The world was shocked during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show when recording artist and pop icon Janet Jackson exposed her right breast. Hours after the stunt, Jackson’s record label announced that the lead single from her forthcoming album would be released in the following days, leading many people to concluded that the Super Bowl incident was a desperate publicity stunt No matter her intentions, Jackson’s performance was an ingenious publicity stunt of grandiose proportions. It raised important issues of media censorship in America while cementing Jackson not only as an innovative entertainer, but also as a social activist. Her exposure did not demean the feminist ideal, nor did it present violence against women in a positive light. Quite to the contrary, it portrayed violence against women negatively by inverting the situation and humiliating and debasing the attacker, in this case Justin Timberlake. MTV planned for Timberlake to remove part of Jackson’s cat suit, revealing the red bustier she was wearing underneath her costume. Had this occurred, it would have succeeded in degrading women and portraying them as submissive sexual objects. However, Jackson’s stunt turned the mediocre finale of a rather unmemorable performance into a head-turning commentary on the values of today’s media. It drew worldwide scrutiny and resulted in a censorship crisis. When Timberlake removed the garment, instead of revealing a red bra, he exposed her breast with its nipple concealed by a small covering. Suddenly, an action that would have debased Jackson became one that humiliated Timberlake and surrounded him with negative media attention. Timberlake was accused of participating in a stunt that portrayed women in a perverse way, forcing him to make a public apology as a condition for his attendance to the following week’s Grammy Awards. Jackson’s performance is an example of the sexism that pervades American media. Had Timberlake removed his own shirt at the conclusion of the song, the incident would have drawn little media attention. Yet the public was shocked because America has turned the female breast, a symbol of fertility and femininity, into a symbol of illicit sexuality that must be hidden. Janet used the stunt to encourage questions about how the feminist ideal relates to the pop culture blast of the 1990s. Although some people feel that pop stars who essentially sell their bodies to make money are causing a regression in the progress women have made in the 20th century, nothing could be further from the truth. Fifty years ago, female nudity on television was an unheard of concept. Now it is commonplace. Who is being demeaned by feminine sexuality in the media: men or women? While feminine sexuality on TV and in film urges men to view women as sexual objects, women get the last laugh. Pop stars and models are able to make fortunes by doing relatively little work. With the accumulation of money comes power. While women may be the ones using sexuality to their advantage, it is the ogling men who are paying for their Mercedes and mansions. Those who criticize media sexuality for encouraging teens to dress provocatively and teaching them that sex is the only thing they have to offer fail to realize that it is not the job of pop icons to baby-sit the America’s children. While Jackson may not have intended for her halftime stunt to elicit the reaction it did, she has nonetheless sparked a debate about censorship in America that will not quickly pass. MTV has already banned several music videos from daytime play in order to be sensitive to heightened concern regarding censorship. With her Super Bowl stunt and the ensuing publicity, Jackson has joined the ranks of Madonna, Cristina Aguilera, and Britney Spears as an entertainer who uses her power and influence to incite discussion about social injustices. The much-publicized kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna at this year’s Video Music Awards brought to America’s dinner tables important questions about gay’ and lesbian’s portrayal in the media while Aguilera addressed transgender issues and anorexia in the music video for her song “Beautiful”. Jackson needs to be praised rather than condemned for her Super Bowl stunt because her actions have inspired a necessary reexamination of sexuality in the media and in American society.
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