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The Politics of HollyWeird: Janet Jackson’s ‘Racist’ Wardrobe Malfunction

Tinseltown reacts to Rittenhouse house verdict and more celebrity tweets.

Editor’s Note: Whether on screen or off, Hollywood can always be counted on to keep us entertained. This is especially true when it comes to politics. Join us each week as we shine the spotlight on Tinseltown’s A-listers and their whacky and sometimes inspiring takes on today’s current events.

White Man Exposed a Black Woman’s Breast

New banner Hollyweird 1It’s been nearly 20 years since America lost its mind when pop star Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction that revealed one of her breasts during the 2004 Super Bowl. Now with racial tensions flying high, it seems the perfect time to rehash this incident and make sure everyone knows that it had to do with racism.

On Hulu, there is a new series of documentaries, and its opening episode is “The New York Times Presents Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson.” The description of the show makes it clear that race is the number one angle: “In 2004, a culture war was brewing when the Super Bowl halftime show audience saw a white man expose a Black woman’s breast for 9/16ths of a second.”

“Nipplegate” caused quite the stir at the time. One commentator on the show said, “If the culture wars could have a 9-11, it’s Feb. 1, 2004.” The episode started out with a young Janet Jackson and took us through her early acting career. Cathy Hughes, the founder and chairperson of Urban One Inc, the largest black-owned media company in the country, talked about the difficulties faced by Jackson and other women of color in the entertainment business:

“White executives always, always start from the premise of what is acceptable to their white audience, and because we have been brainwashed that white is beautiful you have a pressure that does not exist for a white female artist. There is a double-triple standard that she had to live up to.”

As the narration went on, the audience sees Jackson disengage from her father’s management and break out into her own fame. The artist took her image in a new direction – one that was a bit risqué in the 1990s – celebrating her own sexuality. Touré, a music journalist for Rolling Stone at the time, said: “You see the political right starting to push back and say like, ‘whoa, the country is getting too sexual. We are not comfortable with Ellen [DeGeneres] coming out. No, get back in the closet. We don’t like this.’”

About this time, viewers started to complain about what was being allowed on television and what children were being exposed to. Former Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, explained:

“When you look at the 90s, the guardrails were flying off. Television has such a dominant position on raising people, on raising our children, and impressionable minds. And I clearly believed that we needed to do something about the kind of culture and the kind of climate we had in America. And there are three specific areas of concern: One was language, one was violence, and one was sexuality.”

Jackson continued to climb in popularity, and then MTV suggested she perform at the Superbowl halftime show. Tim Winter, the president of Parents Television and Media Council, was concerned the sex, violence, and foul language that was becoming so popular in music and television would become the norm. He remembered his worry for the halftime show: “We knew that MTV was likely to bring along potential for risqué, racy content. We were very mindful, very concerned about the family-friendly nature or lack thereof of that show because of MTV producing it.”

GettyImages-117937640 Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson
(Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

And then Justin Timberlake pulled on Jackson’s blouse and exposed a breast for 9/16ths of a second.

According to the executives at the time, there was very little rehearsal time with Timberlake. Originally, he was to show up on stage during Jackson’s song and start singing one of his songs, which included the line “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” It was scripted that he would tear away Jackson’s skirt on the word “song” to reveal a full jumpsuit beneath. However, as we all know, that went horribly wrong.

On Superbowl day, Timberlake flew out to Los Angeles, CA, and then back into Texas with only about 20 minutes to spare before the halftime show. Some executives said the pop star met with Jackson privately to discuss a change in the choreography, but they were not aware of what those changes were. Also, Wayne Scott Lucas, one of Jackson’s fashion consultants, reportedly purchased a sunburst “nipple shield” and spent time with a local tailor. Her wardrobe was adjusted, and the choreography was changed just before the performance.

Directly after the show and wardrobe malfunction, Jackson left on a plane, not answering any of the executives’ phone calls. Timberlake, on the other hand, started issuing apologies to the public and the networks, stating it had been a mistake. Finally, when Jackson addressed the media and said it was an accident caused by an unrehearsed change, it appeared to be too late, and the damage had been done. Timberlake’s career took off while Jackson’s went down the tubes.

The NYT episode focuses on race – the fact that Timberlake is white and Jackson is black. Everything is blamed on the white man once again suppressing a person of color. Jenna Wortham, a reporter for the New York Times, said, “What’s so painful about that moment is everything Janet had been working for and towards building up to her career was just taken away, in that moment, by this white man.”  Shannon Holland, author of The Offending Breast, went even deeper into racism, saying that “This goes back to Antebellum America.” She continued:

“The dehumanization and [modification?] of black bodies, particularly black female bodies, if you see them as chattel then they’re simply black bodies that really don’t have crimes committed against them.”

Celebrity Tweets

Celebrities say the darndest things …

Hollywood Reacts to Rittenhouse Verdict

After the not guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse was released, Tinseltown couldn’t tweet fast enough. Here are just a few of those rants.

GettyImages-543916772 George Takei

George Takei
(Photo by Kris Connor/FilmMagic)

The Daily Show posted: “JUST IN: Judge Schroeder sentences Kyle Rittenhouse to come give him a big hug.”

On Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’s account was posted: “Acquitting Kyle Rittenhouse sends a message to future Kyle Rittenhouses that they’re free to incite violence and then claim self-defense. This is not justice.”

George Takei (Sulu on Star Trek) is a very vocal liberal. “Justice denied is a body blow to our national psyche. On trial was not only a killer, but a system that continues to kill. Today that system defeated true justice, once again. But mark these words: We will never stop fighting for what is right and just,” he tweeted.

Westworld star Jeffrey Wright thought it was appropriate to share a meme of Russian President Vladimir Putin clapping.

And, from other celebs and political folks, we got these gems:

Women’s March

The group contacted its members to give an update on donations, which somehow sent a racist message. The tweet read: “We apologize deeply for the email that was sent today. $14.92 was our average donation amount this week. It was an oversight on our part to not make the connection to a year of colonization, conquest, and genocide for Indigenous people, especially before Thanksgiving.”

Randy Quaid

The comedic actor well-known for his role in National Lampoon’s Vacation took a pop at media. “CNN ‘news’ needs a laugh track,” he tweeted.

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

“If you like the IRS, then you will love the Democrats’ plan to double the agency’s size so it can start spying on your bank accounts every day.”

Steve Martin

Steve Martin, a man who needs no introduction, tweeted: “By the way, what do I do with nine Alexas that won’t shut up?”

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

“The UK is much less masked than Canada. Why? Is the virus less deadly here? Or are people simply braver?”

Tune in next week to see what else Tinseltown has planned.

~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.

Read More From Kelli Ballard

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