Diana West

I don't know whether any self-respecting Victorian matron ever called a leg a "limb" to blinker vice, but I do know that Janet Jackson has described the appearance of her right breast, which -- yick -- protruded itself between the first and second halves of this Super Bowl XXXVIII, a "costume reveal." For this she wins not the halftime, but the all-time prize for euphemism ad absurdum, besting partner-in-primetime-crime Justin Timberlake, who called Jackson's tawdry incident a "wardrobe malfunction," which was just plain lame.

Still, I'm grateful to them both, a little. Given there were more Internet searches for this one singer's mammary gland than even the attacks of Sept. 11, we must devote a passing thought to Jackson's rough exhibitionism. At least the term "costume reveal," even "wardrobe malfunction," helps blindfold the acutely visual powers of the imagination. Any barrier, even a flimsy one, is better than nothing.

Which the folks at CBS think they have all figured out. Americans can now expect to tuck into their Sunday dinners in front of the 46th Annual Grammy Awards without tossing their -- rather, without "suffering digestive malfunction" -- because CBS plans to edit out "inappropriate and unexpected events" with a new five-second audio and video delay. ABC may follow suit with a similar filter on its Academy Awards broadcast. This shows how far our civilization has evolved.

Or does it? Will pop-tart lip-locks be deleted by CBS censors? Will choreographed freaking -- dance routines that simulate sexual intercourse -- disappear from the screen? Will any bad (but no doubt meaningful) words from Bono be bleeped? The fact is, even if CBS had been prepared to fuzz over Jackson's unexpected, er, malfunction, it's more than likely the network's five-second censors would have smiled placidly on the gruesome frenzy of "expected" stripping and writhing that passed for entertainment (another euphemism) at the Super Bowl. Which makes me realize we don't need a five-second delay; what we need is a wall -- a wall to protect us against the degradation of our own pop culture.

But where to put it? We all breathe the same pop-polluted air, and we are all numbed by our exposure to it. Jackson may have brought down the house with her display (on her head, that is), but she still managed to soil our common national experience a little more by including in her act not the unthinkable, exactly, but rather the unthought of. That is, once upon a time, people expected a marching band to come out between football game halves; from now on, they'll look for breasts. And, ho hum, what next? In the frantic search for sensation, there is less and less to be found.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).