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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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February 06, 2005

It's Not the Offensiveness, Stupid

Posted by Ernest Miller

The usually perceptive Mickey Kaus completely misunderstands what he calls "Nipplegate," aka the brohaha over last year's Super Bowl half time show (Janet, Justin and Michael Powell). Kaus writes that the real problem is not prudishness but offensiveness (It's Not the Nipple, Stupid!):

It's Not the Nipple: A Super Sunday reminder to Frank Rich and other righteous anti-FCCers: The big problem with last year's Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake halftime show was not that people saw Jackson's breast. It wasn't what Jackson did that was offensive. It was what Timberlake did. Here was a massively popular, relatively hip singer whose message was that it was a hip, transgressive thing for men to rip clothes off women when they feel like it (which is quite often). I watched the game with a group of non-evangelical, non-moralistic dads who were uniformly horrified. The problem for them wasn't sex--their kids see flesh all the time in videos--but a form of sexism, not prudery but piggishness. Surely there are some types of behavior--homophobia, perhaps, or racism, or Republicanism--that even Frank Rich wouldn't want implicitly endorsed during a telecast watched by most of the country's teens and pre-teens. Yet the press has effectively recast this complicated issue as an uncomplicated case of "Nipple-gate," of blue-noses overreacting to the sight of a breast. No wonder red staters respond negatively when New Yorkers call them simplistic. [emphasis, link in original]
The whole damn half time show last year was in extremely poor taste, capped off with Justin and Janet's offensive behavior (I didn't notice Miss Jackson reprimanding Mr. Timberlake). However, that is not what gets this righteous anti-FCCer upset. Of course, the show was offensive. Let the nation ring with outcries against its offensiveness. Let people boycott the network that broadcast, let them stop buying the products of the shows advertisers, whatever rocks their boat.

However, don't let the government get to decide what is offensive and what is not offensive and fine the heck out of speech they don't like.

It's not the offensiveness, it's the censorship, stupid.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Freedom of Expression


COMMENTS

1. Seth Finkelstein on February 7, 2005 03:04 AM writes...

You're talking past each other. Roughly:

Him: What was offensive was the violence-against-women, not the frontal nudity.

You: The correct response to offensiveness is criticism, not censorship.

Regardless of the merits of each, these are different subjects.

Permalink to Comment

2. Ernest Miller on February 7, 2005 05:23 PM writes...

But Kaus was writing in response to Frank Rich's column, which was not about simple prudery, but that the government is becoming increasingly involved in regulating it. "This might all be laughable were the government not expanding its role as cultural cop. But it is." No one would be writing columns about how prudish the right wing is, if the right wing wasn't also getting the government to enforce that prudishness. That is the main issue.

Permalink to Comment

3. Seth Finkelstein on February 8, 2005 08:20 AM writes...

Yes, but in that perspective, Kaus is saying: The right-wing is not trying to get prudishness censored, the right-wing is trying to get violence-against-women censored.

The talking-past comes because the gist of Kaus'
piece is that Rich misunderstands the motivations
(I happen to think Kaus is factually wrong and Rich is factually right on the issue of motivations, but my viewpoint doesn't matter).
The censorship/free-speech argument isn't the same as the motivations are nudity/violence argument.

Yes, Kaus seems to be also saying censor violence. But almost all of what he's saying is about claiming Rich is misunderstanding motivatons.

Permalink to Comment

4. Reverend Joe on February 8, 2005 02:57 PM writes...

The big problem with last year ... was not that people saw Jackson's breast

Utter horse-hockey.

Same show, same stage, same situation, same lyrics.

Only difference: Timberlake pulls Jackson's jacket down, exposing her bare ... shoulder.

Now, one year later, is Kaus, or Rich, or me, or you, still talking about this incident? Would we have anything more than a vague memory of it?

*ahem* I think not.

If you want to be prudish, that's fine, it's your prerogative, but at least own up to it. If you're too ashamed of your own philosophy to admit it as such, maybe you should consider changing it, rather than making up phony excuses like the above for your "outrage".

Permalink to Comment

5. Bob Ellis on February 9, 2005 01:24 PM writes...

Justin and Janice's act was violence against women? Compare that bizarre stretch to kicking a male in the groin or having a dog bite his genitals. Both were featured in Super Bowl commercials.

Violence against males has been consistently ignored in media hype about violence against women. For scientific documentation concerning the seriousness of the problem of assaults on males genitals, see
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=7474274&dopt=Abstract

And if you're interested in the neglected half of the story about domestic violence, see
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1353322,00.html

Relating everything to violence against women and ignoring vicious violence against men is a bizarre pathology of our age.


Permalink to Comment

6. Bill Swift on February 10, 2005 01:21 PM writes...

Justin and Janice's act was violence against women? Compare that bizarre stretch to kicking a male in the groin or having a dog bite his genitals. Both were featured in Super Bowl commercials.

Violence against males has been consistently ignored in media hype about violence against women. For scientific documentation concerning the seriousness of the problem of assaults on males genitals, see
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=7474274&dopt=Abstract

And if you're interested in the neglected half of the story about domestic violence, see
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1353322,00.html

Relating everything to violence against women and ignoring vicious violence against men is a bizarre pathology of our age.

Permalink to Comment

7. Branko Collin on February 19, 2005 07:19 PM writes...

It would seem to me that any ripping happened with Janet Jackson's consent. Also, even though it is wrong to force violence upon women, women may enjoy phantasies of brutality or even the real thing (think SM). Furthermore, exploring real world issues is what artists do; whether Jackson and Timberlake were "discussing" violence as a sexual or sexist issue, they were doing so as artists.

Claiming that their act was offensive because it was sexist is far-fetched. Claiming that only Timberlake was in the wrong is not just far-fetched, but is sexist in itself. It pushes Jackson into the role of a mindless bystander, somebody who had no say in the matter, and does so purely based on her gender.

Now, if you want to look at something that indeed is sexist, you need not look much further than the same Super Bowl. How do big-breasted cheerleaders add anything other than heterosexual male oriented sex to a sports event? And how is that not sexist?

No, it seems to me that Jackson was punished by the state for controling her own sexuality. The state is perfectly fine with men dictating the way a woman should handle her sexuality. Show your boobs as a cheerleader, and you'll be fine. Take your own decisions as to how and where and when you will show your boobs, and you'll be fined.

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