Intrusive Boob Tube

By and large, the country is imbued with a libertarian ethos. We may applaud or criticize what other people do and how they act, but generally we recognize that tolerance of differences is just one price we pay for a free society. However, prickly individuality and rough-hewn differences, that might otherwise chafe social interactions, are soothed by a general recognition of social conventions. Do pretty much what you want to, but do it at appropriate times and places. Intrusiveness in an open society consists of “in your face inappropriateness,” forcing others to confront or accept behavior they would prefer not to.

Examples of intrusiveness abound. For example, we all recognize the unhealthful aspects of smoking, but trying to ban smoking in bars, where people anticipate it, is intrusive bullying. We all recognize the importance of familial warmth, yet excessive displays of affection can be intrusive making others feel awkward. We all recognize the importance of spirituality and faith, but aggressive proselytizing when quiet witness would be more persuasive is intrusive. No one wishes to inadvertently insult anyone, but the exquisite sensitivity of political correctness when used as an implement of thought control is intrusive.

Intrusiveness may be hard to unequivocally define and some behaviors straddle the borders, but the half-time show at Superbowl XXXVIII in Houston clearly qualifies as intrusive. It is easy to poke fun of puritanical Americans scandalized by a bare breast, but such analysis misses the entire point. If anyone wants to glare at female breasts, there are many web sites just a few clicks away, freely available magazines everywhere, and cable TV channels that will provide more than a fragmentary glimpse. The problem with the halftime show has to do with its bullying intrusiveness.

The Superbowl is more than a football game. It is a collective celebration. It is a time when many Americans of all ages and social groups gather together, party, and watch the game and especially the commercials. The brief exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast was actually one of the least offensive parts the MTV-produced half-time show. The US-flag-poncho-wearing, crotch-grabbing, bump-and-grind spectacular could be expected on the MTV cable network, but not at the presumably G-rated Superbowl half-time show. What most found objectionable was not the fact that such shows exist and are in some quarters popular, but that it was foisted unexpectedly on a Superbowl half-time audience. It was pushy behavior at its most obnoxious; bringing the unexpected and unwanted into people’s living rooms. The exposed breast was only a symbol of the poor-taste of much of the show.

It is not clear who is to blame. CBS booked MTV to produce the show, so they might have expected the sort of show they got. Maybe they got the show they largely wanted (perhaps minus the breast.) Janet Jackson has accepted responsibility saying, “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention.” While she may not have wanted to “offend” anyone, it is a safe bet she wanted to garner attention. In that effort, she succeeded.

The good news is that major league baseball pitchers report for spring training in a couple of weeks so we can soon retreat to the bucolic and sublime joys of a pastime that does not require half-time shows. And unlike football, where the time ran out on a great Superbowl game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, a baseball World Series would never have ended just because of a lack of time.

The one thing that football has managed to copy from baseball properly is the tradition of beginning games with the national anthem. At the Superbowl a classy and beautiful Beyonce, who knows when to dress conservatively and when not to, belted out a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. In many ways, it was a highlight of the day.

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