Janet's `wardrobe malfunction' forever changed what's expected at Super Bowl

Tuesday, February 1st 2005, 8:49 am
By: News On 6

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Oh, what the NFL would have given for a marching band last year instead of Janet Jackson.

Over the 38-year history of the Super Bowl, halftime has always been the best time for fans to take a brief break from the hoopla and recharge for the third and fourth quarters.

But last year, the ever-so-brief shot of Jackson's bare breast turned halftime into must-see TV, entering the term ``wardrobe malfunction'' into the Super Bowl lexicon.

It altered the watercooler conversation about the event and made the powers in the NFL realize they had failed in their never-ending quest to micromanage things down to the millisecond.

``Disappointment and embarrassment'' was how NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy described the scene and its bombastic aftermath.

Jackson, who declined interview requests for this story, will be in Jacksonville this week, attending a fund-raising party the night before the big game. Clearly, she will be persona non-grata at any NFL-sponsored event.

But her impact on the Super Bowl will never be forgotten _ not in this day and age of instant news, instant analysis, instant overkill.

Her breast, after all, was much more than a breast, and we're not just talking about the silver sunburst nipple shield that was revealed when Justin Timberlake tore open her black leather top _ accidentally, he said.

The Federal Communications Commission got involved. The debate over decency standards on TV _ long considered a dying issue by all but the most vigilant _ re-emerged. Radio personality Howard Stern, tired of having the FCC breathing down his neck, moved to the censor-free Sirius radio satellite network, the same company that broadcasts each NFL game across the country each week.

``All these people were acting as though Western civilization had taken a major hit,'' said Syracuse University television expert Robert Thompson. ``The whole thing was dripping in sanctimony, contradiction and hypocrisy.''

Without a doubt, Thompson insists, viewers see more graphic close-ups of nude flesh on the average soap commercial. And nothing Jackson did during that halftime show would compare to the content of a weekly episode of, say, ABC's racy hit prime-time soap opera, ``Desperate Housewives.''

(Although not as high profile as the Super Bowl debacle, the NFL also expressed outrage after ABC led into a Monday Night Football game this season with a spoof in which actress Nicollette Sheridan persuaded Eagles receiver Terrell Owens to skip the game by dropping the towel wrapped around her and jumping into his arms.)

Already a pre-eminently recognizable pop icon, Jackson got a temporary boost in popularity, appearing on the ``Late Show with David Letterman'' and a few other shows. Still, the new album that her Super Bowl appearance was designed to promote was less than a hit.

Buoyed by public outrage, Congress held hearings and voted for a tenfold increase in fines for broadcast indecency. In a separate move, each of the 20 CBS-owned stations that aired the Super Bowl were fined $27,500, and the $550,000 total was a record for such an incident. It was part of a greater effort by government to crack down on indecency and it even led several skittish ABC affiliates to not air the World War II drama ``Saving Private Ryan'' because they worried the violence and profanity would lead to penalties.

The NFL, meanwhile, vowed to never have something like this happen again. Last year, the league farmed out production of the halftime show to MTV, a Viacom company related to CBS, which broadcast the game.

This year's entertainment will be provided by Paul McCartney, whose every word and move will be vetted and reviewed by the league.

``He'll keep his clothes on,'' Charles Coplin, the man the NFL put in charge of the halftime show, assured.

But for those who simply must see skin on Super Bowl Sunday, there is this:

A clothing-optional club in Land O' Lakes is hosting a ``Wardrobe Malfunction'' Super Bowl party at which guests are encouraged to wear ``their favorite tear-away, see-through or otherwise `malfunctioning' clothing _ or none at all,'' according to a publicity release.

``Unlike the NFL, CBS and MTV,'' said club owner Joe Lettelleir, ``we freely admit that this is completely staged and premeditated.''