The Savage Breast

Frank Rich, in the New York Times, describes the corrosive power of Janet Jackson's breast on our liberties. Plus the intimidation of PBS, and Margaret Spellings' quest to turn the Dept. of Education into a Ministry of Information.

This repressive cultural environment was officially ratified on Nov. 2, when Ms. Jackson's breast pulled off its greatest coup of all: the re-election of President Bush.

Whenever I see the infamous Halftime wardrobe malfunction, I think of my mother. This is not due to some latent milk fixation, but rather to the fact that when Ms. Jackson went out of Control, I was on the phone with my mother.

It's not unusual that I would be on the phone with my mother on a Sunday night. It's a good time to catch up on the happenings of the past week, and the plans for the next. Nor is it unusual that I would be at home on SuperBowl Sunday. I've long passed the age when I can endure hours on end in the testosterone-and-beer satured environment of a bar. Well, OK, sometimes. But just two beers, and then I'm leaving. I mean it.

So it happened that last year during halftime, I made my Sunday evening phone call. We were half-watching and half-talking, and when the climactic scene unfolded, there was a stunned silence on both ends of the phone. My mother spoke first.

"Did he just...?" she trailed off.

"Naaaaawww," I said, disbelieving. "I don't think so."

The broadcast director cut away so quickly and facilely to another camera angle, one that wasn't trained on Janet and Justin, that I thought it must have been choreographed. I didn't believe that anyone could have processed the visual information and made such an astute camera call in that amount of time, unless it had been rehearsed that way.

Well, as usual, my mother was right. And now, every time the scene is replayed in its pixellated, dissipated version, I remember how she beat me to the punch. Even though I am of the TV generation, and am supposed to have seen it all, she was the first to believe that not only could it happen on live TV -- it did.

In the past year, much in America has changed. We seem to disagree more deeply and irrevocably than ever on certain issues. Did Janet Jackson start it? No. But like Helen of Troy, she may have launched a thousand Focus on the Family ships, headed for FCC ports. If nothing else, along with her assets, she certainly put America's conflicted moral soul on display to the rest of the world.

Now everything is a battle. SpongeBob and Arthur the Bunny are vilified for the downfall of Western civilization, while the trashing of the environment, privacy, civil liberties, and human rights largely gets a pass. Frank Rich says

The cartoon surrogates are deliberately chosen to camouflage the harshness of their assault on nonanimated, flesh-and-blood people.

After more than 200 years, is it actually becoming harder for Americans to tolerate each other?

I'm going to call my Mom and see what she thinks.

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