Why Pretend?

Content Warning: Nipple

This time I’m going to go a bit far afield. I want to look back at media reaction to a stupid event that happened in 2004. I was on a consulting gig in some town or other and happened to turn on the TV in my hotel room for background noise, and saw the whole thing, live, and did not care very much one way or another.

I’m referring, of course, to the sportsbowl halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake did a spectacular “finishing move” and ripped one of the cups off of Janet Jackson’s armor bustier, revealing her nipple. America collectively recoiled, or something, and there was immediately a ton of finger-pointing and swooning on the fainting-couch. The incident is described [wik] as a “controversy” and I swear I was shocked to find out a week or so ago that there was an actual documentary put together about the incident.

There is a whole lot that can be commented upon regarding the white supremacist policing of black womens’ bodies, and the implied non-consensual nature of Timberlake’s move, and I don’t want to contribute to all that stuff except to say this: whatever marketing asshole cooked that up is a disgrace to a disgraceful profession. Worse, rather than simply falling on their sword and saying “we’re sorry, we were assholes and we thought we’d sexy the show up a bit and everyone involved was agreeable to it.” But once the lies started, there was basically a really stupid cover-up and it’s a cover-up that appears to continue to this day.

Right before the “incident” – Justin’s stage presence is basically that of a bowl of tapioca

I have nothing against Jackson or Timberlake, and – while I prefer musicians to performers, what they do takes undeniable skill. Or practice and a top-notch choreographer. [Paula Abdul did all the choreography for Janet’s breakthrough performance on Nasty Boys and if you go back and watch the videos of that, they are beyond cringe-worthy. Janet did a lot of improving and hard work.] That’s an important point, though – those stage shows are thoroughly choreographed. Every move is choreographed. Every move. So, this story about Timberlake just, I dunno, ripping Janet’s bustier apart – it’s bullshit. Why should I even bother trying to convince you? Because you should despise the media and the marketing assholes that run it, and understand the kind of petty shit they are willing to lie to you about. It ought to make you wonder how well they cover important topics.

Americans complaining to the FCC about Janet’s nipple. They should be complaining about marketing assholes, but they weren’t visible

First, you kind of have to admire Janet for performing in that rubber lashed-together armor-looking stuff. From the way it swings, it’s heavy, and rubber is hot. The bustier cup that Justin ripped off is her right one (left in the picture) and you may notice something about it:

Between 2000 and 2007, I was married to a leather-worker/saddle maker and I dabbled a bit, myself. One of the other things I did was rig fastenings for the saddle maker; I knew my chicago screws, pop rivets, quick-set rivets, copper bar and disk rivets, and even did a few simple stainless steel polished carriage bolts for some dressage saddles. That’s why I’m qualified to comment on this “issue” and resolve the “controversy” – there was no “wardrobe failure” the bustier cup was designed to come off and that’s a fact.

Basic quick rivet, available in various lengths.

The way the piece appears to be constructed is with a row of quick rivets along the bottom of the bustier cup, which is fairly typical construction (if you want something to look punk and rivet-y instead of stitched) but that’s not how the break-away cup was constructed. The cup has quick rivets along the bottom edge, except they don’t actually attach to the fabric underneath. Note the rivet in the illustration is double-ended; there’s no nasty sharp edge there to snag a boob on the way off.

If the rivets attached through the fabric, which appears to be pretty thick “pleather” (rubber/polyurethane fabric) you could practically hoist Janet into the air using the bustier-cup as a hold-point. The reason people use rivets and leather is because the stuff is tough. Rivets do not just pop off.

Unless the rivets are just for show, and the bustier cup is held on with a couple of snaps.

In fact, you can see that in the illustration above because the bustier cup isn’t holding any of its shape. The purpose for that sort of inset assembly is so that the fabric curves and forms a cup, stressed by the attachment point. That’s a fairly typical leather-worker trick; it’s how, for example, the brim of a cap is attached so it curves.

There’s the whole thing. And, in context you can tell that it was a planned “finish move big reveal grand finale oh so edgy” because Justin’s got to kind of fumble for a grip on the edge of the cup and – ta-DA! Marketing! It even ends with fireworks (or a bang) and for some reason (more Marketing!) the marquee blinks “CHOOSE.” Uh.

I see snaps

sam browne buttons

But look at the “wardrobe failure” – notice what a leather-worker would notice? No rivets. No holes. Just 2 studs. Those are leather buttons; which are great for making bag closures; you punch a hole for the button and then slit it so the head of the button can fit through. At a casual glance they look like rivet heads until you pull off whatever they were holding.

Sam Browne buttons are great closures; I use them all the time. I recognize them immediately. Ironically, they’re a pretty good way of attaching something for quick removal in a way that won’t pop off by accident; they’re a common feature on western revolver holsters.

I guess there’s no real point arguing about all of this, except that I don’t see what the argument is. The whole thing was planned and choreographed. Justin fumbles around a bit like a badly programmed robot, and – wow – so fucking what?

What’s interesting about all this, to me, is that the media pretended to buy the “wardrobe failure” story and then had to keep sticking with it going forward. Completely absent is commentary from the person who made the bustier because they’d have said, “yeah the cup was held on with sam browne buttons; they said they wanted it removable.” What a pathetic maneuver – someone’s big idea blew up wrong so they just blamed, I dunno. You’d think that with millions of fines at stake, the NTSB failure analysis team would have been called in or something. Instead we got a big lie about a little insignificant thing. What a crock.

There’s a lot more to the story, which is that the outcry appears to have been mostly a chance for subconscious or conscious racist football fans (which is to say, a lot of them) to rain shit at a black woman. This stupid marketing bodge became stumbling block in Janet’s career and more or less had no effect on Justin’s. America recoiled at the sight of a nipple; I recoiled at Justin’s empty stage presence, bad timing, and lack of courage. Why couldn’t he have just said, “MTV’s marketing people suggested we do that, and I did and we practiced it a few times and it was the big ‘edgy’ finale” – in the long run, MTV couldn’t do “edgy” right.

In order to organize my thoughts and get screenshots for writing this, I had to watch that wretched performance a couple of times. One of the other things I noticed is that Justin’s “dance” is basically he’s stalking Janet and when he finally catches up to her he rips off a piece of her clothes.

Unfortunately, the incident appears to have killed the wrong career. The unnamed marketing geniuses who came up with that collection of bad ideas are the poets of catastrophe that brought this disaster to fruition. I can’t blame Janet, whose publicist probably sold her on the idea (“the MTV people say it’ll be great publicity! So edgy!”) and I can’t blame Justin, though to my taste, he looks like a swirl of bad marketing and mediocre choreography. [Remember when they were trying to say Justin was the next Michael Jackson? Yech.] The whole thing is a shit-show and the media sniffed at the fecal reek and decided to let an obvious, stupid, lie stand. And then, they promoted the lie. It’s pathetic that Americans are so repressed that they collectively freaked out about this incident; nipples are not a big deal – most of us have a few. (I knew someone who had 3, so…) What jackass decided there needed to be a documentary about this, anyway? Or is it just another chance for one branch of media to sneer at another for being shallow and lacking integrity? Surely they all know they live in the same glass house and should not hurl rocks.

Anyhow, Sam Browne buttons are great fasteners for lots of purposes, aren’t they?

Also: memo to media – adding “-gate” to the end of something does not make it a catchy way to imply it’s a scandal. It’s just unoriginal. Reporters are supposed to be masters of language, and adding “-gate” just shows how unhip you are – did it never occur to journalists that referencing something that was the hot item when I was ten is maybe not the groovy thing? Using the language of “gate”-gate is so hip it’s right out of the Nixon administration, man. We finally got out of Vietnam, and the media can get out of its linguistic rut, now, too.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I was always baffled about this too. It was so obviously an intentional, meticulously planned and executed move that to pretend it was a “failure” just came across about as convincingly as “the dog ate my homework”.

    I mean, I’m not an expert in leatherworking… but you don’t need to be. CLOTHES DON’T JUST COME APART LIKE THAT… unless they’re explicitly and carefully designed to.

    Also: to all the people who acted “shocked at the sight of a nipple” AND bought the “it was a wardrobe failure” excuse for even a second, I have two questions:

    First: how were you shocked at the sight of a nipple? WHOSE nipple? You sure as shit didn’t see Janet Jackson’s nipple, you saw the item of stripper paraphernalia she’d glued to her nipple SPECIFICALLY SO THAT YOU WOULDN’T SEE THE NIPPLE.

    Second, and this is a real kicker: if you bought the “wardrobe failure” thing, tell me – how many women do you know who, with NO expectation that their nipples will be exposed, make sure before they go to work to glue a glittery cover over their nipples? You’re being asked to believe – and you are apparently believing – that a woman just thought “oh, I’ll glue something to my nipples tonight”, because hell gluing shit to your nipples just feels great, especially when you have to rip it off later. What are you fucking STUPID? Because the people who came up with the “it wasn’t intended” stories certainly seem to think you (and I) are.

    Finally, you think a meeja hor android like Timberlake is going to go onto one of the biggest stages of his life and IMPROVISE? Give me a break.

  2. Ice Swimmer says

    Here, at the time, the whole brouhaha was seen as a prime example of American stupidity, prudishness and hypocrisy, right up there with bleeping curse words in TV (though, AFAIK, they do the bleeping in some channels here in Finland now). The whole scandal was straight out of a bad soap opera.

    That kind of dress trick had been done before (1985, and with more style) by Lill Lindfors, a lady that was already at the time a decade or two older than JJ and JT were in 2004. Jackson and Timberlake were 19 years late and in the wrong country (though the Lindfors trick did cause some changes for the rules for the presenting of the Eurovision Song Contest).

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    @1: Those are called pasties.

    I sometimes put tape on my nipples. I am male. It has to do with abrasion and my hobby of distance running. If you do a search for “marathon bleeding nipples” you can read about it. I don’t think this is a problem for women, because of running bras.

  4. says

    IIRC, the black leather cup was supposed to come off when JT grabbed it; but the red bra JJ was wearing underneath the leather was NOT. Or at least that’s the story I heard shortly after the “incident.” So…why something that wasn’t supposed to come apart, came apart, is the question. Maybe no one was thinking ahead when they gave JJ a red bra with detachable cups to wear. Or maybe some jackass deliberately made that choice for her without her informed consent…?

  5. says

    I’m relieved to see that I’m not the only person who reacted to the “incident” with puzzlement and annoyance.

    Finally, you think a meeja hor android like Timberlake is going to go onto one of the biggest stages of his life and IMPROVISE? Give me a break.


    “The dog ate my homework” is a great way to think of it. It’s as if someone said “the dog ate my homework” and from then on there was discussion about the unseen homeworkphage dog and maybe a documentary about the dog’s origins.

  6. says

    Raging Bee@#7:
    IIRC, the black leather cup was supposed to come off when JT grabbed it; but the red bra JJ was wearing underneath the leather was NOT. Or at least that’s the story I heard shortly after the “incident.”

    There’s no bra (rather obviously!) the red lacy bit appears to be glued to the top of the cup. It’s probably there to serve as a focal point – a bit of color. The whole cup was designed to be pulled off and the only “accident” was that the ‘edgy’ marketing move blew up on launch.

  7. says

    Did it? Seems like it was pretty successful to me.

    It got a lot of attention but pace PT Barnum, there is such a thing as bad publicity. In this case there were significant dollar fines and additional regulations – not a desirable outcome for a bit of “edgy” action.

  8. says

    Ice Swimmer@#3:
    Here, at the time, the whole brouhaha was seen as a prime example of American stupidity, prudishness and hypocrisy, right up there with bleeping curse words in TV

    That’s pretty much it. Most Americans don’t realize how stupid and prudish we are. It always makes me feel a bit ill when some American starts talking about the Taliban, or how conservative muslims make women wear burqa, etc. As if they never looked at how Americans dressed in 1910?

    As a kid I spent a lot of time in France, where it was not uncommon to see naked people in magazines, movies, etc. No warnings, no age limits, whatever. Also, it was no big deal, so nobody got traumatized about it. The fact that a large number of Americans made a nipple shocking and evil had more negative impact on their kids than seeing a square inch of flesh ever could.

  9. StonedRanger says

    This whole shit show is just one of the reasons I dont watch NFL football or TV in general anymore. All of the advertising is designed as if everyone who will see it is an idiot (apparently with good reason). She didnt even show her nipple and people lost their damned minds over this. When cable television came into being, for a while, nudity was everywhere on it. Now, unless you pay for premium “adult” channels, there is nary a naked body to be seen. Its almost as if we are supposed to pretend we are born fully clothed.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    @12: This whole shit show is just one of the reasons I don’t watch NFL football or TV in general anymore.

    I don’t watch regular TV either. When I do encounter ads, I like to think about how the advertisers are targeting their audience. I listened to a radio broadcast of an NFL game last weekend, and I heard an ad for NewsMax. That’s something to think about.

  11. says

    I am also really uncomfortable with American entertainment’s coupling of sex and violence. You know, the young woman in the slasher flick whose shirt comes off, gets killed. And we loudly wonder why we’re such a messed up violent society… Sex can be good clean fun but in American media you’re punished for it because you’re a bad person. It’s sick christian influence behind the scenes – the same twisted hatred that makes some of them want to force women to get pregnant or endure STDs as the punishment for having sex.

    I believe this is a much bigger problem than virtually any Americans want to accept.

  12. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#13:
    I like to think about how the advertisers are targeting their audience.

    When I see ads all I hear is them screaming over and over “WE THINK YOU ARE STUPID!! I resent that.

  13. Dunc says

    Well, you know the saying… Nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. (Although I’m not sure that “American” is really necessary in there.)

  14. StevoR says

    I recall that incident and thinking at the time how totally absurdly over the top the reaction was. At first on the night it seemed like a bit of a joke – but then afterwards the over-reaction of the prudes to part of a breast being breifly exposed for probly not even a second.

    Like, newsflash, SHOCK!! HORROR!!! Oh noez! Women (people!) have breasts and nipples and we’re offended or supposed to be shocked by them and that biological fact being known to kids or even adults – why? It just made no sense.

    The Puritans – historical and metaphorical – have a hell of a lot to answer for.

    They and their OTT response to this made the USA look like an absolute immature joke here.

    Also blaming and focusing on Janet Jackson and NOT JustinTimberlake when it was his action that caused the exposure – yeah, so stupid and obviously wrong.

  15. lochaber says

    This post is probably the most I’ve read about this incident in my entire life.
    Sure, I heard about it. And, I just…

    didn’t care.

    Sure, I figured it was probably intentional, and that was a bad excuse attempting plausible deniability, and like you said, the whole thing is just dumb, because it’s just a titty really far away.

    I do imagine there is a racism angle to it, and wasn’t there a bunch of complaints when Beyonce did her half-time show? and then there was the whole outrage over Cardi B/Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” All I could think of, was that most of the people I’ve seen complaining about it look to be about the right age to remember their parents complaining about 2LiveCrew, Lil Kim, Lords of Acid, etc. Like, none of this is new, just, like, don’t listen to it?

    And the sex vs violence thing… I also think that contributes to some of our problems in American society. Like, hopefully everyone who is interested in having sex can find a consenting partner and have a go. On the converse, I kinda hope nobody has to experience violence, even if they think they want to (maybe especially if they want to?) And I can’t help but think that this toxic attitude towards sex, and acceptance of violence contributes to those stories of where someone discovers one of their (almost always a woman) classmates had been in a pornographic video, and then the response is to threaten to kill the student? WTF, America?
    (I recently watched Assassination Nation, and this point came up in it. I kinda liked that, but I think that’s mostly because I expected it to be just a violent/horror movie, and didn’t expect any social commentary…)

  16. rrutis1 says

    Sex and violence, we have crazy attitudes about them here in the US.

    I got in an argument with a work friend a couple of years ago when the stuporbowl had Shakira and Jennifer Lopez for the halftime show. He was so mad that his son saw suggestive movements by the two singers/performers…I asked him how he felt about violence on tv…he didn’t get it.

  17. Ice Swimmer says

    rrutis1 @ 20

    So, big dudes running into each other and getting brain injuries is hunky dory, but J.Lo and Shakira (plus dozens of dancers) shaking their butts is an outrage. Good solid rules to live by.

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