Well, folks, the Janet Jackson / Justin Timberlake nipple-gate-pasty-wardrobe-malfunctioning affair is finally over. The date Justin Timberlake attempted to but really didn’t make Janet Jackson “naked before the end of this song” was February 1st 2004. Yesterday, a Federal Court of Appeals struck down the fine against CBS stations nationwide that totaled $550,000, levied by the seemingly toothless FCC. It makes me happy that the legal process played out this way, but the effects have already been so sweeping that the $550,000 is really the least of the country’s problems. This Janet Jackson nipple has caused sweeping puritanical change in the last 4+ years since it all went down because the FCC was able to get the maximum penalty raised from $27,500 per incident to $500,000 per incident.
Let’s count the ways:
- Television had to institute delays in most live broadcasts
- Television producers stopped pushing the envelope on nudity and language in their programming, even after 10 PM
- Radio tightened up their rules about language. It is to the point now where lawyers for CBS have instructed the Opie and Anthony Show that they can’t say “douche bag,” or “scum bag,” but they are allowed to use the word “douche,” and “scum,” individually. The (over)thinking is that the addition of the word “bag” constitutes a “description of a bodily fluid” and thus potential for FCC fines.
- Howard Stern moved to Sirius Satellite Radio at least partially as a result of the climate created by the event. Within a month of “nipplegate” Clear Channel, a syndicator or Stern’s show, removed Stern from its stations, citing raunchy material.
And who knows how many more examples there are of “standards and practices” departments at networks getting out of control with censorship. And this all went down as the result of an event that was EVENTUALLY OVERRULED IN A FEDERAL APPEALS COURT!
That’s just awesome.
How many comedians, entertainers, writers, and other artists have been stifled in the last 4 years, unnecessarily. The people that live on forever generally push the limits of what we are used to seeing. How much farther have we been set back?
Luckily, I don’t think we have been set back. While these companies were overreacting to the FCC and all the mock outrage over this incident, it has caused other avenues to thrive. Today, some of the most popular shows in the country have existed on HBO, Showtime, FX and other cable outlets that don’t censor themselves. While the networks have spent time nitpicking show creators on their networks, we have had the pleasure of watching the final seasons of The Sopranos, The Wire, Weeds, Dexter, Lucky Louie, Big Love, Rescue Me and what is reportedly the only show that Comedy Central doesn’t censor, South Park.
While the satellite radio companies seem set to merge because of negative economic realities facing the two companies, it isn’t a referendum on the content that the companies tend to put out. It is more a statement about the delivery method that the companies bought into with satellites. Still, as the first “cable” networks for radio, XM and Sirius have thrived content-wise with Opie and Anthony, Howard Stern, Ron and Fez, and others who all do uncensored talk. In addition XM and Sirius have channels that play songs and comedy unaltered for language like terrestrial radio has to play them.
I would like to think that the tightening of rules has actually pushed people to these alternative outlets over the years. So while I think that the reaction to this event was stupid, maybe we will look back at it one day as the catalyst that the U.S. needed to push the boundaries in different directions to places outside of the ridiculous realm of “indecency” that is created and monitored by a governmental group that has almost no checks and balances.
It may have taken more than 4 years, but there is some sense of justice in seeing these fines overturned.