Feature

Editor's Letter

Janet Jackson’s right breast was back in the news last week. It first achieved international infamy, of course, for being briefly exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

Janet Jackson’s right breast was back in the news last week. It first achieved international infamy, of course, for being briefly exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” touched off a national debate over how to protect children from popular culture’s coarser elements, culminating in a record $550,000 FCC fine against CBS. But last week, a federal court threw out the fine, ruling that the agency had failed to warn broadcasters it was tightening standards on “fleeting” nudity. The decision outraged conservative pro-family and media watchdog groups. If it’s not a violation for Justin Timberlake to grind against Janet Jackson while singing a suggestive song, before ripping open her bodice in prime time—well, then what can the FCC do?

The answer is—not much. The cable and digital revolutions have rendered the FCC as anachronistic as a black-and-white television with rabbit ears. To begin with, the FCC has absolutely no oversight over cable TV, which brings very explicit programming into most households. Nor does it regulate videogames, movies on DVD, satellite radio, and a little something called the Internet. Most young people, including my own kids, spend little if any time watching traditional broadcast TV; they watch the edgier offerings on cable or forgo TV altogether for the Web and other digital options. Parents are right to worry about all the exploitative violence and sex out there, much of which makes Justin and Janet seem like Ozzie and Harriet. But at this point, the only way for the government to stop the flood would require a degree of Big Brother intervention that most Americans would also find appalling. Sorry, parents, but it’s on us.

Eric Effron

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