Last Sunday evening, the nation gathered together to watch the New England Patriots and the New York Giants compete in Super Bowl XLVI. As expected, the game was fantastic, and to top it all off Madonna, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and Cee-Lo redeemed the halftime show. There was a slight mishap during the thirteen minute musical performance however, and both NBC and the NFL quickly issued contrite statements.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy explained, “There was a failure in NBC’s delay system. The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans.” And what was the offensive gesture that drew such a polite statement from the organization behind America’s favorite sport?
Perhaps Madonna’s insistence on lip-syncing to her 1980’s song “Like a Prayer” while pretending she’s 23? Or perhaps Nicki Minaj’s continuous reliance on sexuality to entertain a national audience? Or maybe the NFL was finally apologizing for pretending to employ cheerleaders for reasons other than cleavage and high kicks? Or maybe it finally dawned on them that go-daddy.com, Super Bowl commercial staple for most of the past decade, has been pimping Danica Patrick and the other ladies appearing in their commercials for years now?
No, what set off a slew of apologies was M.I.A.’s middle finger, raised mid performance. NBC editing crews failed to catch the salute, even though the halftime show has been broadcast on delay ever since Justin Timberlake’s infamous unveiling of Janet Jackson.
More than the raised finger, what should instead shock the viewer is that what separates Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction from any other halftime performance since that episode is merely two inches of flesh which alone is deemed inappropriate for public consumption. Shamelessly use a woman’s body to sell salsa or website domain names, and the NFL will be happy to work with you. Allow your middle finger to stand alone, and the NFL regrets ever having signed a contract with you.
Since we have decided we are not yet at the point of “anything goes,” it may be prudent to have a discussion about priorities. We have agreed as a society that we will explore how sexual restraint or modest dress/behavior is a tool used to oppress women. It is only fair then to place the violence—yes, violence—of constant sexual stimulation and the public display of one’s sexuality under the microscope as well. Take the following example: It is not uncommon for people to wager bets on the Super Bowl’s outcome, and Extra Entertainment News host Maria Menounos, a Patriots fan, waged a bet with co-host A.J. Calloway. Because her team lost, she was beholden to appear on Monday’s broadcast in Times Square wearing nothing but a bikini sporting the colors of the victorious Giants (had the Patriots won, Calloway would have donned a Patriots cheerleader outfit). So it was that a visibly uncomfortable and mildly embarrassed Menounos disrobed in chilly weather and hosted the 30 minute show in a sliver of fabric. If a Muslim, or even Jewish for that matter, husband asks his wife to consider wearing hijab on the other hand, we are quick to label the man as showing a lack of regard for the woman’s dignity and independence. How then does a man who asks, not his wife, but his co-worker, to slip on a bikini of his choice on national television, in the winter weather and despite her reservations, escape public scrutiny?
Our religion does have something to say about what is and is not fit for public consumption and what is or is not dignified.. Islam evinces a clear preference for a restrained display of one’s sexuality in public—stage performances included—and in a country founded on the First Amendment, we should not hesitate to express clear opinions on the culture wars of our times. We are, after all, still issuing public apologies for middle fingers.
(Photo Credit: canvas blank)
Abrar Qadir is a student at Georgetown University Law Center. Originally from California, Abrar attended the University of California, Berkeley before moving East.