The FCC Received 1,312 Super Bowl Halftime Complaints from People Who've Never Heard of the Internet
"We ... had our eyeballs molested," and other highlights.
The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for monitoring broadcast media, enforcing its guidelines on "obscene, indecent, and profane content," and fielding complaints from the public.
In the case of the Super Bowl halftime show, a Freedom of Information Act request from WFAA in Dallas, Texas revealed that the FCC had received more than 1,300 complaints, many of which called for fines to be levied against Fox, NBC, the NFL, or the performers themselves. While the complainants obviously have the right to express their distaste for the sexually suggestive performance that interrupted their three-hour marathon of CTE-inducing violence, many of their concerns were touchingly naïve.
Many viewers felt that J. Lo and Shakira's dancing amounted to pornographic material, with one Wyoming viewer stating that the show "would have been considered soft porn not many years ago." A Maine viewer, describing himself as "a father of 2 teen girls," said, "That 'show' should have been reserved for late night cable TV." Another person in Tennessee complained that, "I do not subscribe to The Playboy Channel, we do not buy porn for $20 a flick, we simply wanted to sit down as a family and watch the Super Bowl… we expected to watch football and a quick concert but instead had our eyes molested."
Leaving aside what it means to have your eyes molested, that latter comment seems particularly illustrative of the disconnect between many of these complaints and the reality of our interconnected society. The idea that pornography is confined to specialty cable channels and feature length films that cost $20 is so sweetly outdated that it's almost satirical. In 2004—when the FCC was overwhelmed with the furor of more than 200,000 complaints that Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime show had exposed children to the appalling sight of most of a woman's breast—young Internet users were already assaulting each other with links to disturbing so-called shock sites, like "Goatse," "Lemon Party," and others that should likewise never be Googled.
But at that time the phenomenon was still fairly new, and the lack of awareness more forgivable. Today—more than a decade after the advent of "2 Girls 1 Cup"—estimates place the proportion of Internet content that is pornographic somewhere around 10%, and there is a virtually endless availability of videos and images that are far more offensive than "Goatse." Even restricted platforms like Instagram and Youtube offer much more sexually explicit content—much of it featuring former Disney stars—than anything in the halftime show.
On top of that, the prevalence of "sexting" among adolescents means that in many cases there is no company or platform to complain to—young people are exposing each other to sexually explicit material. It may be that these parents were not so much uncomfortable with the idea that their children were being made aware of the existence of sex, but with the fact that they happened to be in the room together while it happened.
The good news is that the proliferation of internet porn has given us a lot of information on the subject, and there is little evidence to suggest that this kind of exposure is damaging to young viewers' psychological development, or that it leads to sexually risky behavior. So while it's understandable that a viewer in Arkansas would say, "I don't want my kids imitating that behavior," they can probably rest easy knowing that their children will neither take up pole dancing, nor start recreationally slamming into one another in disputes over balls.
In reality, while the idea of acknowledging sex may make them uncomfortable, many of these parents could probably learn a lot from having the sex-talk with their kids, as their confusion seemed to go much deeper than assumptions about pornography and cable TV. Many seemed to mistake J. Lo's flesh-tone bodysuit for actual nudity, and several complaints betrayed deeply confused understandings of the terms "striptease," "orgy," and "masturbation," that any modern teen could probably help to clarify. Here are some highlights:
"It was indecent and inappropriate - with crotch grabbing, cameras zooming in on aforementioned crotch grabbing, a pole dance in a barely-there outfit, and other raunchy acts performed above a group of dancers imitating an orgy. [sic]"
"JLo was not only wearing a thong but bent over and showed her whole butt to the camera. Also, FOX cameramen kept zooming in on her crotch throughout her performance AND at one point her backup dancers were simulating an orgy while she writhed around on a stripper pole. [sic]"
Pictured: Not what an orgy looks like Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
"The Superbowl halftime show was pure filth and not suitable for on air broadcast. Pole dancing, crotch grabbing, simulated sex acts, and even a brief masturbation by J-low all beamed into our family TV room! [sic]"
"JLo did a striptease pole dance while barely-dressed backup dancers simulated an orgy underneath her [sic]"
"1. exposing practically naked backside (looked like thong with leather straps in place?? and crotch area in the camera while gyrating in a sexual manner. This went on for quite some time of the performance. 2. coming down a stripper's pole doing a striptease practically naked, hardly anything on clothes-wise, same with the dancers depicting an orgy-type of activity. It was disgusting!! [sic]"
"They had stripper poles and on stage masturbation on display. [sic]"
"Allowing soft porn with stripper poles and assholes being shown when children are watching. Totally inappropriate!!! Jennifer Lopez did not need to bring her stripper movie and outfits to the Super Bowl. Thanks for supporting porn! [sic]"
"The half time shows need to have tv ratings as it is not appropriate family viewing to see pole dancing, crotch grabbing and extreme booty shaking. [sic]"
Pictured: Extreme Booty Shaking Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
"The Super Bowl halftime show was 100% pornography w women mimicking masturbation in close up crotch shots, imitating sex acts with men while twerking with bare bottoms. [sic]"
It seems unlikely that the FCC will be compelled to take legal action—nor should they—but it's actually kind of nice to see such heartwarmingly sheltered perspectives shared with the world. It's like visiting a historical reenactment village, or imagining the kind of scandals that caused fainting spells at Victorian dinner parties. We hope you never change, FCC complainers—and that you never check your loved ones' search history.
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The Super Bowl halftime show bared a lot of truth.
Depending on who you ask, it's unclear who won the Super Bowl.
Some say the highest trophy went to Jennifer Lopez, who commanded the stage with age-defying athleticism, from pole dancing to expert choreography, leading millions of viewers to Google her age (50 years old, that's right). Many say that Latin music won the night, with Bad Bunny joining Lopez to represent Puerto Rico and Shakira, 43, bringing Colombian and Middle Eastern cultures to the spotlight on the Super Bowl halftime stage. Or, as The Cut says, it was "a very good night for butts"; between the awesome powers of Shakira and J-Lo, we had "a dance routine choreographed by butts, for butts...Hips don't lie, and as it turns out, neither do butts!"
But, as with any sporting event, there were angry spectators who didn't like what was happening, who yelled out their displeasure, and who occasionally ranted that "this is America!" for seemingly no reason. Criticism of Shakira and Lopez's halftime performance ranged from shaming the provocative nature of their costumes and choreography to the "un-American" cultural references embedded throughout their performances.
Is the Super Bowl American?
During Shakira's performance of "Hips Don't Lie," the Grammy Award-winning artist paused to give a nod to her Colombian-Lebanese roots. She leaned down to allow one lucky camera to capture a high vocal trill accompanied by a tongue-wagging movement. While the ululation confused many (and inspired a truly cringe-worthy amount of memes), others recognized it as Shakira's version of a zaghroota, a traditional cry of joy in Arabic cultures. Shakira, whose first name is Arabic for "grateful," was mostly raised in Barranquilla, Colombia by her Spanish and Italian mother and Lebanese father.
everyone is making fun of this but it’s a traditional arabic celebration chant, referred to as “zaghroota” https://t.co/CP7XgY9dk2— Rawan (@Rawan)1580693951.0
IT IS CALLED A ZAGHROOTA, she’s ARAB. Blame yourself for those filthy AF thoughts. “Teaching kids how to eat ass”… https://t.co/N5IhkoiDqJ— Laila Alawa (@Laila Alawa)1580694927.0
In fact, her father introduced her to the doumbek, a traditional drum in Arabic music that often accompanies belly dancing. She first heard the beat in a Middle Eastern restaurant when she was four years old, and she fell in love with the performance. During Sunday's halftime show, Shakira brought her signature belly dancing to the stage, where Middle Eastern viewers recognized their culture represented proudly before millions of Americans. Some took to Twitter to point out the traditional dances from Carnaval de Barranquilla, the second largest carnival in the world—which takes place in Shakira's hometown. She also performed the Champeta, a dance that originated in Africa and has its own version in Branquilla, Colombia; and many pointed out that Shakira's zaghroota was part of her version of "Son de negro," another traditional dance performed in Colombia to celebrate African ancestry.
Shakira said "I'm gonna show these white ppl some mf CULTURE" And look we were blessed. The legend popped out.… https://t.co/e5BBgA9dDD— Lilly Santiago 🇵🇷 (@Lilly Santiago 🇵🇷)1580697262.0
Btw this dance is called Champeta and it is originated in Shakira’s hometown of Branquilla Colombia! It’s respected… https://t.co/LLPFv9QdCa— Raphy 🥏 (@Raphy 🥏)1580701445.0
Jennifer Lopez created equally dramatic moments in honor of Latinx culture. The Bronx-born Puerto Rican singer gave new renditions of hits like "Jenny From the Block" and "Waiting for Tonight." But then came a symbolic interlude when Lopez turned the stage over to her 11-year-old daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, to lead a children's choir in a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The performance was staged with the children encased in cage-like decorations, a symbolic nod to the thousands of immigrant children being held at the border, most of whom come from Latin American countries. When Lopez returned to the stage, she was wrapped in a feathered version of the Puerto Rican flag, whose white star represents the U.S. commonwealth and white stripes stand for human rights and individual freedom.
This was the defining moment of the Super Bowl. The statement JLo and Shakira made by having the kids singing from… https://t.co/znI1GyHXyK— Joshua Potash (@Joshua Potash)1580703755.0
@RoArquette Wait......did you miss the kids in cages part and the Puerto Rican flag and J'Lo's daughter singing alo… https://t.co/jdmoM2V1rp— Kelli Valerio (@Kelli Valerio)1580694907.0
"Family Friendly" Sexism?
However, while Shakira and Lopez's halftime performance celebrated Latinx culture with nods to the Latinx diaspora and its numerous contributions to what we know as "American culture" today, ignorance still marred many viewers' perceptions. Criticism ranged from racially charged complaints that "this is not an Arabic country" and that cultural traditions were somehow inappropriate to show on national television to overt, sexist shaming of both Shakira and Lopez for their provocative dancing.
What most critics seem to have in common is a belief that the Super Bowl halftime performance is a "family show," and therefore viewers are entitled to modesty from female performers. Perhaps they also believe that J. Lo is simply too old to pole dance. In a nod to her critically acclaimed performance in Hustlers, Lopez showed off her athleticism with a pole dancing routine in her set, and she was also joined by Shakira for a final hip-shaking pose. Critics found this be too sexualizing and objectifying of women–which it was, if one looks at it through the lens of the default male gaze, which has always warped how we see women in media, placing women in the Edenic role of the seductress and entirely dismissing their cultural origins and personal ability to exert control over their own bodies. But hey, that's Twitter for you.
El pole dancing de diosa #jlo #SuperBowl @jlo #HalftimeShow https://t.co/EgAxxpflMU— Spidey 🔥 (@Spidey 🔥)1580698702.0
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Remember when Lady Gaga literally jumped off the top of the stadium?
If you watch the Super Bowl for the football, then we don't have much to talk about.
But if you watch the Super Bowl for the spectacle of the half time show and the commercials? We could get along. There are few performances in a musician's career with stakes as high as the Super Bowl half time show. It's live, the whole thing needs to be assembled in the length of a commercial break, and the whole country is watching and judging your performance.
Only the best of the best musical artists are invited to take the stage on football's big day, but not all of them nail it. Here are the 10 best Super Bowl halftime shows in history.
10. The Rolling Stones (2006)
Nobody can get a crowd going like Mick Jagger. The notorious showman was aided by a stage shaped like the band's iconic symbol and, of course, the blood pumping power of songs like "Start Me Up" and "Satisfaction." We could have done without the addition of the mediocre "Rough Justice," and it would have been nice if the band had performed a few more songs. Still, this performance makes our list because of the simple power of good rock n' roll.
9. Diana Ross (1996)
Arguably, the era of half time shows featuring elaborate sets, costume changes, and general over-the-top fanfare began with this iconic performance. Diana Ross appeared in a new costume for every single song, entered the arena via glittering platform, and was backed by a swarm of perfectly in-sync backup dancers.
8. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)
The only thing more American than football is Bruce Springsteen. He played an absolutely indomitable set during his halftime performance in 2009 that included "10th Avenue Freeze Out," "Born to Run," "Working on a Dream," and "Glory Days." While the performance was simple, Springsteen's enthusiasm was infectious and his stage presence magnetic.
7. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliott (2015)
With an over the top set and surprise guests Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott, this was truly an iconic performance. But most importantly, we got the cultural touchstone of "left shark," the shark costume-clad back up dancer who simply, blessedly, didn't know the choreography.
6. Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green (2012)
Madonna has never been known for her subtlety, and this performance was certainly not a rebranding. She entered the arena on a massive gold throne surrounded by scantily clad back up dancers and proceeded to put on a show that was as ambitious as it was chaotic. The bizarre array of guest performers added additional delightful dissonance that assured this performance was, at the very least, a spectacle worth remembering.
5. Aerosmith, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly (2001)
The sheer amount of star power on the stage for this performance easily earns the 2001 halftime show a place on our list. It was a stroke of genius to open with "Bye Bye Bye" from NSYNC and transition directly into Steven Tyler singing "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and then to jump straight back into "It's Gonna Be Me." Teenagers and their dads alike were screaming with excitement during this high energy performance. And then, as if it could get any better, surprise guests Nelly, Mary J. Blige, and Britney Spears appear during "Walk This Way," cementing this performance as one of the best in history.
4. Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars (2016)
The song "Uptown Funk" is a national treasure, and if you disagree you're wrong. And for "Uptown Funk" to go straight into a politically charged performance of "Formation"??? We didn't deserve it. Then, Beyonce and Bruno do a call and response on stage with their respective posses, raising the energy in the stadium to a boiling point.
3. Lady Gaga (2017)
After much anticipation for this particular halftime show, Lady Gaga kept it surprisingly simple (at least, by Lady Gaga standards). She began by leaping off the top of the arena and lowering herself onto the stage like a spider. From there, fireworks and costume changes abounded. While the performance wasn't overtly political, her rendition of "Born This Way" was a powerful moment of LGBTQ+ issues being brought into mainstream conversation. Perhaps the highlight of the show was when Gaga took to the piano and—surrounded by lanterns—sang a heartfelt rendition of "Million Reasons."
2. Prince (2007)
If Prince is in any running, it's a good chance he's gonna land somewhere near the top. He had four electric guitars on a stage that was shaped like his infamous symbol, and he proceeded to rock like no one else can rock. He played his own songs, but he also covered other people's, putting on a magnetic performance that was all about the power of music. The pouring rain, which panicked the halftime show producers, only added to the drama of Prince's closing rendition of "Purple Rain." It was so powerful that the second half of the football game came off as an after thought.
1. Beyoncé (2013)
Even if this performance was just 13 minutes of Beyoncé strutting across the stage in a straight line, it would probably still top this list. But as one Youtube commenter said, "Beyonce dances like the universe owes her for her existence." Between the video effects, the choreography, the vocals, and the literal fire on stage, fans were practically beside themselves. And then Destiny's Child made a surprise reunion, and America collectively shrieked with joy. We were all left saying, "Really weird how there's a football game going on at this Beyoncé concert."
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