Pop Rocks: The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Makes Super Bowl Halftimes Safe for Nipples Again

Over seven years after the FCC went into a tizzy over Janet Jackson exposing her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl (making a D-cup out of an A-cup, perhaps), a federal appeals court upheld its finding yesterday that the commission acted improperly in fining CBS:  

A three-judge panel from 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the FCC improperly assessed a $550,000 fine against the network for the so-called "wardrobe malfunction" that lasted just over half a second.

During the Super Bowl performance in Houston, Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson's bustier, briefly exposing her breast and a silver sunburst "shield" covering her nipple. In arguments last year, the FCC argued that CBS should have been aware the performers might add shock value to the act.

"CBS had a duty to investigate," FCC lawyer Jack Lewis argued.

The ruling isn't just a necessary reaction against the FCC's propensity for handing out fines like a cop in a speed trap, it also signals a hopefully welcome change in course for the Super Bowl halftime show, which has - in the post-Nipplegate era - gone from generally embarrassing curiosity to train wrecks you avoid watching out of pity for all involved.

The modern overblown orgy of excess as we know it didn't take shape until the 1990s. Before then, halftimes were still the province of marching bands and that performing ensemble that put the "group" in "groupthink," Up With People. They performed in four Super Bowl halftime shows, the latest in...1986? Jesus, what a decade.

This all changed in 1993, when Michael Jackson brought his "Heal the World" extravaganza to the Rose Bowl and earned more ratings for the show than the barn burner of a game (Dallas defeated Buffalo by a nail-biting 35 points). From that point on, every effort was made to secure more recognizable talent than, say, George Burns (Super Bowl XXI) or Brian Boitano (XXVI).

And so it went until that fateful night, right here in Houston, when Justin Timberlake pulled back Jackson's bustier to reveal a...well, no one really knew what they'd seen at the time. A "nipple shield," but not the actual nipple itself. Didn't matter; folks were outraged that a contest between juiced up glandular freaks attempting to pulverize each other had been interrupted by a half-second flash of breast, and the NFL declared MTV (who had produced the Jackson show) would never be allowed near another halftime show.

Because that's how you punish MTV: tell them they can't be involved music anymore.

The rest, at least until now, is pretty boring history. Since 2004, there hasn't been a halftime act under the age of 50 until this year. Other than that, the NFL went straight classic rock format, with the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Who, Tom Petty, and Bruce, among others. And to be fair, Petty and Bruce made the most of their brief medleys.

The Who, on the other hand...

Jesus christ, Townshend. That's like being at the family reunion and your grandpa is all drunk and comes out of the part bathroom with his shirt poking out his fly but no one wants to say anything.

But now, maybe the collective sphincters of the NFL will loosen a little bit, and they'll be able to return to (decent) music made since civilization made the bold move to abandon the 8-track. And when I say "decent," I mean "anything unrelated to the last halftime performers, the Black Eyed Peas."

That's as close as you'll ever get to the legendary "brown note," right there, except it had me wanting me to purge from the other end.

They aren't going to far out on a limb in 2012, as the 53-year-old Madonna is reportedly the halftime performer. Still, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj are allegedly performing alongside, so that's a start. But what could the future hold?

Slayer? Instead of Reign in Blood they could call it Reign in Bud to placate nervous beer sponsors.

The Wu-Tang Clan? Get them all onstage to perform next to a hologram of ODB.

Hank III? Why not? His dumbass dad is no longer associated with pro football, and I always thought "Time to Die" would be a good replacement for "Are You Ready for Some Football?"

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