The Nipple That Won't Go Away

February 08, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

One week after the Superbowl, the insane controversy about Janet Jackson's right breast is still going strong. Since I last wrote about this subject (Monday 2/2), I have had a little time to reflect on it, and my incredulity has only grown. Certainly, the amount of "legitimate" press exposure the incident has received is far above and beyond what is deserved, and the biggest boobs in this situation are the people who are trying to make political hay by capitalizing on Jackson's flash dance.

First, there are the questions of why and when the female breast became obscene. After all, we all have breasts - the only difference is that 50% of the population possesses extra fatty tissue and glands for milk production. Yet, while it's perfectly acceptable for males to flash them - nipples and all - in public, it's taboo in the United States for women to do the same. The "why" of this has a lot to do with prudishness and Puritanism. Are female breasts a sexual turn-on for some men? Unquestionably, yes. But the same can be true of legs, feet, hands, and hair (depending on the individual), and those aren't required to be kept under wraps. While it wouldn't be appropriate for women to walk around topless all the time (much as it is inappropriate for men to walk around topless all the time), it makes no sense to legislate against the exposure of breasts. (Anyone remember the public breast-feeding furor that swept the country a few years ago?)

Many parents were horrified that their children were exposed to the sight (however brief and unclear) of Janet Jackson's breast on live TV. Again, I am forced to ask the same question: why? Why should the sight of any breast be offensive to a child (especially since most of them are only a few years removed from sucking on them)? An even stranger question is why parents should be offended by the flash, when they were apparently not concerned with the sexually suggestive gyrations and lyrics that preceded that climactic moment. The whiff of hypocrisy is stronger than skunk roadkill. Many of the people expressing outrage over the quick nip shot don't have a problem with Nelly crooning, "It's getting hot in here. So take off all your clothes." Huh?

Was it a publicity stunt? Of course - one of the most blatant and crass sort imaginable. If there's something to be annoyed about, it's the way Janet Jackson played the viewing public for suckers. As an attempt to attract attention, it may have worked too well. I doubt Jackson thought her stunt would end up garnering her name more internet searches than any other moniker in history. As for Justin Timberlake - is there a luckier guy than this? Not only has he slept with both Britney Spears and Cameron Diaz, but he got to rip off Janet Jackson's top without being slapped.

Of course, someone had to file a lawsuit, which serves only to elevate this already overblown subject to new heights of lunacy. (The word "farce" was coined for this kind of idiotic escalation.) The woman's claims to have been "injured" by Jackson's display of flesh makes one wonder exactly what the nature of the injury is. Meanwhile, MTV and CBS practically wet themselves trying to distance their corporate butts from the infamous 1.5 seconds. Suddenly, there will be no more live TV events. Sports and awards shows will be delayed so that censors can eliminate anything deemed offensive. So much for freedom of speech and expression. If there's one silver lining in this entire mess, it's that the NFL has jettisoned MTV from producing the halftime show. Maybe next year, it will actually be entertaining.

No Trim Please

One of this week's most frequently asked e-mail questions (aside from whether I would like a penis enlargement or a new mortgage) was about why I am not planning to review Barbershop 2 (or a variation on the theme, why I am not planning to review Catch That Kid.). The answer requires an explanation of what goes into my decision to review/not review a particular film. The answer has less to do with my expectations about a movie and than with logistics.

As a rule, I do my best to avoid seeing new movies on weekends. (I enjoy having a little "down" time.) 90% of the films I see are on weekdays, at press and/or promotional screenings. For me to see a picture on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, it has to be something I was unable to catch at a preview (because of a conflict or because I couldn't make the screening) and have a genuine desire to see. In addition, I generally review only films that I view before they open or during their opening weekend. If I see something a few weeks after its local release, I usually do not write a review.

Another contributing factor is the location of the screening. Because I am inconveniently located 60 minutes away from Philadelphia, where most of the previews are shown, attending requires a degree of effort. And there is one cesspool of a theater that I avoid at almost all costs. It consistently has poor projection and sound quality (rarely is a film in focus and interruptions for breaks and re-splicing are commonplace), is manned by surly, unhelpful employees, and often smells of unmentionable odors. The only time I go there is when I really want to see something early. Fortunately, the local publicity companies have limited their use of this place. However, that's where Barbershop 2 was shown, and that's the primary reason I skipped it. On the other hand, Catch That Kid would have forced me to get up early on a Saturday morning, and doing that is almost as much an anathema as heading off to the dive by the Delaware.