Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Janet Jackson: Hot, Cold, or 14,000 Miles Away from Real Controversy?

I have been a wee bit skeptical of Marshall McLuhan’s claim in both The Medium is the Message reading and interview that television is a cool medium. McLuhan’s examples of JFK’s debate performance and funeral that support his argument of television failing to incite audiences seems to be merely anecdotal without any real citations of individual reactions.

In “Television: The Timid Giant” McLuhan says, “TV is a medium that rejects the sharp personality and favors the presentation of processes rather than products” (341). This makes me think of America’s favorite fascist (and other TV celebrities) Donald Trump. I never really watched The Apprentice or other shows that feature mean bosses like Hell’s Kitchen, but it makes me wonder if the reason these shows were/are successful is because people are tuning in to see these personalities, or are they coming back, like McLuhan suggests, to see the contestants in a perpetual process of becoming?

Elsewhere in “Television: the Timid Giant,” McLuhan cites Howard K. Smith’s statement, “‘The  networks  are delighted  if  you  go  into  a  controversy  in  a  country  14,000  miles  away. They  don't  want  real  controversy,  real  dissent,  at  home’” (341). I buy this argument a little more. I was thinking of the recent 2014 midterm elections when the Ebola Outbreak was a hot topic that quickly faded once Republicans captured the Senate.

Also while I was reading, I thought of the Super Bowl XXVIII Halftime incident where Janet Jackson suffered a wardrobe malfunction and one of her breasts was caught on the live taping. Unfortunately, I do not think the reaction to that can be classified as cold given the enormous response from both the audience, who filed a massive number of complaints against the broadcast, and the FCC, who raised the fines on incidents of indecency after the event.

Can the difference in reaction to the all the events surrounding JFK and Jackson be boiled down their gender differences? Was outrage with Jackson another Republican conspiracy by President Bush to wag the dog and create a media distraction from the War in Iraq? Whatever the answer is, I think the coolness of TV may be overplayed by McLuhan.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. In response to the Super Bowl incident, I find it interesting how that moment spoke to our relationship to TV as a domestic, inoffensive space, especially during a universally watched event. The reaction it caused was especially odd because I, along with everyone else I watched the game with, did not even notice what had happened. It was a moment that became a scandal only in immediate hindsight, despite the "liveness" of the event. Has our relationship to the TV changed in the decade since this event?