On this, the ten year anniversary of the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show, defenders of Hollywood are already, predictably, working hard to downplay the concerns exhibited by millions of Americans in the immediate aftermath, and the cultural significance of the spontaneous public backlash the event triggered.
In a recent blog post, Time magazine’s James Poniewozik argues, essentially, that little in Hollywood has changed as a result of the public response to the MTV-produced halftime show; that there is still a lot of offensive content out there.
That there is still a great deal of crass and vulgar TV content is indisputable. What is subject to debate is what the TV landscape might look like today had the Janet Jackson incident, and the ensuing FCC crack-down on indecency, not happened.
The continued proliferation of offensive TV content is not because TV viewers have grown complacent, and it’s not because we’ve all found comfortable TV niches where we can pretend that all that bad stuff doesn’t exist. It’s only because of six years of an FCC Chairman who really wasn’t at all interested in enforcing the rules; and absent clear guidelines and clear penalties for stepping outside those guidelines, like a willful child, the broadcast networks will continue to push the boundaries to see how much they can get away with.
Hollywood and its lobbyists and defenders have spent the last ten years downplaying the legitimate concerns of parents, or pretending that the post-Super Bowl outrage was feigned or fleeting, or orchestrated. It wasn’t, and it isn’t. And the fact that today’s media landscape looks the way it does is not because parents stopped caring. It’s because the FCC stopped doing its job.