We thought we saw it too: Long ago and far away—this may take us back to the late 1980s!—we sat before a TV set with a young relative who was, as the memory flies, something like 8 years old.
Skanky MTV videos were on. The message concerning the role of young women was blindingly obvious. We recall feeling sorry for our young relative, for the messaging being delivered to her at such a young age.
If her brother had been there, we would have felt sorry for him as well. On the brighter side, skanky producers and skanky "artists" were lining their pockets with cash.
On Sunday evening, the Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg seems to have had a similar reaction to the Super Bowl halftime show. When yesterday's column appeared, we'd also say that she seemed to be trying to say a good deal less than what she actually thought:
ROSENBERG (2/3/20): The show, starring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, was intended to accomplish a number of things: to boost the National Football League’s lagging Latino viewership, to nod to Miami’s Latino cultural traditions and to provide a spectacle more engaging than last year’s wholly generic performance by Maroon 5. The two Latina headliners sparked conversations about everything from the role of zaghrouta in Arabic cultures to Puerto Rico’s essential Americanness.Rosenberg gave us two choices. Had the two women "dominated the stage?" Or had they "been demeaned" by the show, in which one of them entered the stage on a stripper pole?
But one debate overshadowed the rest: whether Shakira and Lopez had dominated the stage—or been demeaned by a show that was undeniably sexy.
J-Lo entered the stage on a stripper pole, wearing leather chaps that gave way to a bedazzled, barely there bodysuit, while Shakira’s already tiny outfit shrank as the night went on. But the singers had to navigate more than quick costume changes and shifting sets: They were performing their way through a thorny set of norms.
Is a third choice possible? Did the two women present a misogynist-leaning spectacle, increasing their fame as they did? Or is it simply all in good fun to "enter the stage on a pole?"
(Opinions on that may differ.)
Rosenberg implies that Lopez may have been demeaned by the show, not that she may have demeaned herself and worked against the best interests of women and children and men. Has progressive sexual politics possibly slid a couple of steps steps when that third possibility can't even be voiced at this point?
Presumably, this is the part, later on in the column, where we possibly find the two women being demeaned—demeaned by Fox, no less:
ROSENBERG: Shakira’s and J-Lo’s costumes stayed firmly in place. But Fox seemed determine to remove all mystery anyway, aiming cameras at their crotches so frequently that I actually lost count. The network’s fixation seemed to take inspiration from Bruce Springsteen’s fly-first slide at the camera during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2009. Then, Springsteen’s sudden genital takeover of America’s television screens felt like a boyish act of exuberance. This time, Fox’s crotch fixation brought on a case of mild moral panic.Did the two women in question not know that their crotches were going to be featured in that way? Putting it another way, do Shakira and Lopez lack agency?
There was a time when feminism would have seen this show for what it possibly was. Rosenberg seems to have seen it for what it may have been, but it almost seems she no longer felt that she could speak directly.
Elsewhere at the Washington Post, Emily Codik stressed the two performers' agency. No one told them what to wear!
Wherever you think the ultimate merits lie, we were struck by the way Codik's logic crashed and burned surrounding the question of what it means to see a performance as "objectifying or belittling to women."
Was Sunday evening's halftime show "objectifying or belittling to women?" We'd be inclined to say it was, but we were most struck by Rosenberg's apparent inability even to offer that for consideration as a third possible option.
Our young relative turned out fine. But as we read the papers today, it seemed to us that many young woman have had a much harder time with our routinely repellent sexual culture.
On the brighter side, people make a lot of dough. There's always a brighter side to things when the costumes are barely there!