For what was a relatively uneventful Super Bowl LIII, the halftime performance by Maroon V has generated quite a lot of buzz. The controversy began after frontman Adam Levine took his shirt off to expose his fully tatted torso. The relatively predictable stunt (Levine has taken his shirt off during countless live performances) led many on social media to compare the “Moves Like Jagger” singer to Janet Jackson, whose infamous “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004 resulted in a $550,000 FCC indecency fine and exclusion from any future Super Bowl performances since.
Viewers of this year’s big game were quick to point out the alleged double-standard for topless male performers:
So Adam Levine can perform shirtless but Janet Jackson can’t? This is so very wrong haha. #PepsiHalftime
— A Texas Man (@atari2600yeah) February 4, 2019
YOU’RE TELLING ME JAMET JACKSON CANT SHOW ONE NIPPLE BUT ADAM LEVINE CAN BE SHIRTLESS?
— Ashly Perez (@itsashlyperez) February 4, 2019
— Hannah Cranston (@HannahCranston) February 4, 2019
Why is it okay to see Adam Levine’a boobs and not Janet Jackson’s?
Asking for a friend.
— Aisha Tyler (@aishatyler) February 4, 2019
— nyoldman (@NYDoorman) February 4, 2019
friendly reminder that janet jackson got blacklisted for doing what adam levine just did
— Korey Kuhl (@koreykuhl) February 4, 2019
— oops I didn’t again… (@Jaredlikescoffe) February 4, 2019
Even the ultra-progressive Women’s March weighed in on the alleged scandal:
— Women's March (@womensmarch) February 4, 2019
Jackson’s 2004 halftime performance of “Rock Your Body” with Justin Timberlake shocked millions of viewers when Timberlake went to remove Jackson’s corset and accidentally pulled back her bra, exposing the singer’s breast. Both singers issued apologies following the incident, and Timberlake went on to perform for last year’s Super Bowl without a hitch.
What happened in 2004 was unfortunate, given the fact that many families with young children (my own being one of them) were suddenly confronted with the unexpected nudity. But the criticism that Adam Levine’s shirtless stunt is equal to what many have dubbed “Nipplegate” is completely absurd.
First of all, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake did not plan to shock the nation that fateful evening in 2004. Both singers acknowledged it it as a scandal because neither planned for it to go that far. And afterwards, both admitted the indecency of the incident, which is that women’s bare chests have no place in one of the most watched events on television. This is also why no major news outlets published photos of the moment, as they did with Levine’s.
Secondly, what Adam Levine’s critics fail to acknowledge is the difference between male and female modesty. Several condemned the double-standard for shirtless men and women but refused to consider the rationale behind such standards.
Why was Jackson’s performance a scandal?
So what’s the difference between topless Levine and Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction? Janet Jackson is a woman. But this isn’t a simple case of sexism, as many have insinuated, but rather a fact of human biology. Though few are bold enough to admit this publicly today, men and women are different. Women have breasts, and men do not.
Was Levine’s shirtless performance unnecessary and immodest? Yes. But it’s also not shocking. Male rockers have been taking their shirts off during performances for the past six decades. But it doesn’t hold the same shock factor as a woman’s bare chest. If I had to offer an imperfect comparison, I would say that Levine’s act had more in common with Lady Gaga exposing her midriff during her 2017 Super Bowl performance.
Could our culture stand to be more modest? Absolutely. This is not a defense of shirtless male rockstars. But last night’s show paved the way for an important conversation surrounding sexual differences that our culture too often denies.
The whole reason Jackson’s exposure was a scandal is because, at least at the time, most people intuitively acknowledged the truth that the female body is a sacred thing, not to be flippantly exposed for a wide television audience that includes families with children. And while NFL cheerleaders romp around in next to nothing, the Jackson scandal proved that even in our morally tone-deaf society, certain things remain rightfully beyond the pale.
Our culture is totally confused when it comes to modesty and human sexuality in general — the pervasive problem of porn addiction is a sad testament to that. But misleading claims that men and women are biologically the same are unhelpful and only serve to muddle our understanding of human dignity.