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Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Froma Harrop / Syndicated columnist
The sewer pipe was open long before halftime


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The Super Bowl halftime show shocked many, but especially an elite group of American consumers: people who had bought their way out of the television slum. Your writer counts herself among the shaken innocents.

What am I talking about? I am talking about people who buy fancy cable for better programming and fewer commercials. People who subscribe to Netflix, which mails movie DVDs, free of advertising, to their homes. People who have TiVo, which easily records many hours of television; consumers can play back the programs at leisure and whiz through the commercials.

But now and again some spectacle comes along that has to be watched on a network and in real time. Such is the Super Bowl. For those well-protected against an invading junk culture, the Super Bowl opened the pipe and let the sewage enter, unfiltered, for about three hours.

Do you detect an air of disapproval? Yes, Super Bowl halftime was as awful as the Christian Coalition, the White House and the radio-talk guys said it was. But Janet Jackson's right nipple was the least of it. (Or was it the left?)

For us delicate souls who had purged the worst television commercials from our lives, the pain began long before the patriotic porn of halftime. Indeed, we were numb by the time we got there.

The most appalling ads had nothing to do with sex. The sickest had to be the Lays-chip ad, in which two elderly people fight over a bag of chips. The old man trips the woman and sends her sprawling onto the ground. He then digs his cane into the small of her back. A young man comes by, grabs the bag and walks off.

Actually, the sport in hurting elderly women seemed to become a theme. A promotion for "The Simpsons" television show showed a boy mowing down a woman on a cane. At least it was a cartoon.

A Pepsi ad featured a horrid little girl who defiantly tells viewers that she had been sued for stealing music off the Internet. "And I'm here to announce in front of everyone," she sullenly adds, "that we're still going to download music free off the Internet, and there's not a thing anyone can do about it."

Intellectual-property lawyers would have noted the written explanation that Pepsi had helped make the downloading of 100 million songs legal. This could put the girl on the right side of the law. Most lunkheads in the audience just saw a teen boast about stealing and getting away with it.

So by the time we arrive at halftime, the goal post for degeneracy had been moved. A series of rappers bark unintelligible words (no loss) as cheerleaders do their bump and grind on the stage. At one point the girls sing out, "I am getting' so hot, I wanna take my clo-o-thes off," and rip away their skirts.

Out comes a moronic Kid Rock, who "sings" something about drugs and compliant girls. He's wearing an American flag cut in the middle for his scraggly blond head. Behind him a couple of dolls, all cleavage and crotch, are swirling American flags. Osama bin Laden couldn't have made this up.

Then out comes Janet, backed up by chorus girls wearing garters and high black boots. They look like escapees from the Kit Kat Club. (You know, from the musical "Cabaret." Oh never mind.)

She does a suggestive dance with Justin Timberlake, who finishes the show by ripping off a corner of Janet's "top" to expose a breast. As the spectacle fades, a string of homilies, including "Choose to Get Involved," come out of the loudspeaker.

A very exciting football game followed. Once it ended, the consumer elites could run back home to their protected world of premium cable, Netflix and TiVo. Back at the ranch, they can witness naked breasts (and far more) if they want to. But they don't have to see appeals to patriotism mixed up with cheesy porn — or celebrations of anti-social behavior.

It's a sad commentary that people now have to pay extra to keep the creepy crawlers of popular culture out of their homes. Whatever. Lock the gates. Fill the moat. The elites almost always get a pass.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com

Copyright 2004, The Providence Journal Co.

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