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Janet Jackson, Howard Dean and the House Energy Gang
Last uploaded : Tuesday 17th Feb 2004 at 21:09
Contributed by : Cay Philips


Regular readers of this magazine will know that I often write in glowing terms of American culture, traditions and history.

In recent weeks, however, I have been dismayed watching the near-hysteria that has erupted over the half-time act performed to millions of viewers of the 38th annual American Super Bowl on 1st February. Produced by MTV, the interval sequence featured a series of top pop stars gyrating and screeching for vast sums of money culminating in Justin Timberlake?s ripping of Janet (sister of Michael) Jackson?s bodice, revealing a bare breast from whose nipple hung a silver tassle.

Calls flooded in to the television network and soon parents were threatening to sue for exposing their children to corrupting material. Last week I watched with incredulity on the American cable network CSpan a hearing by the House Sub-Committee on Energy (yes!) and Commerce at which the Commissioner of the National Football League, Paul Taglibue and the Head of Viacom, Mel Karmazin, were being grilled by Congressmen about the Janet Jackson issue. Much was made in these hearings of the breaching of the Broadcast Decency Rules. Every day, millions of young people flock to violent films manufactured in Hollywood; the explicit ?Monster?s Ball? was as adult as one can get and yet the same culture that gives the world such films is performing a McCarthy-style inquisition on the beleaguered NFL and Viacom heads.

First of all, over here in naughty Europe bare boobs are no big deal. Yes, it is true that the Roaring Twenties and the decadent and saucy sin bins of Thirties Berlin led the world straight into Fascism. However, does the Congress not have more pressing matters to discuss than a pop act that went a bit -- well, over the top? Frankly, I loathe loud pop acts and wonder just when the world descended into the cauldron that is perpetual noise -- be it muzak in lifts, a racket in department stores or noisy background junk as one waits for someone to answer Voice Mail Option 78 -- but I fail to understand the fuss over Janet Jackson;?s stunt. Agreed, the event was especially poignant because it fell on the same date as the anniversary of the crash of the Columbia space shuttle. The Super Bowl is a family affair and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Peter Pace, was a guest of honour at the stadium. Two years ago, people were in floods of tears when the Star Spangled Banner was sung. So what if everyone wants to have a little bit of fun now that the post-9/11 healing has begun to take hold?

The usually Bush-supporting, conservative Fox News came out with the best one-liner on the issue : the anchorman said that Janet Jackson ?..will be appearing at the Grammy Awards?..wearing a burkah.?

Another issue in American politics that has perplexed me in the past few weeks has been the spectacular collapse of the Howard Dean campaign. The former Vermont governor was the front-runner in the Democratic race for the Presidential nomination until one fateful night in Iowa when he decided to counteract the shock of defeat in the Iowa Caucus by leading a whooping-session with his young supporters. His enthusiasm seemed to have been interpreted as ?unpresidential? and the media repeated the vignette every hour for days on end. The most frequent criticism of Al Gore in 2000 was his deadly style: he was regarded as wooden and unflappable to the point that one wanted to shake him to get a reaction. Here was a man, however, jumping from the jaws of defeat to a high energy level only to be brought down by the same media who had seen him as the Saviour of the Left against the terrible Bush team leviathan.

No sooner had Howard Dean lost state after state in a disastrous fall from grace than the man who had begun to triumph over him, Senator John Kerry, was hit by the rumours of a scandal. The London ?Evening Standard? reported last week that Gen Wesley Clark, another Presidential hopeful, had told a reporter that Kerry would ?implode on an intern issue.? Indeed, the Drudge Report is the source of a story circulating much more widely in Britain than in the USA about a journalist who allegedly had a relationship with the Senator.

Whenever I read about these ?crises? my mind goes back to September 11th. Americans on the Christian right, and in fact, a huge number of mainstream and secular Americans, are outraged about the Janet Jackson show during the Super Bowl. For some reason Howard Dean, who had an original and passionate vision about the future of his nation, is ruined because of a media frenzy perpetrated by a segment of the population that should have nurtured him. (Some will say, of course, that Dean was a dream come true for the Republicans, as he was the one candidate they felt sure they could beat, and the rise of Kerry, thanks to the media drubbing of Dean, is not fun for the Bush team.) Since September 11th, when the nation was united in an extraordinary wave of collective grief and pride, the Iraq War and the controversies over weapons of mass destruction have riven the American people. The budget deficit is rising and job losses are at Hoover-era levels. The liberation of the Iraqi people was a great and noble event but now it is time for America to focus on its own future. September 11th could have destroyed the world?s greatest power. It could happen again. The House should dispense with its ludicrous Janet Jackson hearings; the Democratic party should form an FDR-style platform and the media should grow up.


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