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Boob Tube

Janet gave Focus on the Family something to focus on. Too bad.

Like 89 million other people, Daniel Weiss was watching the Super Bowl, sitting at home in Colorado Springs and minding his own business -- which, since he's the full-time media and sexuality analyst for Focus on the Family, usually means minding everyone else's business -- when out popped Janet Jackson's right breast.

Suddenly he knew he was going to be very busy on Monday.

"If you see a sexualized culture, I'm covering it," Weiss says.

"Last night's Super Bowl halftime show was appalling in its utter disregard for American families," Weiss pronounced in a formal statement released by Focus on the Family on February 2. "No child -- or adult -- should be assaulted by such a profane and indecent performance.... To make it worse, there are reports that top CBS officials not only knew about the planned nudity, but also approved it. I would expect pink slips to be in the mail today, because CBS has destroyed its family-friendly image and reputation for high-quality entertainment."

CBS -- that would also be the official network of Survivor: All-Stars, which a few hours later treated the viewing public to the unsavory sight of Richard Hatch's far less firm flesh. But by that point, Weiss had turned off the boob tube.

Although culture is Weiss's business (before moving to Colorado Springs to join Focus, the buttinsky outfit started in 1977 by the Reverend James Dobson, he worked for Parents Television Council, doing entertainment analysis), he doesn't watch much television. Doing that for eight hours a day at PTC, he says, "pretty much destroyed my taste for TV."

For pleasure, he watches maybe three shows a week. And sports. So on Sunday, Weiss says, "I was tuning in to watch a football game." Well, to be honest, and also to catch those Super Bowl commercials, the $4.5 million minutes that are usually the focus of all the Monday-morning quarterbacking around the office coffeepot. But this Monday, no one was talking about the farting horse or the guy who gave up his Bud Light after getting bitten in the crotch by a dog. No, they were talking about Janet's breast, exposed by what Justin Timberlake originally explained away as "a wardrobe malfunction."

(I don't know about you, but unless I expect to bare my breast -- say, I'm about to go through airport security -- I don't wear a big, honking nipple ring in the shape of a star.)

"We had plans to come in Monday morning and analyze the commercials for sexual and offensive comment," Weiss explains. "We haven't done that yet. It's likely that we may never get to it."

Not that there's any hurry, because Weiss, who majored in writing at the University of Wisconsin, wasn't impressed by the ads, in which Madison Avenue is supposed to strut its creative stuff. "I'm just very disappointed in the state of entertainment today," he says, "including the advertising industry. It's a race to the gutter, really. Frankly, I think we were expecting something of a little more offensive nature in the commercials."

But then came the halftime show, with its embarrassment of objectionable riches. "A lot of the media has focused on the one issue," says Weiss, referring to the "breast" issue. "It was pretty offensive all around. I was pretty offended with Kid Rock, ripping a hole in the flag and wearing it as a poncho...and having to listen to this guy talk about prostitution." All in all, there was a lot more titillation than talent on display.

And CBS knew what it was getting into when it arranged for MTV -- which is also owned by Viacom -- to stage the halftime show, Weiss claims, since MTV had put on the NFL's kickoff extravaganza in Washington, D.C., complete with a writhing, pre-wedding Britney Spears.

So first thing Monday, Weiss helped the editor of Focus on the Family's Citizenlink, a daily e-mail letter, send a note to 65,000 subscribers, asking them to complain to MTV, CBS and, in an update later in the day, the Federal Communications Commission -- as many people were doing even before Focus got in on the act. "This one image galvanized people," he says. "Seeing entertainment get coarser, more degrading, more sexualized. I think, finally, when you have nearly half the country watching that game...the potential to galvanize that frustration into action is exactly what we're seeing here."

After sending out that message, Weiss spent the rest of the day answering reporters' requests, going on radio talk shows, waiting for the Los Angeles Times to call back. He didn't get to do his commercial analysis, much less devote time to his other duties, including posting research on www.focusonsocialissues.com. "A lot of my work deals with obscenity issues -- what's going on in the pornography industry, the entertainment industry," explains Weiss, who testified for HB1078 ("F-Bombed," January 22). He also works on a Focus site devoted to more ticklish issues, www.pureintimacy.org. "Sometimes the church is kind of silent on sexuality," he acknowledges.

This may not look like your father's Focus on the Family -- but it sure sounds that way.

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