The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004
 

The ideology of Janet Jackson's tits - some areas for research


OK, tit.

Beyond the issues already canvassed by the press pack - whose slobber is already threatening flooding to several counties - there are one or two points (oh dear...) that seem not to have got the attention they deserved.

  1. The fact that, in the stunt, only one breast was revealed - whereas, usually, they tend to appear in pairs.

    A tease, certainly; but also unsatisfying - aesthetically - to the target audience.

    I'm no art expert; but my recollection is that there are numerous paintings of Classical subjects where only a single breast is exposed. And the iconic figure of Marianne (embodiment of the French Republic) usually appears with one, and only one, breast bared [1]. The ideology of the single bared breast needs following up - but by someone with actual art expertise.


  2. Another illustration of compartmentalisation in American society. At least half of all Americans are online; one can scarcely click on a link without falling over some picture or other of a female in a state of undress, often showing more than she does to her gynecologist. Old(er) folks, kids, they all see this stuff; everyone knows they do. The full glory of the female form is a mystery to no one.

    Yet, a second of tit on the Superbowl, and there is the Mother of All Press-packs. The Chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, which kept its cool over Bono's fuck, goes completely troppo. Speaking uncannily in the voice of South Park's Kyle's Mom (in full anti-Canadian flow), he ranted (PDF - why?):

    I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better.

    From all I've read, I gather that the Superbowl (aside from the football - remember that?) was designed as a classless, crass and deplorable stunt, as gauged by the American Pie level at which its ads were pitched - World Series games don't have this sort of trouble.

    On occasions like this, the compartments are separated by rice paper; it doesn't take much and, whoops! - suddenly the various generations sitting around the TV see each other gazing, albeit (and let's not forget the fact) momentarily, on the taboo object.

    And Congressmen's fax machines suddenly run out of paper.


  3. Within the arcane rules of the American breast taboo, a special chapter is needed for the nipple. Jackson, of course, had the nipple of her exposed breast covered in a nipple shield - though not the regular kind as known to nursing mothers.

    And - wittingly or not - surely reduced the seriousness of her offence. Because, in the land of US TV, there is a distinction between the breast and the nipple when it comes to on-air display. Whereas display of breast flesh in general seems permissible, licence stops at the areola. NYPD Blue made a - well, fetish of its nude scenes. But all one ever saw was flesh: not the slightest flash of nipple [2].

    Where's the ideology here? The nipple is, after all, the business end of the breast, in its primary function. Many TV executives will have fed on them as babies. It seems to be the Ground Zero of the maelstrom of conflicted emotions about sex (Bad) and procreation (Good) and the devilish way these two are interlinked.

    Jackson, as it were, genuflected to this taboo within the taboo: she stayed within the S&P rules as much as NYPD Blue does. Like in the TV movies, she goes a little bad - stops herself in time from crossing the line [3].


  4. I've suggested here before the English tendency to split the difference between opposing views and the American preferences to allow vast discrepancies to persist [4]. So, whilst millions bemoan the Jackson flash of mammary, there is a movement to allow women to go about their everyday business stripped to the waist.

    The code-word is topfree. There are women - who knows how many - who look at guys barechested on building sites or in the park and say it's unfair that they can't do the same without being arrested.

    And one bunch of them is making a Federal case out of it, filing a complaint in the US District Court against Brevard County, Florida (a more practical place for regular barechestedness than many in the US).

    Observation of customs around the world (casual viewing of TV footage, at least) suggests that many cultures accept the practice (or do, until the tight-assed European missionaries get at them - the opening scene in Zulu is a well-known case in point). Though the distinction thus created between displays of the top and bottom half of the female body is a further complication. Or matter to explain away.


  5. There is a British footnote to the breast-baring question: in general, we seem to be a good deal less squeamish about displays of flesh on TV.

    And there is also the recent social institution of getting your tits out for the lads. When this started, I know not. There is famous footage of, I believe, the return of the troops to Southampton or Portsmouth from victory in the Falklands in 1982, with one or two of their delighted womenfolk removing their tops (to use them to semaphore greetings to their loved ones, no doubt).

    The practice is now commonplace in European holiday resorts frequented by young Britons (Ayia Napa, Ibiza) and, fuelled by binge-drinking, back in Blighty, too.

    Presumably, a consequence of the tendency towards equality between the sexes. But sober analysis clearly required.



  1. An official French government explanation in (fairly execrable) English. (Older readers will recall a performer called Gerald Hoffnung (fl 1950s - in the same bailiwick as Flanders and Swann) who had a sketch based on a letter from a Continental hotel to a potential British client. Apart from this miniscule reference, this comedy classic seems entirely to have escaped online recognition. He also had a similar sketch with a comic letter about an bricklayer's accident. Really.)

  2. There was once a TV show set in a TV station called Beggars and Choosers - in which the S&P character said, apparently,
    You can't see nipples. Period.
  3. A 2003 EW piece shows just how little it takes for American journos to cry shock-horror. And some Comstockery from 1999.

  4. There's perhaps a gag in there about a conformist culture maximising its standard deviations. Or perhaps not.

MORE

A hack who's a (self-'confessed') nursing mother tells America to get over it.


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