Another Fleeting Failure for NBC

Super Bowl XLVI was a good football game, marred once again by the bohemian elite at NBC. NBC could have prevented, but failed to stop, the broadcast of a female rapper "flipping the bird" at 114 million viewers during Madonna's halftime show. It was another "fleeting expletive" of the hand-gesture variety, and somehow, despite elaborate rehearsals, no one at NBC could seem to stop it.

The same network skillfully edited God out of a clip of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during last year's U.S. Open golf tournament.

As usual, and just as CBS did with Janet Jackson, NBC tried to shift the blame in a statement, declaring that "the NFL hired the talent and produced" the show. As usual, the NFL statement stressed a "failure in NBC's delay system" and characterized the gesture as "completely inappropriate" and "very disappointing" and "obscene." (The Hollywood Reporter added the NFL apparently dropped out the "obscene" part under pressure from NBC, which doesn't want FCC attention for this prank witnessed by untold millions of children.)

The offender is a 36-year-old British rap "artist" who calls herself "M.I.A." -- which is easier to say than her real Sri Lankan name, Mathangi Arulpragasam. The next morning on NBC, "Today" host Kathie Lee Gifford spoke for most of America: "I'd never heard of her before, but that's not unusual for me."

That's exactly how rebellious rappers make names for themselves. While she was launching the obscene gesture, she was rapping, "I'm-a say this once, yeah I don't give a (S-word)." That's in the newly recorded Madonna song they were performing ("Give Me All Your Luvin'"), and it's also in the video. How does NBC not prepare for a bleep and a camera shift when it knows it's coming?

At 53, Madonna's a little old to pull this stunt herself. She promised the press beforehand there would be no "wardrobe malfunctions" -- and we were all relieved. There was an unmistakably musty grandma smell in her aging act, which she tried to overcome by bringing in female rappers M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. They acted as her hired cheerleaders in her song, chanting "L.U.V. Madonna" in the background.

As usual, and just as Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake declared, M.I.A.'s camp claimed the gesture was "not premeditated" and did not occur in rehearsals. (In the Madonna video, she points her fingers like a gun.) They asserted, "She got caught up in the moment." It absolutely, positively wasn't a publicity stunt to make an obscure backup the biggest name in the headlines during the most watched Super Bowl in history. Sure.

Although the NFL foots the bill to produce the halftime show, the league does not pay performers, since the massive exposure is enough reward. But artists do sign decency clauses, according to an NFL publicist, who added that the league is "exploring all of our options." That's publicist lingo for "hoping it just goes away."

As usual, they had help from the so-what crowd. The media reprised Twitter defenders with messages like "I don't know any intelligent person who actually cares."

But the prize for audacity goes to a goofball named Scott Creney at the appropriately named website Collapse Board: "Well first of all, if America gets to drop (bleep) loads of bombs all over innocent brown-skinned people whenever we feel like it, exploit third-world economies for our own profit and luxury, and inflict the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the world, then I think the U.S. deserves a middle-finger raised in its direction once in a while. And I say this as an American."

He recommended everyone read The New Yorker, which is somehow branded as a class act. Their music critic Sasha Frere-Jones proclaimed that M.I.A. should not have apologized. "The outrage is tiresome and deeply hypocritical...Fine, it may not be legal to flip the bird on television, but that's simply a remnant of the fifties we haven't shaken." He said he raised both his middle fingers instead at the Parents Television Council for being offended. "I say we get out of The Pretending To Be Moral game altogether," he concluded.

He tried to be offended instead that the Super Bowl show featured "ad after ad that likened women -- negatively -- to sofas, cars and candy." He raised his middle fingers to "anyone who thinks profanity is somehow more harmful to our children than images of violence and misogyny."

As usual, if NBC had made a serious attempt to employ its otherwise meaningless 7-second delay technology, none of this would have happened.