Howard Dean stepped into the culture wars this week by proclaiming as "silly" a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation of the on-air smut that passed for halftime entertainment at this year's Super Bowl. "There's a great many far worse things on television that you can inadvertently turn on when you happen to be cruising through cable at regular viewing hours," Dean said from the campaign trail. He didn't explain how he would know, however, since he and his wife have repeatedly told us that they don't subscribe to cable television.
Apparently, Dr. Dean didn't see Janet Jackson's exposed breast on network TV either -- but an estimated 99 million other Americans did, along with viewers in 229 countries, including China. And one of them was FCC chairman Michael Powell.
"Like millions of Americans," Powell said, "my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better." Powell promised an investigation of whether CBS violated its federal license by airing indecent material over the public airwaves -- which is very different than airing raunchy material over cable or satellite channels to which viewers must actively subscribe. The FCC has no role to play in policing the latter, but they can, by federal law, punish broadcasters who violate the rules when it comes to misusing the airwaves.
It's easy enough to shrug off the publicity stunt by Jackson and co-performer Justin Timberlake, who ripped off Jackson's bra cup at the conclusion of his song "Rock Your Body," as he sang, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song." Like so many "entertainers" today -- Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, to name only a few -- these performers display more skin than musical talent. Their aim is to shock and arouse their audiences, while making millions of dollars in the process. And the Super Bowl extravaganza was a perfect showcase for this new genre of sexualized sleaze.
As Powell observed in a Washington Post interview, Jackson's exposed mammary "wasn't even the most offensive part ... The whole performance was onstage copulation." Indeed, the choreography looked like it was borrowed from some porn film, and even before Timberlake ripped open her bodice, Jackson's dominatrix outfit looked more suited to an S&M flick than broadcast television.
And the other "stars" were no better. There was Nelly grabbing his crotch -- a move made famous in pop music by Janet's infamous brother Michael, who now faces charges for alleged child molestation. And Kid Rock, who wore an American flag as a poncho while he passed on his best wishes to the "hookers all trickin' out in Hollywood." All of this is pretty standard fare for cable's MTV, which produced the offensive show, but it pushes the envelope yet further when it comes to family entertainment over the public airwaves.
Hollywood seems intent on pushing its corrupt values into American homes, whether we like it or not. Nudity, profane and vulgar language, promiscuous sex and obscene violence are Hollywood staples -- there is hardly a movie made today that doesn't include all or many of these elements, and television fare isn't much better. A whole generation of young people has been raised on a steady diet of this foul stuff, and we will all pay the consequences.
Maybe Howard Dean doesn't think our country is any the worse for it, but there are plenty of Americans who are fed up. Heads should roll at CBS and MTV, both owned by media giant Viacom, for foisting this crude act on us. And the NFL should decide whether it is promoting the game of football or soft-core porn with its Super Bowl half-time "entertainment." Apologies just don't cut it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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