#JusticeForJanet campaign is full of valid but misguided anger

Janet Jackson was wronged but blaming Justin Timberlake only makes it worse

Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

There are few times where an entire population can pinpoint exactly where they were the moment an event occurred. The halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl is strangely one of those moments for most of its 143 million viewers.

In case you have trouble remembering the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that shattered the universe in 2004, Headliner Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed to the world for exactly  9/16s of a second after guest performer Justin Timberlake accidentally tore off part of her shirt. 

Millions of reporters spent countless hours dissecting the blink-and-you-miss-it cultural touchstone. ‘Janet Jackson’ became the most-searched term on Google for two years following the event. CBS, the network airing the show, was fined $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission.

Fast forward to 2017. Janet Jackson is currently on a world tour, but hasn’t released a platinum single — a song that’s sold one million copies or more — since 2004, the year of the halftime show. In this time, Timberlake has had nine.

Earlier this week, Timberlake was also announced as the headliner of the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show. News of the announcement was hit with immediate backlash as fans began calling out the NFL for rewarding Justin’s success as it simultaneously crushed Janet’s. 

Citing white male privilege as the reason for this downfall, Jackson fans quickly made #JusticeForJanet the top trending topic on Twitter, expressing their anger at the NFL’s mistreatment of Jackson and pampering of Timberlake.

The bulk of the argument accelerating the campaign is while Timberlake’s continued to flourish, the controversy dragged down Jackson’s career. Therefore, giving Timberlake the headlining slot at another halftime show is nothing more than an exercise of white male privilege, while Jackson continues to deal with the one-sided aftermath.

There’s definite validity to this argument. Janet Jackson was more talked about than ever after her halftime show, but for all the wrong reasons. Following her performance, Jackson was disinvited from the 2004 Grammy Awards where she was set to present a tribute. In that year, Timberlake attended and won two awards, in which he used his acceptance speech to apologize for the incident. Jackson was also blacklisted by CBS’s parent company Viacom, and her music was banned from MTV, VH1 and any Viacom radio stations.

The fact that Janet Jackson, who received the brunt of this controversy, is an African-American woman while Timberlake is a white male can’t be ignored. Jackson’s actions, infused by racism and stereotypes regarding black female sexuality, were widely perceived as intentionally hyper-sexual. She was wearing a seductive costume and singing suggestive lyrics, so many saw Jackson — as much as I hate to even mention this viewpoint — as asking for it. 

Timberlake was seen as a bystander. If anything, his actions only showed white male masculinity, reinforced by his dominance and excused by the inherent male obsession with sex. 

Even Timberlake himself told MTV back in 2006 that he estimated the media assigned him only about “10 per cent of the blame” for the wardrobe malfunction. 

Many fans are calling for a boycott of the upcoming halftime show, since they believe Timberlake is being unfairly rewarded after not doing enough to clear Jackson’s name in the aftermath of this massive controversy. But just as much as Jackson deserves a second chance after the media’s crusade, so does Timberlake.

Timberlake’s abilities as a performer are undeniable and his relevancy in present day is just as massive as Jackson’s was in 2004. Timberlake comes into the halftime show with a newly minted Grammy and Oscar nomination for his 2016 number-one hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” He’s sold 20 million records since 2013 and is arguably bigger than ever. 

He’s earned his halftime show, an accolade bestowed to record-breaking artists to honour their careers.

If there are any conclusions we can draw in the 13 years that have passed since the incident, it’s that what happened at the 2004 halftime show was a mistake blown out of proportion. It’s a shame that something we’d consider today to be a minor blunder derailed the careers of two extremely talented artists. 

For all those pointing fingers at Timberlake for the dip in Jackson’s career, the real enemy is ourselves — or 2004 version of us. 

The world in 2004 didn’t know how to handle Janet Jackson’s barely-there bare breast, so we lashed out and sunk a career. Our actions shouldn’t take away from Timberlake’s accomplishments, even if his success unfortunately reflects our mistreatment of Jackson. To blame Timberlake for this incident is to once again excuse ourselves for oppressing Jackson. However, I’m sure no one would complain — especially not me — if Jackson made a guest appearance during this halftime show.


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