M.I.A., the stage name of Sri Lankan/British musical artist Maya Arulpragasam, is no stranger to controversy. From themes of violence, political revolution and poverty in her songs to her controversial music video for the song “Born Free,” which was banned from YouTube for depicting police brutality, M.I.A. has shocked her fair share of listeners. Her most-criticized stunt, however, was flipping the camera off during the halftime show at the 2012 Super Bowl during a performance with Madonna and Nicki Minaj. In late September, M.I.A. was sued by the National Football League for the incident, according to Fox Sports.
The Federal Communications Commission chose not to pursue a lawsuit, but the NFL decided to sue her for $1.5 million “for damages” under the assertion that M.I.A. violated the “tremendous public respect and reputation for wholesomeness enjoyed by the NFL.” Though M.I.A. pushed the envelope with her on-air gesture, she should not be penalized in such an excessive and arbitrary way since the FCC deemed her stunt undeserving of punishment, and because the NFL is notoriously shaky on their depiction of “wholesomeness.”
The internet has also widely documented a new video put out by M.I.A., in which she responds to the NFL’s actions against her. She describes the freeze frame where she flips the camera off during her performance of “Give Me All Your Luvin’” with Madonna and Minaj.
“There are … 10, 15 cheerleaders … that Madonna got from a local high school … all under sixteen. They’re wearing cheerleader outfits, legs thrusted in the air, legs wide open, in a sexually provocative position,” M.I.A. said. “Is my finger offensive, or is an underage black girl with her legs wide open more offensive to the family audience? … [They want me] to say it’s [more] ok to promote being sexually exploited as a female than to display female empowerment through being punk rock.”
M.I.A. is pointing out a problematic trend in the NFL and mainstream media. The fact that the dancers for this production were underage is even more disturbing. It’s not surprising, then, that the machismo-ridden constituents of the NFL would be up in arms over M.I.A.’s finger, which in her words was an expression of female power — essentially, the anti-“eye candy.” In theory, a simple finger should not affect the family audience as strongly as the NFL contends, considering that today’s youth is exposed to so much crude material that the middle finger now seems tame.
M.I.A.’s lawyer has released a similar statement expressing skepticism over the NFL’s emphasis on “wholesomeness,” which he considers paradoxical. He told The Hollywood Reporter that “the NFL’s claimed reputation for wholesomeness is hilarious, in light of the weekly felonies committed by its stars, the bounties placed by coaches on opposing players, the homophobic and racist comments uttered by its players, the complete disregard for the health of players … and the raping of public entities ready to sacrifice public funds to attract teams.”
The NFL’s double standards do not end there. M.I.A. tweeted a video of Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams giving the finger at a game — with both hands, and for several seconds — with the caption, “is it ok when it come[s] from him?”
From over-sexualized cheerleaders, to players’ occasional bouts of substance abuse, such as in the case of Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to sexual assault as demonstrated by Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL is not exactly the epitome of family-friendly entertainment.
There doesn’t appear to be much for the NFL to protect from M.I.A. Suing her for $1.5 million only further demonizes the league. M.I.A. has not been the only artist to grace the Super Bowl stage with a faux pas. Kid Rock emerged during halftime wearing a torn American flag as a poncho, Nelly gave viewers an eyeful of his crotch-grabbing and most notably, Janet Jackson had a “wardrobe malfunction” — though accidental — that was deemed most explicit of all by FCC standards. Jackson received a fine of $550,000, which was miniscule in comparison to the NFL’s claim against M.I.A.’s, but walked away scot-free after the court dropped the fine. It is not the fact that Jackson was more deserving of discipline than M.I.A., but that her blunder, nicknamed “Nipplegate,” caused more of a media pandemonium that makes the charges levied against M.I.A. look capricious.
All in all, the FCC is the ultimate authority on acceptable television content. It is unreasonable that the NFL would warrant an exorbitant $1.5 million “for damages” for M.I.A.’s millisecond-long finger shot, while the FCC itself, in addition to NBC, which aired the Superbowl, decided to drop the affair. Summing up the incident in her video, M.I.A. said, “it’s a massive waste of time, a massive waste of money and it’s a massive display of powerful corporation d—ck shaking.”
No one could possibly put it better.
Sareen Palassian is a sophomore majoring in international relations and French.
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