Janet Jackson, Michael Powell, and the Frustration of Contradiction

As most of the world knows right now, Janet Jackson — either by accident or on purpose — ended up showing one of her breasts to about half of America during the Super Bowl half-time show.

Although I was watching the Super Bowl, I missed this scandalous event — I had the half-time show on the TV, but I was more interested in the Warcraft III game unfolding on my laptop. Silly me.

Anyway, the “incident” happened and a good number of people are in an uproar about it which in turn has caused the ever power-hungry FCC to focus on the case. Now I can understand why people would be upset about this — no one tuned into the Super Bowl looking for a strip-tease, and you should be able to watch what’s normally a fairly family-friendly event without worrying about your 9-year-old getting flashed by Janet Jackson.

However, Michael Powell’s response to this is contradictory and, well, just plain stupid. In this CNN article, he says:

“We all as a society have a responsibility as to what the images and messages our children hear when they’re likely to be watching television.”

I actually take issue with that statement — the government should in no way be attempting to regulate what we can see and here and the decision about what’s appropriate and inappropriate for kids to watch is up to their parents — not Mikey, and certainly not my neighbors. But I digress. Powell follows up his statement with this one:

“I don’t think that’s being moralistic, and I don’t think that’s government trying to tell people how to run their businesses. I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to understand the basic concepts of common decency here.

And that just pisses me off, even more so than Janet’s mammary moment. Because that’s exactly what he is doing — he is being moralistic and he is telling people how to run their businesses. Hell, he wants to see CBS fined $27,500 for each affiliate that aired the scene. Why? Because it offended him and they did something he — and the government — didn’t want them to.

If you’re going to take a moral stand on something, and you intend to wield governmental power to back up that stand and punish those opposed to you, well, then at least be honest about it. That I may disagree with, but I can at least respect someone with a consistent position. But this wishy-washing bureaucratic doublespeak? I can’t — and won’t — respect that at all.

So what do I think should be done about the incident? It should be handled privately, without intervention by the government. If you watched the show, and were infuriated by it, organize a protest. Boycott CBS (which aired the Super Bowl). Boycott AOL (which sponsored the show). Boycott Viacom (whose MTV division produced the show). Hell, boycott Texas for hosting the event. Boycotts can and do work and ultimately market pressure — not fines from the FCC — will be what keeps them from doing it again. Or gets them to do it again (in which case they will undoubtedly lose marketshare as more conservative audiences tune out).

What you shouldn’t do though, is run to the government and demand that they do something about it. The government’s there to protect us from physical threats to our safety … not from Janet Jackson’s breasts.