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.
"After the FCC ruled in October that Bono's use of the 'f-word' was not indecent, we have seen a steady torrent of coarse, degrading and indecent material on broadcast television," Weiss's official statement continued. "The complete breakdown of enforcement by this agency is virtually guaranteeing that this torrent will soon be a flood. It's not surprising that the FCC has opened an investigation -- considering that this gross display is the direct result of decades of institutional malaise at the agency."
The FCC was already in trouble with Focus and other right-thinking people, of course. Last month, FCC chairman Michael Powell had asked commissioners to reconsider their ruling that Bono's use of "fucking" -- specifically, "It's really, really fucking brilliant," on last year's Golden Globes -- was acceptable because the brainiac used it as an adjective, rather than as a reference to a sex act. And last week, a parade of U.S. representatives testifying before a House telecommunications subcommittee chastised the FCC for its lax regulation of the media, demanding increased fines for radio and TV offenses.
Not a moment too soon, either, since the Grammys are this Sunday -- but with a seven-second delay in place, thank God, Weiss points out. "Frankly, I don't like those awards shows," he adds. "I don't like that they become a political grandstand. I suppose I'll have to tune in."
It's his job, after all. And "they've got those gowns, too."
But back to Sunday, and the Super Bowl -- "a great game," not that anyone remembers it -- and the breast. "You think about your audience, and primarily it's for football fans first, comprised primarily of families," he says. "Even for the people who don't care about the game and want to see the commercials, they're looking for something creative."
Instead, they got a wardrobe malfunction that committed the unforgivable sin of giving Focus something to focus on. "This is like a guest you invite into your home," Weiss concludes. "And if my guest started singing and dancing like a stripper, I'd ask her to leave. I wouldn't invite her back, either."
The Straight Poop
The shit keeps hitting the fan in Arapahoe County, which will vote on whether to recall Tracy Baker, current clerk and recorder, in less than two weeks ("Hot and Bothered," January 29). Given the inherent conflict of interest in having the county clerk oversee his own recall, the Arapahoe County commissioners named Ed Bosier, the county's assessor, the designated election official. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
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And it's dirtier than you know. On Monday, January 5, "Ed Bosier and I conducted an inspection of the Clerk and Recorder's area of the Federal Boulevard Warehouse," Bob Patterson, head of support services, wrote very busy Arapahoe County Attorney Kathryn Schroeder on January 12. "We walked the area and discovered numerous indications that a small animal had been left unattended in the area on many occasions. We observed dried urine, feces and vomit in this area."
They documented the messes -- all made between the end of October, when the facility was clean, and December 1, when fencing was installed -- down to the "stain between voting machines #2702 and #17352" and "doggie rawhide chew in ballot office."
A clue to the culprit was found deep in the debris: a mocked-up Arapahoe County name tag for Regan Baker, "Official Canine for the 2003 Mail Ballot Election" -- and dog of the Official Target for the 2004 Recall Election.
So now, on top of all the legal bills, and the salaries for clerk's-office employees who are on paid administrative leave while their complaints about Baker are investigated, and the cost of the recall election itself, you can add $349.88 for warehouse cleanup.