Another reason to shoot your TV

Kathleen Parker
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Posted: Feb 04, 2004 12:00 AM

Now we know why Michael Jackson throws towels and veils over his children's heads. His sister, Janet, might be on TV.

Few things are more ennui provoking than discussions of Janet Jackson's breast, which she and dance partner Justin Timberlake infamously exposed for America's families during Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show.

Like most grown-ups, I'd rather ignore Jackson and Timberlake, sort of the way you ignore children who think they're making a revolutionary statement by wearing their pants halfway down their backsides. With time, you figure, it'll occur to them why people keep talking to them as though English were their second language.

The Super Bowl pimp 'n' ho act might be more easily ignored if not for the insipid commentary that has followed Sunday's performance. What's the big deal? It's only a breast, right? Or, as one celebrity publicist put it during an MSNBC segment, "It was just kinda fun." And "Isn't it great that we live in a country where we can talk about things like this?"

Instead of, you know, serious stuff like war and everything.

First things first. Did Janet and Justin plan it? Was it just an accident? A serendipitous instant of live TV? Please. Of course they planned it, protests to the contrary notwithstanding. CBS has said they had no idea that Timberlake would rip off part of Jackson's bodice, thus revealing her alleged mammary.

Fine. On the other hand, surely CBS had a clue that a half-time show produced by MTV might be risky, not to mention risque? As for MTV's protestations that the incident was unplanned and unrehearsed, two words: Nipple ornament.

Jackson's exposed breast featured a metal sunburst ornament covering the nipple. Just part of Jackson's daily wardrobe? Let's see: comb hair, brush teeth, attach nipple ornament. Of course Jackson is known to have numerous body adornments, including various tattoos and piercings, so one more bauble might not slow her down the way it might some of us.

Nevertheless, no one imagines that Jackson's sunburst wasn't meant to be seen. It's also clear from photos plastered on the Internet that the part of Jackson's costume that came off in Timberlake's hand (just as he was singing: "I'll get you naked by the end of this song") was intended for removal.

In any case, the entire display earned the promised FCC investigation. For those having trouble figuring out why - listen up, celebrity publicists - it's not about the hallowed breast. Yes, we know, breasts are natural, part of the female anatomy, and not "nasty."

Objections to the Jackson/Timberlake exhibition are not based in prudery, but are firmly rooted in adulthood.

What's at issue is the matter of age-appropriateness and the all-important question of consent. Adults cavorting sexually in front of children is always inappropriate, a lesson that apparently didn't "take" in the Jackson clan.

As for consent, audiences tune into the Super Bowl with the understanding that this is a family time. Implicit is an agreement between audience and network that content will be consistent with family standards in America's living room.

No one gave their consent, in other words, for entertainers to indulge their adolescent libidos in front of the kids. They did not give consent for their children to be exposed prematurely to sexualized performances. Yet now, Jackson's sunbursted breast has pulled a chair up to the family dinner table and commandeered the conversation.

Viewers have every right to be outraged. Even so, I keep hearing people preface their outrage with an apology: "I don't mean to be a prude or anything, but ..." as though they're somehow at fault.

Thanks to our culture of nonjudgment, we've managed to make people feel guilty or apologetic about expressing objections to that which is clearly objectionable. Meanwhile, we've so objectified children as decor options within variable lifestyle choices that we seem no longer to understand their need - and their right - to be protected from adult appetites.

Janet Jackson's exposed breast wasn't just a breast. It's not as though she was lifting her eyelet smock to nurse the baby Jesus. Her breast was unsheathed in an aggressively sexual context to shock and titillate. But to shock and titillate whom, the children? When no one's a grown-up, it's hard to say.