The goddess Justice is traditionally depicted in art with one breast bared. So avenging HLN legal-show host Nancy Grace might have gone with the “artistic effect” line of spin after a vigorous performance last night on Dancing With the Stars, when one of her nipples appeared to briefly let slip the bonds of her clothing. The slip seemed apparent enough to ABC’s producers—who quickly cut to a crowd shot in the live, tape-delayed program—and to host Tom Bergeron, who gallantly recovered, “No, that’s all right! On the European version, that would be perfectly fine!”
Grace, however, never a big fan of admitting error, maintained to reporters after the performance that “there was a little bit of movement but it did not rise to a wardrobe malfunction.” Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, may I admit into evidence the following photographic evidence (NSFW, and you have been warned) that would seem to indicate otherwise.
Whatever; accidents happen. But I’m curious this morning to see if TV-decency advocates jump on this one as they did the 2004 Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show.
No two cases are exactly the same, of course, but is there less reason to make an overblown culture-war case of this incident than the Super Bowl?
The Grace incident, you could argue, was a momentary flash. But Jackson’s was pretty quick too. It’s been so inflated in popular memory that it’s easy to believe, in retrospect, that it unfolded in slo-mo, with the camera zooming in on her chest then holding for fifteen seconds while the crowd quieted in horrified silence and Justin Timberlake bellowed, “LOOK! Look at it, children of America!” In fact, it flashed by so fast I actually didn’t notice it at first viewing, until other people made an issue of it and I rewound it on TiVo.
Or you could argue that the Jackson incident was worse because it was part of a performance deliberately engineered to be sexually titillating. Yes, because there are no titillating or sexual overtones whatsoever to Dancing with the Stars and its costumes. (Last week, Grace’s straining costume inspired judge Bruno to double-entendre, ““Nancy, I had no idea you were so lavishly gifted. How are the twins, my darling?”)
You could argue that the Super Bowl was a massive TV broadcast, with a hundred million people watching. Fair enough: nothing else is the Super Bowl. But DWTS is regularly one of the top-rated primetime programs of the week.
Or you could say that, unlike Jackson and Timberlake, Grace and DWTS are not exactly poster children for the declining moral standards of America. But so what? In fact, all the more reason to condemn them, no? What groups like, for instance, the Parents Television Council often decry is when indecent content pops up in places where you can’t reasonably expect it, on shows that draw a “family” audience (like a football game). And that’s an entirely reasonable complaint—but DWTS is as close to a staple of wholesome, old-fashioned programming as you can get in primetime. Isn’t that all the more reason to protest?
My guess is that decency advocates will have to—at least for the sake of form and consistency—make some kind of pro forma complaint here. Or they could make the one reasonable argument against making a stink in this situation or any comparable one: It’s one flash of skin on a human body, and don’t we have better things to worry about? I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that verdict, though.