Table of Contents

Brian the Writer

Halftime for Halfwits

Brian McCorkle

Super Bowl 2004. The shot seen around the world.

In The Two Cultures, C. P. Snow gave a definition of culture which I find helpful in understanding life, the universe, and everything else. The definition states the characteristic of a culture is that all members will respond the same to like events without thinking. For me, this notion of culture is synonymous with community.

The goings on since the great Super Bowl Sunday of February 1, 2004 have certainly demonstrated the ability of people and institutions to repeat what has been said before and not question the history or the sensibility of the expression.

I'll admit right away that I am a heretic. I have been called un-American by some, due to my inability to become rabid about that spectacle of uncapitalistic consumerism: the sport of watching football. Popular players get huge salaries. Politicians and the public place the funding of football stadiums above mundane issues, such as education of the faceless mass of children and the rather large homicide rate among young American males. In fact, woe to the President who would interrupt a game with an important announcement. And yet, I just don't care who wins and who loses.

When the various Un-American Activities Committees are reinstated, no doubt, I'll be at the top of their lists at the congressional and state levels. I missed all of the 2004 Super Bowl with the vaunted commercials, the half-time show, and even the game. I was not sufficiently motivated to watch the ten o'clock news to catch the result.

But Monday morning was a little different. The morning newstainments were abuzz, as usual, with hype and hoopla about the game. It appears that someone had won the game and someone had lost. There were some commercials that truly had reached vaunthood. Some had not. A male streaker was shown with his butt properly censored. The half-time entertainment was mostly ho-hum. Until the infamous breast incident: Janet Jackson accidentally, or accidentally on purpose, showed a full frontal view of her right breast. Actually not quite full. She wore an interesting solar nipple medallion.

I watched while Matt Lauer, cohost of the NBC Today Show, carried on about it, because “children were watching. I assumed he was not including nursing infants. Was he concerned about three-year-olds? Perhaps two-year-old testosterone-laden boys would get ideas? Or was there something about six-year- old eyes that would become irretrievably damaged? Or about those teenagers (we all know about those) who might gain illicit knowledge before the magic age of eighteen, when they suddenly transit from innocents to knowledgeable American adults?

Some fans who were interviewed were unaware of the vision they had missed. Thanks to the muckraker Matthew Drudge (http: //www., I could get some close-up pictures, including the medallion. Drudge published rhetoric from the NFL, CBS, MTV, and the FCC, each mimicking claims of disgust and sickness at this display of human femininity. Drudge claimed that CBS was in on this from the beginning, whenever that was. CBS and the NFL immediately blamed MTV.

MTV has long been considered a corrupter of youth. This organization is in the company of parents, schools, comic books, Socrates, music, and more as being the culprit of what is wrong with young people today.

MTV was able to display the greatest of American taboos: male frontal nudity. In 1990, the B52's produced a video of their hit Roam. Part of the video showed naked New Guinea male dancers. Perhaps the taboo people didn't know what they were looking at or thought it was a National Geographic special. MTV denied any involvement with the fleshy ending of the half-time show.

In 1968, NBC and sponsor Plymouth insisted on suppressing an even more potentially dangerous act that was part of a prime-time production. White vocalist Petula Clark touched black Harry Belefonte's elbow at the end of a duet. NBC and Plymouth insisted on cutting that very offensive touch. However, Clark and the show producers refused. American youth was exposed to the touch. Yet, no riotous behavior took place. No one went blind from this sight. There was no plethora of white American teenage girls grasping the elbows of black males. Well, there was one adverse effect. A Plymouth executive was sacrificially relieved of his duties after some liberals opined that the attempted cleansing was based on racism.

Rock and Roll had long been considered to be a terrible influence on the young. However, in the 1990's, censors and taboo believers turned toward the Internet as yet another corrupter of youth. America Online decided to clean up its chat rooms to avoid excessive congressional voyeurism. Its self-censorship included striking the word “breast” from all discussion groups. A breast cancer discussion group was part of the word pogrom. It is not clear if any of the nine-billion words for breasts would have been acceptable, but the banning and blocking of this one word did make discussion awkward.

NBC was caught in another bit of controversy in 2000. A woman flashed the camera during an outside session with some of the Today Show cast. The scene was blipped for the benefit of midwesterners and westerners (easterners are stronger persons). That same year, President Clinton was flashed by a young woman after he autographed her blouse. I'm sure that act destroyed his innocence; retroactively to his childhood.

Of course, for the decency folks, it is not only vision that corrupts. Words, too, can be indecent. Although how good words go bad or indecent words are reformed is a mysterious process. But taboo words are under fire in this age of innocence. Interestingly, words that cause visceral reactions in native speakers do not have the same reaction for second-language speakers. It just might not be the word that is causing the difficulty.

When I watch television, it is often with half a mind. The tube is more background than foreground. When PBS had a series on the blues, I was mildly interested to hear some of the musicians uttering big-time taboo words. There were no bleeps, only words. The FCC seems not to have noticed. Perhaps the self-appointed censors and FCC word police don't watch public television. Perhaps they don't understand taboo words when spoken with a British accent.

Last year I watched one part of a PBS series on breast cancer. The program involved taking a photo of three women for a calendar. One of the women, who had a reconstruction, removed her top, and her breasts were air brushed away. A little later the air brushing stopped. This was not a program shown during the dinner hour. PBS is not yet considered to be a nefarious corrupter of youth.

There was a riot after a football game in Boston that included a fatality. Aftergame football riots, while not commonplace, are common enough. However, neither the NFL nor the FCC considered the effects of the aftergame violence to rise to the level of damage caused by the display of part of a breast, especially the part that contains the areola. Obviously that part of the female anatomy is truly inflaming, although men's areolae have been exempt so far. Actually, the areola was mostly covered by the solar medallion. It must be the nipple that’s responsible for the damage.

In our culture, males are allowed to outgrow the danger of taboo words. Americans treat male and female humans as separate species and, in keeping with that distinction, females are not supposed to use those words or shrink from their utterance, or even not to know their meanings. We live in a society that considers itself modern and advanced, yet practices (and sometimes enforces) sex-specific speech. In the 1950's and 60's, Wisconsin, like many other states, conferred certain aspects of adulthood on females at age eighteen. These same aspects were withheld from males until they were twenty-one. Yet, males could withstand the power of these words and females (of any age) could not.

There is no doubt that regulation would be warranted if speech did indeed cause harm . This does not mean that things like hurt feelings should be protected, as some suggest. Obese persons can claim hurt feelings if someone calls them fat. But it is their responsibility to recognize the truth of the statement, even if they prefer “obese” to “fat.” Blaring loudspeakers in a neighbor's window could be construed as harmful. Causing a panic in a crowded area could be construed as harmful, even if no one is hurt.

Now, does exposing a female breast in public cause riots? Or deaths, like aftergame sports riots? This remains to be demonstrated. It is also pertinent that breast feeding in public is becoming more acceptable, but is still prosecuted in some areas.

What does constitute a harmful obscene act? Does promoting spectator sports as family events count as healthy? Does spending money on promoting and building football stadiums count as healthy or indecent? Societies that do not have that American anatomy weirdness are no more crime-ridden than our own. Does exposing children to the so-called birds-and-bees reality really cause harm? Should we ban farm children?

A big noise was made about the Super Bowl being part of the dinner hour and being a family event. The stereotype of football spectator is a beer-drinking, chip-eating, obese, dense male. In reality, many women have been football fans for a long time, yet the stereotype has persisted. Until now. Suddenly, according to FCC chair Michael K. Powell, the spectacle has changed from adults watching and partying to an event that counts as family time, a time that is now claimed to be the dinner/family hour. It is not clear to me whether most families are truly eating dinner for an hour during the Super Bowl, or whether this means that children are watching television when they should be eating.

But I can understand how sitting in front of the TV watching burly men run into each other could be called family time. That is the main reason five- and six-year-olds would watch the Super Bowl. It is a required activity. With the addition of TV dinners, American families can have the best of the dinner hour and family time.

There is one thing I've seen on television that I felt was truly indecent. This is a commercial in which a male spends a great deal of money for jewelry that he then gives to a female. She then clasps the male tightly and repeats I love you over and over. If the gift were money instead of jewelry, that would be an illegal activity in most jurisdictions in this country.

A few days after the Super Bowl, I was at a local library. On a magazine rack, barely two feet from the floor was a magazine cover showing a full female bare breast. An infant hovered hungrily near by. Perhaps Matt Lauer was indeed concerned about nursing infants.

First Appeared in Ego Trips Number Three (Autumn 2004)
Experimental Literary Journal of the
Fox Valley Writers Club (Wisconsin)