I’m not a prude; I enjoy much of what pop culture has to offer, even when it doesn’t represent the values I hold dear.
But this year’s Super Bowl half-time show was repugnant.
First up: Shakira, an undoubtedly gifted and ebullient musical performer. But within seconds of her arrival on stage it was clear that pelvis-thrusting and athletic crotch-baring were her most in-demand talents for this performance. She moved on to impressive belly-dancing—an art form I respect—but did so while simulating bondage positions with a rope. Her devil-red-dressed back up dancers then spread their legs around her while she writhed on the floor at the feet of a weirdly overly-dressed male rapper in some sort of silver raincoat—he wore a large silver cross.
Next comes J. Lo, Jennifer Lopez. We knew her butt-shimmying would be a big part of the show, because it always is. And we should have known there would be pole dancing because her role in Hustler was supposed to earn her an Oscar. But again, in seconds, we are assaulted with shots of her very scantily-clad crotch as she spreads her legs for the camera, again and again. In an extremely creepy and blasphemous scene, bondage-inspired costumed dancers squirm in darkness on the floor like demons around Lopez’s stripper pole, as she takes a cruciform position. This is followed by more suggestive spanking and grinding with another male rapper, more crotch shots and butt-wagging and then—the appearance of a chorus of pre-teen girls in white, Lopez’s daughter among them, some of them coming up in … cages?
Whoa. As many viewers have complained, this was in no way family entertainment. More than that, it was a shameful glorification of pornography and sex consumerism.
The half-time show was promoted as about women’s “empowerment” and Latina pride. Yet the message we got is that women are only empowered if they sell their bodies and flaunt their sexuality for the titillation of millions, including sexual predators. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has this to say:
Some may be tempted to write off the Super Bowl LIV halftime performance as harmless. But the reality is that stripping and sex trafficking are inextricably linked. Many of the women—minors, in some cases—in strip clubs have been sex trafficked.
For an organization that claims to care about sex trafficking, the NFL’s Super Bowl LIV halftime show demonstrated their willful ignorance of the bigger picture of sexual exploitation. Although the NFL, Pepsi, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira would likely say they are against the sexual exploitation of human beings, the substance of their Super Bowl halftime show makes light of exploitative realities and promotes ignorance about the dangers of sex trafficking that are inherent to strip clubs.
In a related story just “breaking,” The New York Times featured (February 1st) an investigative report: “Angels in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret.”
Surprise, surprise: “landing a spot as an ‘Angel’ all but guaranteed international stardom” but for many women also came with the choice of acquiescing to predatory behavior from the lingerie company’s management, including top executives—one of whom has been linked with Jeffery Epstein—or face retaliation. One woman said her audition: “seemed like a casting call for prostitution. I felt like I was in hell.” In a broadcast interview, reporter Jessica Silver-Greenberg said: “It’s a company that has long defined femininity and sexiness for generations of women, but despite all that it’s a company that’s really been run by two powerful men who presided over really a toxic culture.”
This illustrates the problem. Victoria’s Secret has not been defining femininity and sexiness for women. It has been selling soft porn for men—actually for millions of Americans of all ages who can’t help but be assaulted by the images blaring from the countless storefronts in streets and malls across America. Of course, there is a dark side there.
For decades young girls and women have been sold the lie that as long as they choose to be objectified for their body parts, they can use their assets for empowerment, and not allow themselves to become victims. But “objects” do not invite respect, objects are used, abused and thrown away.
The frantic gyrating on stage at the Super Bowl only served to enable this very dark and damaging side of our culture, which no Band-Aids—neither the kind J. Lo sported on her privates nor the deceitful “empowerment” marketing buzz words—can cover up.