Do you remember February 1, 2004? It was a tumultuous yet hopeful time, marked by a still-forming presidential election that had not yet been Swift Boated into futility, still-hilarious Howard Dean mash-ups disseminated on television—which is what people watched in the days before YouTube—and a noble war against malevolent Middle Eastern men who were building nuclear bombs in underground bunkers with the names of all your relatives written on them that had not yet been proven to be an utter fabrication.
Instead of investing all of our entertainment dollars into emotionally fragile vampires, we were far more interested in slightly homoerotic Hobbits; Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears made headlines that didn’t end in “meltdown;” people were attracted to and/or ate something called an “Orlando Bloom;” and Jon and Kate were just two Pennsylvania morons scarfing down fertility drugs like they were Ed Hardy Signature Skittles. The world had not yet heard of Kanye West, except for people who listened extremely closely to Jay-Z shout-outs; Patrick Swayze was alive and well and turning in ill-advised cameos in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. And even though our president was a class-A fucking moron and unrepentant liar about everything, no politician dared yell at him about anything, ever, because that’s just the sort of world we lived in.
But something has happened since then, and the media can sense it in the air: the end of civility. You could hear it in recent outbursts from Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West. You can see it the way our “town halls” have dissolved into mad “tea parties,” or the way “political discourse” is the name applied to the huffy rants of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter encouraging-but-not-really-encouraging-but-still-encouraging their more reactionary, less read-a-newspaper-y fan bases to believe that trying to provide better health care is just a front for Obama’s coming Islamofascist regime. And every day you can read it all across the Internet, which is itself a barely contained riot of extremist opinion, manufactured outrage, and honor assailed hourly and defended pointlessly on the closest available comment board.
We’re officially down in the muck, everyone, blindly biting each other on the back—or so today’s story goes—and so we are forced to wonder: How has it been such a steep fall from grace since those tense yet strangely optimistic days of 2004? Can we blame this whole mess on the proliferation of reality TV, the influence of proudly vulgar socialites like Paris Hilton, and web-based navel-gazing for encouraging our hurtful narcissism? Should we blame ourselves for allowing ourselves to be tempted and corrupted by any and all of these?
Of course not! Anyone who’s read their Bible knows that the Fall of Man wasn’t over a gradual eroding of soil—it was a rug yanked out from under us the second that apple skin wedged itself between our incisors, and we realized our genitalia was just sort of hanging out there, getting engorged at confusing times and chapping in the breeze. And when future historians look back on man’s post-God millennia, they’ll trace our second expulsion from the garden to yet another unwitting revelation of our physical and spiritual nakedness: February 1, 2004, and the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when all of America’s little Adams and Eves were seduced by the slithery, serpentine moves of Justin Timber-snake, and then sank their eye-teeth deep into the low-hanging Fruit of Terrible Knowledge bursting forth from Janet Jackson’s chest. In that moment, our fragile, barely restored Paradise dissipated, and no longer did the dulcet entreaties of “Rock Your Body” resemble the confident assertions of a musician sure of his ability to inspire terpsichorean movement in his listeners, so much as the lube-less ear-fucking of a lecherous castrati. Since then we’ve been silently screaming through five years of innocence painfully lost, our nation’s great ship yawing ever more dangerously toward the murky bottom, where all the squids and crabs get together and do whatever the fish version of Special K is and have weird interspecies orgies and stuff.
But fortunately for our immortal souls, not everyone is content to ride out these final days of ruin in the House of Boob-alon [copyright Daily Buzzkills]. While some may have already forgotten about the Jackson incident and its ensuing courtroom drama in the wake of larger, more high-profile things—such as the election of the nation’s first black president, say, or the very painful and sudden loss of Jackson’s way more famous brother—the FCC has apparently been locked up in its apartment like Bob Crane, wearing out its replay button on that infamous footage, determined to one day exact bloody justice on those responsible for unleashing the partial breast that forever opened our eyes and condemned us to this life of dangerously unchecked wantonness. Or actually, maybe they’re more like Charles Bronson in Death Wish II: Ordinary family men and guardians of the standards of broadcast decency who were finally pushed too far, and who have spent the last few years biding their time by knocking off practice hooligans like Without A Trace, but who were always waiting for the day they’d turn down the right back alley and run into Janet Jackson’s tits again. And now it appears that day might finally be coming, just when its dish of revenge has finally turned into Vichysoisse; the FCC has “reasserted its power to regulate fleeting nudity” and announced that it officially plans to reopen the investigation:
"The evidence in this case strongly suggests that CBS had access to video delay technology at the time of the 2004 Super Bowl," the commission said Tuesday in a brief to the Third Circuit Appeals Court in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl reveal case. The FCC asked the court to remand the decision back to the FCC so it could investigate further its assertion that the violation was "willful."
The Third Circuit, in reversing the FCC's fine against the broadcast, said the evidence that delay technology was available at the time was "scant." The FCC disagrees and wants the chance to determine "whether CBS was reckless not to use video delay technology for this broadcast."
The commission also reasserted that the reveal was off limits for broadcast TV between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. "[The FCC] reasonably determined in this case that the graphic and shocking, albeit brief, exposure of Janet Jackson’s bare right breast to a nationwide audience composed of millions of children and adults was indecent," the FCC said.
Not merely indecent, but as we’ve seen in these last, crumbling days of our moral empire, deeply and permanently scarring—which probably only makes them angrier about the Third Circuit’s ruling that the fine initially levied against CBS was “arbitrary and capricious.” Oh really? Is there anything “arbitrary” about recognizing that those formerly chaste children—whose first breast encountered outside of the holy bond of mother-infant suckling came hidden behind the lewdly winking eye of Jackson’s tawdry, tarnished nipple shield—have all grown up to be shameless fornicators, rutting their way to collective spiritual ruin? Is there anything “capricious” about wanting to fight the spread of lasciviousness sparked by seeing Ms. Jackson willfully debased—made out to be “nasty,” if you will?
For all right-thinking, damnation-fearing, and partial-boob-and-having-frank-and-frankly-overdue-conversations-with-their-children-about-sex-fearing people, we say no. We can only hope that the FCC’s tireless pursuit of decency at the expense of any millions of dollars—and against the resounding chorus of apathy from the public who’s too far gone to know when it needs to be saved—is enough to stem this rising tide of incivility and boorishness that’s slowly turning our nation into a hellish, Hieronymus Bosch panorama. Just as soon as they finish dealing with their case against NYPD Blue, which they are apparently also still working on. But soon after that: Deliverance! (From evil. Not the movie about hillbilly ass-rape.)