Janet Jackson's nipple not "actionably indecent"

A federal court finally throws out the FCC's attempt to fine CBS for 2004's "Nipplegate."

Published July 21, 2008 7:26PM (EDT)

It has been four and a half years since 90 million people caught a glimpse of Janet Jackson's spangled nipple during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, and thankfully, people did eventually shut up about it. But today it's back in the news because a federal appeals court has thrown out the $550,000 indecency fine with which the Federal Communications Commission tried to spank CBS as punishment. Ruling that the FCC "acted capriciously and arbitrarily" in attempting to penalize broadcasters for the nip slip, the court pretty much laughed the case right out.

Although I really did not need to hear the words "wardrobe malfunction" ever again, I must say, reading about the court case has been educational. Did you know, for instance, that the offending breast was on-screen for precisely nine-sixteenths of one second? Or that prior to this incident, indecency fines were issued only after transgressions so "pervasive as to amount to 'shock treatment' for the audience" (as opposed to the endless coverage of Nipplegate, which amounted to a lobotomy for the audience)? Seriously, hearing Janet Jackson's boob discussed in legalese is almost worth having to think about this again. So is knowing that occasionally, sanity prevails in court.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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