A Brief History
Digging deeper, we find the National Football League (NFL) Championship Game, known as the Super Bowl, the premier television event of the year in the United States, with 90 million viewers exposed to what became known as “Nipplegate.”
With the Super Bowl regularly commanding such a huge audience, only top-notch entertainers are usually provided as half-time entertainment, and at this Super Bowl Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake headed a lineup that included Nelly, P Diddy and Kid Rock.
The controversial incident occurred when Justin Timberlake was scripted to pull down Janet Jackson’s top, exposing her lacy bra. Instead, the bra came down as well, exposing a breast sporting a silver nipple decoration. Jackson reacted quickly and covered her exposed breast, but the “damage” was done, and millions of people had the evidence on tape!
Reaction was immediate and extreme; people either thought it was great entertainment or believed it was shameful exploitation that should never have occurred on television. In either case, Janet Jackson became the most internet-searched person in history; 35,000 new customers signed up for services from the digital video recorder (DVR) company TiVo; the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was rocked with a half million complaints; and sales of nipple jewelry skyrocketed. Janet Jackson is now even ranked fourth on our list of “Top 10 Famous Breasts“!
The FCC ended up fining CBS $550,000, but that was later overturned on appeal. Sponsors of Jackson and the NFL were in a tizzy as well, and it took a long time for the furor to (partly) settle down. Comedians, talk show hosts, radio personalities, television cartoons and magazines all had a field day with jokes and commentary, and even First Lady Laura Bush mentioned it! Genre magazine ran a piece claiming that this incident was a distraction from President Bush’s failure to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq by providing instead “WM double Ds!”
All this heated reaction made the crotch-grabbing performances by P Diddy and Nelly forgotten as well as Kid Rock wearing an American Flag that he ripped off and threw to the audience. Lost in the commotion were “stripper” cheerleaders and even a male streaker who ran on the field wearing only paint that said “Super Bowel” on the front and an ad for a betting website on his back! (He also wore a tiny football on his genitals.) The streaker was tackled by a linebacker and held by other players until security arrived.
Despite allegations that Jackson’s breast was intentionally exposed for publicity, she has continued to deny that to this day. The event is still hotly debated by the censorship versus free speech crowds, especially in regards to the inconsistencies in enforcing nebulous broadcast standards. Not only did the case nearly reach the Supreme Court, but reporters thought it was important enough to ask President Bush about although the country was already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan!
Question for students (and subscribers): Was this incident blown out or proportion? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Allen, David, Janet Jackson, et al. True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself. Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing, 2011.