What A World

What A World: Poetic Justice

Court functions properly by discarding decision about Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction.’

By Nancy Ford

NancyFord at desk
Nancy Ford

Did you hear the big news?

Nipplegate, the lawsuit involving the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake breast-baring incident that occurred during the 2004 Super Bowl has been thrown out by a federal appeals court.

According to Billboard.com, a panel of judges ruled the fine was wrong to be issued, saying the Federal Communications Commission had “acted arbitrarily and capriciously.” The $550,000 indecency fine was levied against CBS Corp after 90 million-or-so viewers saw Timberlake reach across Jackson’s bosom during the halftime show, arbitrarily and capriciously revealing Jackson’s breast as he sang, “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”

You might not recall the incident—the media barely mentioned it.

More than four years later, I find myself still wondering what the big deal was. I wouldn’t call the whole incident much ado about nothing; I’d never refer to prime time ta-ta as nothing. I’m just glad the federal court exercised perspective in the case, and we can get back to concentrating on more important matters. You know, stuff like the war, the economy, and reserving tickets to Mamma Mia.

But really, what were those two nutty kids thinking? Justin claims to this day that it was an accident, forever ensconcing the term “wardrobe malfunction” in our global lexicon.

Mmhmmm. If that was an accident, then exactly what was supposed to happen? Maybe Miss Jackson-If-You’re-Nasty (and if you’re reading this column, you likely are) was supposed to lose her entire leather bodice, but Justin failed to connect on the extra point.

It was actually something of a relief that the court’s original decision and accompanying heavy fine recognized the blatant display of heterosexism this malfunctioning wardrobe travesty revealed. What’s this world coming to if gay families can’t tune in to the time-honored tradition of the Super Bowl on a Sunday night—the Lord’s night, no less—without having to expose ourselves, not to mention our adopted and in-vitro children, to the antics of Straight Girls and Boys Gone Wild?


Thinking back to that nacho, hot wings, and beer-infused evening, I distinctly recall our impression of the halftime show. The partyful of lesbians I was watching the Big Game with enjoyed it as much as I did. We had just witnessed the legitimately family values-offending Nelly yank his crotch for three straight minutes. Whatever Nelly had between his legs that day must have been quite valuable, because he checked on it about 30 times throughout his performance to make sure it was still there. Kid Rock followed, using the American flag as a poncho to the oblivious cheers of the patriotic crowd. We were jonesing for a class act when Janet finally brought her amazingly strong yet feminine presence to the stage.

She sang. She danced. She levitated. She and Justin Timberlake wowed the crowd. Then, when Justin ultimately slid his hand over Janet’s bosom, releasing Ms Righty to roam wild and free, he in no uncertain terms brought sexy back. Right back into the living room, in fact. With one accord, my football friends and I momentarily fell silent, dropped our collective jaw, and then erupted in unison:

Did you see that? Janet Jackson nip! Cool! High-five! Thank God for big-screen TV! Quick, TiVo!

We all agreed that Janet’s flash was possibly the most delightful thing we’d ever seen on television. (Providing, that is, we don’t count Ellen’s coming-out episode and Suzanne Pleshette’s showing up in bed with Bob for the Newhart finale.)

Predictably, Jackson’s sunburst areola shield became exceedingly popular among those who believe piercing isn’t just for earlobes. I learned from the ‘net that Ms Jackson’s crew bought the bauble at Taurian, a tattoo and piercing boutique here in the heart of Montrose. As a result, that particular style continues to this day to fly off eclectic jewelry shelves everywhere.

Hear that clicking? That was Homeland Security adding a file entitled “Nipple Jewelry” to my ever-thickening personal file of Google searches.

It’s appropriate that the $550,000 judgment against CBS was reversed. In response to multiple phone calls from the public following the 2004 airing, then-acting chief of the Houston Police Department, Joe Breshears, stated that no criminal charges would be filed in connection with the incident. At the time, Breshears told the Houston Chronicle that “actions that may seem in poor taste do not necessarily rise to the level of violations of Texas law”—a Lone Star understatement if ever I heard one. If poor taste were a violation of Texas law, I’d be writing this column from prison. Good thing it’s not; orange is not my color.

When folks remember Super Bowl 38, they first talk about Janet and Justin’s pas de tit. They might recall the naked Riverdance spontaneously reenacted by a streaker running onto the field. They almost never mention that the New England Patriots won the game, presumably without videotaping the opposing team.

We can only hope in years to come they remember the whole thing—the game, the glory, themalfunction—happened right here in Houston, in Texas, where everything is bigger. Including Janet’s ample C-cup. All $550,000’s-worth of it.


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