The Scandal of Seeing Janet Jackson's Breast
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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