Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fingers and Birds, Nipples and Careers: WTF?

It's a snowy Saturday morning and I feel a rant coming on...

Fingers and birds

It all started on Thursday when I read this headline on Yahoo:

M.I.A. could be in breach of contract for lewd act during Super Bowl halftime show
During the "Gimme All Your Luvin" segment of Madonna's Super Bowl Halftime performance last Sunday, rapper M.I.A. flipped the proverbial bird, and this Yahoo news item was the first I'd seen or heard of the incident, even though I'd watched the performance a few times on my DVR. The crux of the article, of course, was speculation whether or not the NFL would fine M.I.A. for her 'crude move,' especially given the fact that the show was seen by 111 million viewers (a record!). To this question, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello would not comment.

In an interview with Ryan Seacrest yesterday, Madonna said she had no idea M.I.A. was going to do such a thing, and she didn't learn of it until after the show. '"I wasn't happy about it," Madonna told Ryan Seacrest. "I understand it's kind of punk rock and everything, but to me there was such a feeling of love and good energy and positivity, it seemed negative."' Is this the same Madonna I've known and loved for like ever?

Well, the answer to that question is both yes and no. Madonna herself has been no stranger to controversy during her 30 some- odd years in the public eye. From the racy photos of her "Sex" book to dancing amongst burning crosses and writhing on a stage floor in a wedding dress, Madge has had her own fair share of public faux pais. M.I.A. flips the very same bird in the video for "Gimme," during Nicki Minaj's sequence, and so if she could do it there, why is it so shocking that she did it at the Super Bowl?

Of course, Madonna had to publicly state that she was disappointed by the finger incident. After all this is America, where we are so tightly wound as a society that the most common of gestures become suddenly appalling when done in places where our kids can see them. Or maybe it's just where kids can see them in the company of adults? After all, no one complained about the very same bird in the video.

Nipples and Careers

Of course this Super Bowl thing has its roots in the same big show from 2004, when then-still-popular Janet Jackson's nipple became exposed in an incident that notoriously coined the phrase "wardrobe malfunction." The backlash that came after that one was huge, costing television stations millions in fines and ultimately decimating Jackson’s career from the bona fide superstar she was at the time to the unfortunate 'has-been' status she holds today.

Since that nipple incident, Jackson has had one, count em, one, top twenty single ("Feedback," which hit #19 in 2007). She had a total of 25 such songs before then, ten of which hit #1. You could argue with me all you want, but I have always been a big Janet fan and I can say without trepidation that she is no longer the star she once was and I point to that "wardrobe malfunction" as the culprit.


I think that the Yahoo article about M.I.A.'s Super Bowl bird is unnecessarily stirring the pot, shining a spotlight on something that many people probably didn't even notice. I never saw it until I read the article and watched the accompanying video. By trumpeting it out there, they're making a bigger deal out of it than it should be. So far, the NFL hasn’t taken any action, and I hope they don't. It will only cause more people to see it and to talk about it, adding yet another ugly chapter to our hypocritically Puritan-like society.

If you ask me, American society is way too uptight. We like to think that kids don't know about things such as nipples, dirty words and gestures, but they know a lot more than we give them credit for, and the reason they know such things is because we make them 'dirty' by trying to shield kids from them. By making such a big stink out of such things, adults are telling children that they are taboo, thus causing an automatic interest in them.

If we don't make it a big deal, then it's not

When I was in Italy a few years ago, I saw television commercials on public stations that showed bare-chested women, and you know what, I'll bet that kids over there don't think it's such a big deal when they see it. If it's on the boob tube (pardon the pun), then their society must not think it's so taboo and so it's not for the children. Here, when we trumpet the 'evil' in such images and ideas, our children sense it as a no-no, and so they seek out ways to exploit them.

So maybe M.I.A. did perform an 'obscene' gesture at the Super Bowl. How is that any different than what we see in everyday life? How many times a day do you see a bird or hear a cuss word? I missed the bird at the Super Bowl, and I'm sure many others did, as well. By making a big thing of it, you're causing an adverse effect on the public than what your intentions were. Madonna, I think, had to say what she said about the incident. She's smart enough that she has to go along with societal norms the way they are or suffer a blow to her fame, and her wallet.

This commentary in no way endorses public displays of the things we generally consider as obscene. Giving the one-fingered salute, swearing, and showing off body parts in such an open way is classless, but in a society that claims to be so free, we need to not make such a big deal about it, for it will invariably have the opposite effect than what we want it to have. Period.

Image Sources:

MIA flipping the bird - ibtimes

Madonna from the "Sex" book - trend forward

Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction - Cele[bitchy

Italian nude advertisement - CNBC

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