The Scandal of Seeing Janet Jackson's Breast

Roundup: Media's Take

Rachel Sauer, in the Palm Beach Post (Feb. 4, 2004):

Oh, the deliciousness of scandal! The lurid details! The shock and outrage! The entertainment piled on entertainment!

Because entertainment without occasional scandal is just a little, well, boring. Having our envelopes pushed can engage us in art and entertainment in a way that quality and highbrow notions often can't. If nothing else, scandal keeps us looking, and talking.

So we're scandalized by Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime spectacle: a bare breast mixed into an entertainment extravaganza. We're tut-tutting and gossiping and theorizing.

And we're remembering when we were here before, at this place of scandal, when artists and entertainers did shocking things in the course of a performance and we couldn't stop talking. Let's take a stroll back, keeping in mind that we used to be easier to outrage.

• At the May 29, 1913, debut performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Paris, audience members were so upset by the work -- a violent ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky depicting fertility rites, set to Stravinsky's primitive, unsettling music -- that fistfights broke out in the aisles. Soon a riot erupted and police couldn't restore order.

• In 1926, Mae West wrote and starred in a play called Sex, about a Montreal prostitute, that ran on Broadway for almost a year before New York City's deputy police commissioner raided the theater. West was charged with lewdness and corrupting youth and spent 10 days in jail.

• Also in 1926, actress Clara Bow exuded such open sexuality in the movie Mantrap, as the supposedly predatory wife of a woodsman, that audience members couldn't hide their outrage.

• Although there was no visible tongue, Greta Garbo gave John Gilbert the screen's first obviously open-mouth kiss in 1927's Flesh and the Devil. Fans' tongues wagged in response.

• Audiences were indeed shocked when actress Jean Harlow asked, "Would you be shocked if I changed into something more comfortable?" in 1930's Hell's Angels.

• Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, about a middle-aged man who lusts mightily and seduces his 12-year-old stepdaughter, was released in the United States in 1958, following its original 1955 release in France. Enjoying three year's worth of scandal in Europe -- the book was banned in Great Britain and France -- it sold more than 100,000 copies in its first three weeks of U.S. release. Critics loved it; the moral majority called it pornography.

• It was a true rock 'n' roll moment when Elvis Presley sang Hound Dog on the June 5, 1956, Milton Berle Show. His wild, pelvis-thrusting dance style inspired outraged TV critics to decry the performance for its "appalling lack of musicality," "vulgarity" and "animalism." The Catholic Church issued a statement called "Beware Elvis Presley."


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