Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression (4/6)

By Kay Phoenix Nacto

On October 23, 2017 Justin Timberlake (with the assistance of his friend and entertainer Jimmy Fallon) announced that he will be performing at the upcoming Super Bowl Halftime show. One question began to circulate social media and many conversations surrounding the upcoming game: what about Janet Jackson?

February 1st 2004, the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime show would change lives and the internet drastically. Janet and Justin put on a show that was both entertaining and memorable but would become infamous for all the wrong reasons. Somewhere amid the performance Justin accidently revealed Janet’s breast and the wardrobe malfunction (a phrase which was introduced to the pop-culture vernacular because of what happened) would not only be recorded, but replayed, and reviewed on a mass scale due to TiVo, which changed the way people watched tv at home. It would also be the reason that YouTube was created. Jawed Karim (one the 3 founders) has stated in many interviews that his idea for what became YouTube sprang from two very different events in 2004: Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” during a Super Bowl show, and the Asian tsunami.

The broadcasted incident garnered CBS a fine from the FCC and backlash for Justin. More importantly, the Grammy revoked privileges for Janet that year, as well as a series of events that some would call a blackballing within the entertainment industry. Nipplegate became the coined phrase for the situation because everyone wanted to know, “whose fault was it really?”

Janet Jackson is a multiplatinum selling artist. She is an icon. She is a part of the Jackson family legacy. She is a black body performing in front of the white dominated male world.

When thinking about bodies, materiality comes to mind, but it is not that simple. The body is subjected to perception. The body is raced, gendered, and classed. This intersection and the body’s intersectional existance is why one body appears as more important than another. For instance, the ways black women’s bodies are viewed as spectacles in the public is rooted in the intersections of power, privilege, and oppression. Black bodies suffer from both invisibility and hypervisibility and it was ever so present during the unpacking of the halftime show.

Janet’s body was replayed and dissected on both live TV and in private homes, just as the body of Sara Baartman, a South African woman who lived in the 1800s, was in public arenas and private hospital rooms. There is no doubt that Janet has agency over her body, but there is much to be said about the blame that was placed on her at the time, and how it was claimed that the “accident” was a stunt that she created to get attention. Her music, her platform, and her image changed. Black female bodies have always been at the pleasure of the public and that mean they can be policed and controlled. As with women who have been sexually assaulted there tends to be a spotlight on what she was wearing, what did she do to bring the unwanted attention, how could she have avoided the situation.

The very idea about invisibility and hypervisibility is what made Colin Kaepernick take a knee. He highlighted the injustices of black bodies regarding police brutality, in return his own black body has become a target for multiple conversations surrounding sports and politics. The Super Bowl Halftime show might seem trivial in comparison, but it is relevant nonetheless. Perhaps amid Justin’s performance, Janet may show up and that could be a small means of reparation for what happened back in 2004.  However, it will not be a conclusion to the necessary, although often silenced, ongoing conversation about whose body matters.