Super Bowl halftime: A place for censorship

February 03, 2004|GARY MOYERS

I am the parent of a 15-year-old teenage girl who listens to music I can't possibly claim to enjoy or remotely understand.

Okay, I like Outkast. Maybe it's the line in their song "Hey Ya" that mentions something about shake it like a Polaroid that brings back memories when people actually owned and used Polaroids. Maybe it's because the song, as ageless wonder Dick Clark said, "has a good beat to it."

Maybe I'm just trying too hard to have something in common with my daughter.

I also enjoy Norah Jones, who has single-handedly brought jazz into the mainstream of popular music. I can also decipher the lyrics when she sings.

I don't get rap or hip-hop, and in my mind the efforts by today's rock and metal groups pale when held up against such legendary groups as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and even Led Zeppelin. Britney Spears? Please - with apologies to the teenage boys, her chart position is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing she wears in her videos.


But, I'm not supposed to get it. I'm the parent.

I'm not so old that I've forgotten how my parents shook their heads when they had to use my car for a run to the store and got a dose of Lynerd Skynerd or Led Zeppelin from all four speakers (remember quadraphonic sound? If you do, you've probably eyed the Grecian Formula within minutes of my visit.).

As teens, we'd nod and wink knowingly when subjected to another lecture including phrases like "You can't even understand the words" and "That's way too loud to be music."

Of course, there was also the obligatory, "That kind of music is for potheads, and it leads to unwed teenage mothers."

We didn't care it was "our" music, and adults just weren't going to get it. We didn't want them to. Every generation has its own version of "our" music, and the more parents protest, the more popular the genre becomes with the rebellious youth.

I am also, however, a parent who is ardently opposed to governmental censorship. It is MY job to decide what is and isn't appropriate for my daughter to view or hear it is NOT, in my opinion, something that falls under the control of a government whose interpretation of constitutional law changes with every administration, and whose principal guidelines include which trade group gave the most money to the winning candidate.

This country is full of people who differ on the issue of what is art and what is pornography; what is acceptable in one community may be banned in another just a few miles down the road. The Supreme Court defined the use of "community standards" when judging the artistic value of everything from paintings to movies, and that's probably the best course. What plays on Broadway doesn't always play in Peoria, as Mr. Ziegfield knew way back in the 1920s.

But that system falls apart when an immature male pop star exposes the breast of a has-been female pop star looking to revitalize her career in front of a nationwide television audience and thousands of fans in attendance. It torpedoes any option a parent has of switching to something else because of when and where it happened. It was akin to being attacked by a tiger in my living room - absolutely not a danger expected in that location.

I didn't have the opportunity to exercise my parental duty of censorship - this event happened on a network television station at a sporting event. Not exactly the normal venue for this type of exposure.

CBS has issued the expected indignant apology for the events, laying the blame on the "artists" and MTV, which produced the show. Justin Timberlake blamed the incident on a costume failure; this is the same guy who spilled his guts about what he and former girlfriend Spears did and didn't do. I wonder if the apology came from him or his media-savvy public relations firm.

Jackson issued a statement taking the blame for a stunt that went too far. I suppose it went too far just like every other flash of nudity she seems to give on an album or magazine cover just before she's set to release another album.

And MTV, producer of the halftime show during the most-watched TV event of the year, said it was sorry while at the same time touting the "unexpected and shocking" spectacle to come on its Web site.

Come on, CBS did you really have no idea something like this was going to happen? With MTV, which just happens to hold an awards show every year with more undressed stars and vulgar language than a porno movie? Wake up, New York execs Nelly isn't swatting flies when he sings. CBS and the NFL knew what it was getting when it signed these people. If you hire Hannibal Lecter to be your gardener, you can't be too surprised when he lunches on the mail carrier.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission has announced it will conduct a "thorough and swift" investigation into the incident.

It had better. When parents like me, who adamantly oppose governmental censorship under normal circumstances, are offended, the case for those in favor of it becomes much stronger. I am no prude, and Janet Jackson is cute.

But seeing what was shown Sunday night on a network television station in my living room goes way beyond the boundaries of good taste.

That's what cable is for.

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