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April/May '04 Articles:
Building An Ecological Society
Editorial: IMPACT at 50
Notes from the Cultural Wasteland
Born to Die
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
USA: Home of the Hateful
(music reviews)

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by Morris Sullivan
Contributing Editor
art/Collin Holmes


You'll have to take my word for that–you can't see me, of course–but I assure you I'm in front of my computer naked as a jay bird except for a pair of house slippers (the floor is cold).

This is not a wardrobe malfunction. I didn't forget to put my clothes on, my pants did not fall off when I got up to get a cup of coffee, and no one playfully yanked off my bathrobe expecting me to have underwear on. Those things have happened in the past, but not today. My nudity is no accident.

I won't apologize for being naked, or even claim there's a good reason for it. I simply decided there wasn't enough gratuitous nudity in my column.

Nudity, gratuitous or otherwise, has shown up in the news a lot lately, accompanied by its wicked henchmen, indecency and obscenity. The focus started around the first of the year, when Congress decided there was too much of that naughty stuff on television and radio. While the legislators were still considering this sticky problem, Janet Jackson's right breast made a surprise appearance during the Super Bowl half-time show.

Justin Timberlake–perhaps the best evidence yet that western culture is dead–revealed the evil nipple when he ripped Jackson's bodice at the end of a duet with her on his song, "Rock Your Body." Almost everyone involved with the production immediately distanced themselves from the offending boob: The good ol' boys who hired MTV to arrange the half-time show were appalled; MTV was both appalled and bewildered; and Timberlake pretended to be altogether baffled by the breasticle, attributing the revelation to a flaw in Jackson's wardrobe.

The owner of the right breast was herself mute on the topic for several days while her PR firm tried to figure out how to capitalize on it. I hoped she would eventually say something meaningful about the incident, like, "The song was so lame, I had to do something to wake everyone up," or even, "I just thought everyone would like to see my right breast." I'd have even respected her if she said, "I have an album coming out, and if I show you my right hooter, maybe more of you will buy it."

Instead, she apologized. Nevertheless, when Jackson's tit flopped out during half-time, it toppled the first domino in a series that concluded with a bill to raise broadcaster's fines for airing "indecency" and the near-simultaneous expulsion of both Bubba the Love Sponge and Howard Stern from programming carried by Clear Channel Communications, one of the world's largest media conglomerates.

I don't think this is any big loss. Stern used to be kind of interesting. However, the more popular he became–and the more money syndicators like Clear Channel made–the more his show focused on his masturbatory fantasies. I stopped listening to Stern one morning after a lengthy sequence in which he watched a porno movie and described the action, blow by blow. I just didn't care what he had to say any longer.

I heard Bubba the Love Sponge once while he talked to a female caller while she masturbated with a dildo his producers had mailed her. Once was enough.

Both the Stern and Bubba segments, by the way, aired during morning drive-time. The big surprise is not that these guys aren't on the air any more, it's that they remained on the air for so long. Performers should consider their audience and the venue. When you're in the mainstream, you have to take that into consideration. If you want to say "fuck" a lot, write for the alternative press, where no one gives a shit.

Besides yanking Bubba and Howard, Clear Channel issued a lengthy piece of public relations horseshit they called a "Decency Initiative." I wrote their PR people for clarification. I explained that I used to listen to the local talk station, which Clear Channel now owns. Back then, the station had some talk jocks who thoughtfully dealt with controversial topics. The station's content has since pandered to the lowest common denominator; its hosts now focus on toilet functions and crude sexual scenarios, and its humor depends on racist, sexist, homophobic points of view.

I thought the deterioration began about the time Clear Channel purchased the station, I said, but I wasn't sure. I hoped they would help me get the timeline straight. "I also wonder how upper management can reconcile your recent 'decency initiative' with the organization's past programming and marketing policies," I wrote. "Perhaps you can explain that to me."

They didn't reply, so I decided to see what kind of decent stuff the local Clear Channel stations now air. I tuned in one morning to WHTQ, the former central Florida home of Bubba the Love Sponge. The "John Boy and Billy Show" featured a discussion of Rosie O'Donnell's wedding to her lesbian partner. The segment was laced with predictably sophomoric jokes about lesbians, included references to "San Fran-sissy-co" and observations like, "If you want to get a queer to do something, tell him not to do it. Snap-Snap."

Meanwhile, WTKS, the station that used to carry Howard Stern, was filling the gap left by his show with repeats of their Monsters of the Midday show, which features a variety of loud mush-mouthed crackers. On that particular morning, they replayed their Martin Luther King Day show, including a monologue by Bubba "Whoop-Ass" Wilson.

In his monologue, Wilson justifiably criticized the FCAT exams. He also droned on about his "success," ending with the comment that he gets plenty of ass, despite his lack of education. "If you want to get some ass," he concluded, "get on the bus with the people of colored (sic)" and sing with them, 'We don't need no FCAT/We make more money sellin' crack.'" Apparently, while toilet functions and on-air masturbation are now taboo, Clear Channel considers racism, sexism and gay-bashing "decent."

That's perhaps the biggest problem I have with "decency" and "obscenity" regulations–they come down hard on nipples and dookey jokes but ignore truly obscene stuff like intolerance.

Besides Janet Jackson's right one, other breasts have made the news in the last couple of months, including two notable knockers belonging to Elizabeth Book. The 42-year-old mother of two from Ormond Beach flashed her girls during a political protest against police harassment during Bike Week in Daytona Beach.

At various times, Book also said her bare-breasted protest would confront several key issues, including the arrests of women flashers during Bike Week, the discriminatory nature of anti-nudity ordinances, and the arbitrariness of our society's view that the female breast is somehow obscene.

For the record, I agree with some of her points and disagree with others. She seems to think biker-chicks should be allowed to ride topless down Main Street during Bike Week. I disagree; I don't think people who live in Daytona Beach should have to choose between staying indoors for a week or seeing some strange motorcycle mama's breasteses waving in the breeze.

On the other hand, I tried to get to the protest and see the scene for myself, and didn't make it. I did get harassed by the cops, however, when I got in the way of a pumped-up motorcycling deputy on his way to make the big bust. Here I was, a middle-aged guy in a minivan, and from the way the cop was yelling, you'd have thought I was the awfulest tattooed biker terrorist he'd ever seen. Perhaps her "harassment" charge has some merit.

I agree that the ordinances and our society's view of the female breast are sexist, however. Think about it: If Timberlake had bared his own breast instead of Jackson's, the reaction would have been much different–coast-to-coast giggling, probably.

Book got arrested. She's going to fight it, and it will be interesting to see how that goes; the Supreme Court has ruled that nudity is permissible as part of a political protest.

It would be expecting way too much, but I'd love to see Jackson bare her left breast in political protest. If she said, "I flashed my nipple to protest the FCC's interference in free expression," I might disagree. However, as Voltaire said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it."

There are many indecencies and obscenities Janet could protest with her bare left breast. There's the obscene and indecent war in Iraq, for example. And I think it was pretty indecent of Bush's Secretary of Education to call the teachers union "a terrorist organization." Certainly, the National Park Service's decision to avoid offending religious nutcases by selling books on Creationism at the Grand Canyon gift shop could be considered at least morally reprehensible.

If she were Jewish, perhaps Jackson might bare a nipple to protest Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ.

The New York Times critic Frank Rich started a controversy around this film by pointing out its anti-Semitism. Gibson responded in an interview with Diane Sawyer, "I want (Rich) dead. I want his intestines on a stick." The film's PR people then claimed the Pope had seen The Passion and endorsed it, saying, "It is as it was." I decided I had to see this movie.

I won't comment on The Passion's anti-Semitism, except to add this: I was prepared to discount the anti-Semitic charge and write it off to over-sensitivity or even anti-Christian sentiment. However, the damn movie's about as anti-Jewish as it could get.

The Passion is an approximately 12-minute movie with about an hour and 58 minutes of whipping. About halfway through the first seemingly endless beating-up-Jesus scene, I started wanting Mel Gibson dead. I wanted to see him fed to lions.

Can you imagine the Pope sitting through this flick? Even worse, can you imagine him seeing it, then saying, "It is as it was?" More likely he'd make it about 20 lashes into the first whipping scene and storm out, proclaiming, "Ieminius Sermona Christi! Dic in Latina? Rectumi numeris non sequitur erat!" (roughly translated: "Jiminy Christmas! These assholes can't even count in Latin!")

If he reads this, Gibson will no doubt call for my evisceration–The Passion looks and sounds a lot like The Last Temptation of Christ. Gibson probably knew that, because his PR machine went to great lengths to avoid the sort of controversy Last Temptation drew, banning critics and kissing religious ass, inviting church groups to advance screenings and keeping that Pope thing in the news.

Christian proponents of the film (and so far, all proponents seem to be Christian) claim that The Passion moved them to tears–that it revealed to them the degree of Christ's suffering in a way no other movie ever had–thus it is true to the spirit of the Gospels. Both Jesus of Montreal and The Last Temptation of Christ are better movies. Both reveal spiritual truths about the nature of martyrdom without falsely pretending to be "faithful" to the sacred texts.

The Passion, on the other hand, merely beats the audience over the head with scenes calculated to instill shock, outrage, and pity. Despite the Aramaic and Latin dialogue, The Passion is riddled with Biblical inaccuracies, its Gospel embellished with agenda-laden fictions. It's the cinematic equivalent of the sort of fire-and-brimstone sermon any pulpit-thumping snake-handler could deliver.

That's too bad; given that our society's conception of religion is more influenced by Paradise Lost, The Inferno, The Ten Commandments, and The Simpsons than the Bible, the next few generations of Christians will probably not only dislike the Jews for killing Jesus, but swear Judas was driven to suicide by a bunch of little kids with faces like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

As I write this, I have reconsidered my nudity. It's not gratuitious–I'll use it to protest people and institutions who make obscene amounts of money by exploiting ignorance and promoting stupidity, be it religious stupidity or the stupidity of intolerance.

Therefore, to (poorly) paraphrase Descartes: Cogito ergo sum...nudus.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

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Other articles by Morris Sullivan: