US viewers bare their teeth over 'Nipplegate'

Published Feb 4, 2004


Los Angeles - Shockwaves from Justin Timberlake's baring of Janet Jackson's breast on prime-time TV shook the Grammy music awards when special new steps were unveiled on Tuesday to prevent a repeat performance.

Organisers of music's top honours, which will be broadcast live from Los Angeles on Sunday, said both singers would be allowed to appear on the show despite Jackson's televised flash during Sunday's Super Bowl football game.

But the CBS television network, which also broadcast the Super Bowl and the now infamous "nipple-gate" incident, said it was slapping an extra time-delay on its Grammys telecast to "delete both inappropriate audio and video footage from the broadcast".

"The new procedure, which is being co-ordinated with the Recording Academy, is being put in place to safeguard against any unexpected and inappropriate content being broadcast during the awards ceremony," CBS said in a statement.

The Academy's Ron Roecker said that Jackson would present a Grammy statuette to a winner as scheduled and that pop heart-throb Timberlake would perform on stage as planned.

But he stressed that the 46th annual Grammys would be run as a much tighter ship than the Super Bowl's halftime performance in which the singers' antics triggered outrage and shock across conservative America.

"We do want to ensure we are being respectful to our audience, but we've been doing this live event for a long time and have the means in place to anticipate these things, although in live television everything we do is somewhat unpredictable," Roecker said.

Fury over the prime-time over-exposure of Michael Jackson's sister has gripped the United States since Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson's bodice in stunt that Jackson said went to far accidentally.

As all US television stations continued to run images of the incident - dubbed the "Nipplegate" scandal - digital video recording pioneer TiVo said the moment had already become the most watched in its history.

"The close of Timberlake and Jackson's halftime duet drew the biggest spike in audience reaction TiVo has ever measured, the company, that was formed in 1997, said in a statement.

The company said viewership spiked up to 180 percent as home television audiences repeatedly paused and replayed the incident, which prompted an investigation by the US media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC said on Monday it was launching an inquiry into whether the display of flesh was indecent, as a host of official organisations slammed the singers' conduct.

Jackson has apologised for her conduct, saying the stunt had been added at the last minute without the knowledge of producers, MTV, or CBS television which broadcast the show live, but that it had gone too far.

"The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals," Jackson said in a statement received by AFP. "MTV was completely unaware of it.

"It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologise to anyone offended, including the audience, MTV, CBS, and the National Football League."

Jackson's spokesperson said the incident was caused by a "wardrobe malfunction" and that the red lace bra was supposed to have remained intact when Timberlake ripped off the top of her leather outfit.

President George Bush turned off his television before "Nipplegate" hit, said his spokesperson, but stressed the president did not favour such bawdy displays.

But Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, dismissed the federal inquiry into the incident as "silly".

"I find that to be a bit of a flap about nothing," he told reporters. "I'm probably affected in some ways by the fact that I'm a doctor, so it's not exactly an unusual phenomenon for me."

While MTV, CBS and Timberlake also apologised publicly, media experts noted the puritanical outrage was mostly institutional and not from individual viewers.

"I don't think that this moral outrage goes very deep into American society, all we've seen is official reactions of shock and horror," said Professor Leo Braudy, a popular culture expert at the University of Southern California.

Braudy said the incident, which followed other moments of popular shock sparked by such acts as an passionate on-stage kiss between pop icon Madonna and teen queen Britney Spears at an awards show last year, was the latest example of stars and media testing the bounds of social acceptability.

"Artists and the media are constantly pushing the envelope as far as what is okay for prime time entertainment, and this was no different," he said. - Sapa-AFP

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