with high school and college kids. They could hardly do worse, and they come a whole lot cheaper.
But don’t count on anyone changing the status quo. There’s far too much money in junk.