2004 was a pretty great year for cringe-worthy pop-culture: Martha Stewart went to jail; Britney got a quickie marriage, and a quickie annulment; Ashlee Simpson was busted for lip-syncing on SNL; Star Jones got corporate sponsorship for her wedding; and Bill O’Reilly was sued for sexual harassment for, among other things,allegedly proposing to rub a female producer with a “falafel” — all great moments, all still capable of lighting up the nostalgic schadefreude regions of the brain.
But one pop-culture moment from that year looms larger than all others, one that has long since worn out its welcome, one that, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling today, refuses to go away. I’m referring, of course, to Nipplegate, a.k.a. the moment “wardrobe malfunction” entered the popular lexicon, a.k.a. the moment Justin Timberlake, after singing the “Rock Your Body” lyric “Gotta have you naked by the end of this song,” ripped the bodice off of Janet Jackson’s costume and for a brief moment exposed her right breast to some 90 million viewers of the Super Bowl halftime show.
It all goes back to the $550,000 fine the F.C.C. slapped CBS for the mammary-exposing infraction, a decision that has been bouncing around the federal appeals system ever since. For a while it looked like CBS was off the hook, until the Supreme Court ruled today that a lesser court needs to wade through the whole mess once again. That’s fine, I guess. CBS has the right to appeal the fine, and the F.C.C. has the right to fight to maintain it. But, tell me, PopWatchers, don’t you also feel like this fight was called a while ago? All live events are now broadcast with a several second delay, forever guaranteeing that the mind-warping horrors of naked boobies and F-bombs are reserved solely for viewers with pay cable. Bleeped-out profanity (thanks to NBC’s Southland), naked animated men (thanks to Fox’s Family Guy) and horrifically violent crime (thanks to seemingly every show on CBS), meanwhile, are free for the kiddies to drink up as much as their wee brains can take — or vigilant parents will allow. Doesn’t this battle over Nipplegate just seem so, well, five years ago?
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