Janet Jackson, not Michael Jackson had more influence on American Society
By Evan Weiner
July 21, 2009
11:30 AM EDT
(New York, N. Y.) -- When all is said and done about Michael Jackson, it will be clear that he was a talented musician and dancer who sold a lot of records and made some interesting music videos but it is unlikely that Michael's legacy will have more of an impact than his sister Janet. This is not meant as a slight but the reality is that Janet Jackson has left more of an impression on American society than her brother because without Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas back on February 1, 2004, American's would be getting "live" over-the-air radio and TV, warts and all, since over-the-air radio and TV station owners would not have to worry about being fined for indecent programming whether it is a visual or something said.
American politicians and political appointees or at least those politicians who were pandering for a certain block of voters became prudes and put more teeth into public airwaves indecency laws because of Janet Jackson. Those politicians wanted to protect viewers and listeners who tune into over-the-air radio or TV shows and might be offended by language or nudity. Cable TV, broadband and satellite radio do not have the same restrictions for whatever reason.
That performance changed how America's receive over-the-air TV and radio offerings and gave American conservatives a new rallying point and eventually would introduce a new censorship or morality through the threat of hefty fines against media companies who might be found in violation of "indecency."
Of course "indecency" is in the eye of the beholder and for some members of Congress, it took about 15 hours for them to start screaming about Janet Jackson's exposed breast on the steps of the Capitol in Washington.
Viacom's CBS television network had the rights to the game which featured New England and Carolina. As part of the game presentation, Viacom had MTV produce the halftime show which featured Jackson and Justin Timberlake. During a song and dance routine, Timberlake exposed Jackson's breast for less than a second but that was enough time to get the "purity and vice" machine of the Republican Party going on morality. The usual suspects got on that bandwagon led by The Parents Television Council, Brett Bozell and Phyllis Schlafly. Congress got on that train as well as Michigan Republican Fred Upton proposed legislation that would raise fines for violating indecency rules from the 2004 level of $27,500 to $275,000. Zell Miller, the Democrat who was the United States Senator from Georgia, thought the incident was part of the “decaying morality of America” and Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell wanted an immediate investigation into the Super Bowl half time show.
This was red meat for certain politicians and their followers but for the most part it was a tame incident that was not really seen but most people until they were alerted to the fact that there was an "wardrobe malfunction" and that is when most people saw the incident on TIVO in slow motion. What has been forgotten about the Super Bowl show were the actions of the other acts including a performance by Nelly in which he pointed to his crotch and Kid Rock's poncho which looked like a cut up American flag.
Even more interesting, Janet Jackson was fingered as the culprit and got the brunt of the criticism with Timberlake pretty much emerging unscathed.
The NFL put out an apology almost immediately for the halftime show and fired MTV on the spot although the league had no problem accepting Viacom's money for the right to show the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl gave conservative Republicans running for office in 2004 a platform and they ran with it. Janet Jackson was soon replaced on the indecency list by Howard Stern and eventually the whole thing morphed into a debate about gay rights (the Dick Chaney-John Edwards Vice President debate) which was a perfect plank for the Republicans in a Presidential election. An issue with little substance or importance, perfect for the American TV and radio punditry culture.
Eventually, Viacom was fined $550,000 for broadcasting the Jackson "wardrobe malfunctioning" incident. CBS continues to appeal the fine.
After the Super Bowl incident, Michael Powell and the FCC dug in and started to go after other areas.
By October 2004, Commissioner Powell and his FCC colleagues started thinking whether or not a hockey game that feature fights was suitable programming between 6AM and 10 PM daily.
The Federal Communications Commission did a study at the behest of Congress on over-the-air, cable and satellite television violence and how that type of programming impacts children.
The FCC already had rules banning so-called indecent programming on radio and TV between 6 AM and 10 PM daily. The FCC indecency guidelines have been in effect since 2001 but most people were unaware of the rules until Janet Jackson's bare breast was exposed after a "wardrobe malfunction."
The FCC was very serious in 2004 about what was seen on TV, after all it was an election year but the study was crucial business not only to those looking for an election issue aside from the Iraq War and the FCC could give politicians some cover for other "important" issues.
Yes, hockey fighting be might very well be considered violent programming. This is a major problem for not only the National Hockey League, but also the National Football League which has sold violence for decades going back to the CBS production of the Violent World of Sam Huff, narrated by Walter Cronkite, in 1960.
One of sports major selling points is violence. When the Nashville Predators began marketing its product to Tennessee in 1998, the marketing department showed hockey collisions and NASCAR accidents in sales presentations.
Sports TV highlight shows feature collisions, fighting and general rowdy behavior. Sports video games routinely feature fighting and blood.
The National Hockey League did fight back in 2004. NHL attorney Phillip Hochberg wrote a letter to the FCC saying that “the NHL feels that it is improper to even consider whether a sport like hockey would fall into any definition of televised `violence."
Should both the Congress and the FCC get involved and regulate fighting in hockey, violence in football, boxing matches, and high and tight pitches in baseball? Of course not.
Can Congress and the five FCC Commissioners really push hockey and other sports contests into the so called off hours and would sports fans, advertisers and sports owners along with network executives go along with it? They could.
And does a hockey fight really lead children into violent behavior? Probably not except for maybe play fighting. Children who like to fight don’t need a hockey fight to prod them.
After all millions grew up watching the Three Stooges which really featured violence. Did the Stooges really affect kids growing up? Of course not. And will the FCC stop at sports or the Stooges, Bugs Bunny and local TV News also be relegated to the 10PM to 6AM graveyard shift? The study came and went and was not revived by anyone after the 2004 vote.
But the morality fight goes on and on. ABC-TV scheduled the movie Saving Private Ryan for Veteran's Day 2004 but 65 of the network's affiliates would not show it because of language concerns in the movie. Howard Stern was fired by Clear Channel stations (whose Texas owners had heavy ties to the Bush White House although to be fair Clear Channel became a major factor in the broadcasting industry because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act signed by President Clinton). There were incidents surround the 2009 Super Bowl.
Michael Jackson never influenced the American radio and TV industry like his sister inadvertently did. Michael may have been a cultural icon but his sister Janet has left a larger impact both culturally and politically because of a one off performance at America's biggest sporting event back in 2004 and the echoes of that performance are still resonating.