M.I.A.’s Middle Finger: A Synthetic Scandal

02.06.12 52 Comments

As I’m sure most of you are aware, during last night’s Super Bowl halftime performance, rapper M.I.A. punctuated her verse on Madonna’s new single by figuratively, and quite literally, giving America the finger. Still less than 24 hours old, this gesture has resulted in thousands upon thousands of apoplectic words being spilled across the Internet, many of them comparing it to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” from eight years ago. But while Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple was shocking because it was unexpected, this scandal was something completely different: a manufactured event, from beginning to end.

The moment itself was manufactured by M.I.A., a musician most famous for a song where gunshots were used as a musical instrument during the chorus. She has made a career not just out of being a talented performer, but also by saying and doing a wide array things that have raised the ire of the mainstream. She’s no rookie when it comes to scandal. So when she raised one leg, struck a dramatic pose, looked dead into the camera, and stuck up her middle finger, she knew exactly what she was doing — especially considering the highly-publicized fallout from Jackson’s performance years ago. She did it to poke the bear in the most public setting she could, to show everyone that she was a rebel, or to make a statement against commercialism, or to protest American politics, or whatever her purpose was. It doesn’t matter because it was completely artificial. The only thing missing was a t-shirt that had “I AM VERY EDGY” written on it in giant neon letters. Maybe Katy Perry will wear a cutoff one next year.

The media’s reaction to the whole thing was also 100% manufactured, both in the build up over the past week and the breathless reporting taking place today. Leading up the game, it seemed like every discussion of the halftime show could be boiled down to “WHAT WILL MADONNA DO WILL THERE BE A ***MALFUNCTION***?”, as though they were daring the parties involved to do something shocking. Actually, daring is probably the wrong word — prodding is more accurate. “Do it. You won’t. You won’t do it. OH MY GOD THEY DID IT I SIMPLY CAN NOT BELIEVE IT!” All you have to do is look at the dozens of stories today that are branding the gesture as a “middle finger malfunction” — as though M.I.A.’s longest digit was a robot gone berserk — to know that they were in essence written months ago. Scandal moves product, and by throwing around buzzwords tied to a particularly famous one from the past (see also, adding “-gate” to the end of everything), they can push it more efficiently.

Then today, in probably the most artificial and self-serving aspect of the whole situation, the Parents’ Television Council stepped in and released this statement:

“A simple apology rings hollow after yet another slap in the face to families, especially when NBC has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it should be allowed to air all manner of indecent material at any time of day, even when children are watching,” Winter said. “Either the NFL and NBC will take immediate steps to hold those accountable for this offensive material in front of a hundred million Americans, or they will feebly sit back and do nothing. The nation – and the PTC – is watching.”

As the PTC makes very clear in this paragraph, especially in the last sentence, their reaction has very little to do with any of M.I.A.’s fingers. The situation is just an excuse for them to use their soapbox as a stepping stool to mount their high horse and decry whatever female body part they claim is ruining our society today. It’s about their own relevance more than anything else. When something like this happens, they get a stage to push their agenda. As much as they may claim they’d prefer to live in a society where that wasn’t necessary, the self-righteousness and narcissism dripping off that statement beg to differ. I’m sure it’s tough to raise your kids and keep them from being exposed to things you feel are inappropriate, but the Super Bowl is a day-long spectacle that is full of violence and is marketed mostly to 18-to-35 year old males (as evidenced by basically every commercial played during the breaks). If you’re that concerned about someone offending your children during an event like that, maybe you shouldn’t let them watch it in the first place.

The long and short of it all is this: I refuse to be outraged about this situation. A rebellious artist did something transparently intended to titillate and in the process supplied power to the very machines she claims to be raging against. Everybody eats, everybody’s happy. Nothing to see here.

Around The Web