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Monday, February 09, 2004  
More On The Breast That Broke America
From The Turntable.

I’m waiting for Justin to apologise for Outkast’s nipples. It’s got to come along sooner or later; after all, Janet Jackson only has one tit that America’s been exposed to, whereas I counted at least 7 tits in the “Hey Ya” video, all wearing green. Never mind the real nipples they actually exposed at the Grammies; male chests have never been enough to incite riots. Are the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ sock-encased cocks more or less offensive than Janet Jackson’s steel-wrapped nipple? (Where the hell did she get that thing that was clamped to her teat anyway?- from an advert on the back page of Metal Hammer?)

A breast isn’t offensive. There are more breasts in the world than there are people (and that’s not counting Meatloaf’s). A breast isn’t pornography. But I guess that a government/establishment/country/culture (delete as appropriate) that pumps millions of dollars into programs like “The Ring Thing” isn’t going to be overly hot when it comes to developing positive attitudes to the body and self-worth and so on and so forth, especially not when encouraging a generation of kids to grow up afraid of sex and believing in some kind of unholy duality between body and soul is much more lucrative in terms of cold hard economics, or something.

But the morality/pornography thing isn’t the only issue with Janet’s breast baring. I’ve read spurts of outrage in various places about her wardrobe malfunction being a publicity-seeking tactic, mammary-based marketing for a new single, shameless self-promotion, proof positive that ‘pop tarts’ are willing to do anything to help them shift another thousand units. But this attitude fails to realise that Janet Jackson's exploits during the Superbowl are no different to the promotional duties and spurious ideological posturing undertaken by any number of rock bands or alternative ‘artists’ in order to sell more records; Janet’s just got a different target-market, dear. If anything the pop audience is less taken in by this kind of stunt because they have no pretensions of the music they like being authentic or real or 'of value'; they just like it. JJ exposes her breast / Britney dresses up in a red leather catsuit / Xtina dyes her hair and pouts her cleavage while Oasis trash hotel rooms and beat up photographers, Coldplay name check John Kerry and witter on about Fair Trade again. The Stone Roses manager during the first period of their existence, Gareth Evans, used to deliberately lie about their drug-intake and carry around a suitcase full of used tenners to increase press interest; never mind the band’s own self-mythologising, sabotaging TV appearances, graffiti-ing their name across the facades of Manchester city centre before they even had a record out, proclaiming they wanted to play a gig on the moon, beating-up members of Kajagoogoo in pub toilets and vandalising the cars of record company executives who dared to cross them. Indie singers wearing their hearts on their sleeves in interviews is another example of exactly the same thing - product-specific advertising. (“If you like reading about me complaining about my dodgy love life you're sure as hell gonna LOVE listening to me sing about it!”) Johnny Rotten saying “fuck” like a naughty schoolboy on The Bill Grundy show in 76 or 77 (I forget – I wasn’t born) is the same thing yet again; likewise Lennon and Yoko getting bed sores for ‘peace’. It's all marketing, it's all prostitution, whether you dress it up in good intentions, anarchy or a nipple-ring. Dismissing one form of marketing and accepting the other, and what's more suggesting that it's not actually marketing AT ALL but rather REAL people being REALLY REAL, demonstrates a lack of awareness of how the modern world works, shows that you've got no grasp of critical thought and are thus at risk of being an unwitting slave to ideology (the whole point of which is that people don't even realise it's there, people). Rock kids love myth-making and pop kids love a bit of tit. Me? I like a mythical tit.

But what is authenticity anyway? It’s still hanging over us no matter how many times we try and kill the bastard thing. Chris Ott can hit Caps Lock and type “WHERE’S YOUR CRED AT??!!” all he likes, but the kind of romanticist-career-aiding lies spouted about Beethoven (“he wrote all his symphonies in one sitting, you know, visualised them completely in his mind and then just sat down and wrote them straight off; he must be a genius” – analogues of such claims as made by people like Heinrich Schenker, who are supposedly respected and knowledgeable, but which encourage the idea that great artists don’t ‘create’ or ‘work on’ art but rather ‘channel it’ from some kind of undefined spiritual plane) only help to perpetuate the kind of culturally accepted lies that cause the artist to be separated from the audience and reasoned discourse about music as a cultural/academic topic to be dismissed as untenable and pointless, reducing everything to the awe-filled gawks of small-minded relativists and subjectivists who can’t fathom how people can actually gone done make ‘em some art stuff, son. As for all those old blues men who got ripped-off in the fifties and sixties when white artists were given their songs in order to get hits and Keef used their riffs to get laid; isn’t it a bit late to be feeling apologetic for that? And even if it isn’t a bit late to apologise it’s certainly a bit rude to pretend you’ve achieved the same level of emotional pain and spiritual hardship in order to feel good about all those copies of your CD in all those Mondeos.

Plus, you know, I think Janet's breast was rather nice. Or maybe not.


2/09/2004 09:45:00 pm


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005