Laying bare the decline of our pop culture


By: Packet Editorial
   So when, our friends keep asking us, are we going to weigh in on the issue that’s been the subject of conversation for the past week, from the hallways of area schools to the checkout lines at McCaffrey’s and Wegmans to the crowded bar stools at every watering hole from the Tiger’s Tale to the Annex?
   The Bush budget? Nope. The Kerry bandwagon? Hardly. The Borough Council’s dillydallying over the Hulfish North project? Uh uh. The imminent completion of the fourth year of deer culling in the township? No way. The Penns Neck EIS? Get a grip.
   What has everybody been talking about, nonstop, since last Sunday night? Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. CBS and MTV. The National Football League and the bounds of good taste.
   Well, for what it’s worth, here’s our take on the earth-shattering event that managed to relegate all the truly important news of the past week to trivia:
   What’s all the fuss about?
   Sure, we understand that the sight, however brief, of a bared breast — whether deliberate or inadvertent — is not an everyday occurrence on national television. At least not on commercial television. It is, of course, a common feature on HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and a dozen other premium cable channels. What’s more, the shocking finale to Ms. Jackson’s act was only slightly more revealing (and, in our judgment, considerably less suggestive) than what appears every night, in prime time, on all the major networks.
   In fact, the entire Super Bowl broadcast wasn’t exactly what one would call wholesome family entertainment. How many times did CBS promote the upcoming Grammy Awards with the nubile Britney Spears in a skin-tight, flesh-toned body suit, crawling across the screen like some predatory feline in heat? Which of the not-exactly G-rated commercials did mom, dad and the kids find most appealing? Kerry and Misty playing snow volleyball? Children getting their mouths washed out with soap after making scatological comments about Chevy trucks? The horny talking monkey? The football-playing bear with the toilet paper hanging out? Or our personal favorite in the category of adolescent humor: the flatulent horses?
   And what about the other lurid acts in the halftime show that preceded the Timberlake-Jackson finale? There was the rapper, Nelly, who managed to grab his crotch more often in two minutes on stage than the entire rosters of the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers did in four hours on the field. Then, as he burst into a refrain of that old family favorite, "It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes," a bevy of prancing cheerleaders proceeded to rip off most of theirs, right down to their skimpy shorts and shirts.
   The Justin and Janet bump-and-grind duet was merely icing on this already unappetizing cake, until that final flash of flesh sent everyone rushing out — either to the phone book to find the number of the nearest FCC office or to the Internet to get a close-up, freeze-frame look at what they had merely glimpsed in passing on live TV.
   We can’t really say we found any of this particularly offensive. Insipid, yes. Embarrassing, for sure — especially considering the international television audience, estimated at 100 million, for whom those 20 minutes or so represented a live exhibition of the very latest in American pop culture. But the expressions of outrage and disgust emanating from the chairman of the FCC, the commissioner of the NFL, the president of CBS and the heads of countless organizations that fancy themselves defenders of family values seem utterly disingenuous to us.
   These people need to take a long, hard look at how America defines entertainment in 2004 — and recognize that the Super Bowl halftime show wasn’t an aberration. It was the norm.