Super Bowl Fallout: TV Has Itself to Blame

Feb 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Who’s to blame for Janet Jackson’s bare breast at the Super Bowl? Who cares?
As the fallout continues from the halftime incident, everyone is looking for someone to blame. But whether one chooses to single out CBS, MTV, the NFL, Ms. Jackson, Justin Timberlake, a “wardrobe malfunction” or the decline of Western Civilization, the incident raises a broader issue for American broadcast television: With or without the breast flap, the halftime show was inappropriate for one of TV’s most widely viewed events.
The root of the problem was the decision by the National Football League to allow CBS to tap its corporate sibling MTV to produce the show. It smacks of an effort to keep eyeballs glued to the Eye Network during halftime, when they might have switched over to the openly seamy Lingerie Bowl pay-per-view event.
Even with the far less prurient 2001 Super Bowl halftime show already under its belt, MTV could be counted on to push the envelope on sexuality and graphic content. And it did, from Nelly’s extended crotch-grabbing workout to cheerleaders tearing off their clothes on cue. That was just MTV doing what MTV does.
The Super Bowl is one of the few events all generations of Americans watch together and millions of viewers around the world watch as a symbol of what America is about. Here was one chance for TV to bring us all together as a family. Instead of great entertainment for all ages, the defining image was one of vulgarity.
Television seems to have replaced its responsibility to serve the public with a need to whip viewers into a fervor. It’s not just CBS and MTV who were to blame; they were playing by the rules to which the industry as a whole has succumbed. Maybe there’s a silver lining in the fact that this time it blew up in television’s face.
We still believe television can promote positive values in our culture. In the case of Super Bowl XXXVIII, that opportunity was lost. Instead, we are left with an orgy of finger pointing and a cynical belief that just about everybody involved is lying about something. And we wonder why our young people are jaded, why our country’s values seem to be getting more bizarre all the time.