Like a whole lot of other people who subsequently made their opinions known, I watched last night’s fiery halftime show. Unlike many of those shared opinions, I found nothing offensive about it.
Nor did I lose control of myself. Nor did I develop an uncontrollable lust for Jennifer Lopez or Shakira. Nor did I feel as if their wardrobe and choreography somehow gave me permission to treat women as objects. Nor did I rush to cover my son’s eyes. Nor did I fear that it would turn him into a monster.
But based on some of the outrage I’ve since heard, these were common concerns among other viewers. They were shocked at how much skin the performers showed, despite the fact J-Lo stuck with bodysuits that covered probably 80 percent of her body (yes, the “skin” was actually nude-colored fabric). They were concerned about some of the dance moves. They were concerned about there being a pole in the routine. Mostly, they were concerned about all of the sex that they inferred from the performance. Sex, sexuality, sexiness, sexual suggestiveness, sex, sex, sexy sex, S-E-X, and what about the kids and whatever happened to morality and oh my God can we all just take a step back and breathe as we fan our agitated loins with our Puritan smocks before we faint please!
This might shock you, but the performance last night was not about sex. Nor was there any sex performed onstage. I saw one brief encounter that vaguely resembled a sex act — and it wasn’t one of the headliners who initiated it. Apart from that, there was no sex simulated during the show. If you saw anything else that looked like sex — particularly when the headliners were dancing solo — then congratulations, you must have a phenomenal sex life.
Seriously, choose any point in the show, and watch Shakira and/or J.Lo dance for about 10-15 seconds. Not just one little hip thrust or twerk that makes you blush; watch for some extended part of whatever routine. Observe how quickly they moved, and how suddenly they changed direction at any given time, without warning. Sudden, jarring movements at high speed. I take it back — that wouldn’t be phenomenol, it would be painful.
So, if the dance steps weren’t sexual, what were they? Cultural, for one thing. We saw some extraordinary belly dancing moves — and belly dancing has never been about sex, contrary to popular belief — plus other nods to the performers’ heritage. Shakira has both South American and Middle Eastern roots. The belly dancing was a definite nod to the latter, along with some of the instruments her band played and, of course, the “tongue thing” that sent the Internet into a frenzy. It’s called a zaghrouta, and it’s the way Arabic people express joy at celebrations, producing an ululating sound.
Both dancers engaged in some impressively high-energy, precise dance steps from their Latina roots. You’ll see a lot of those same steps and hip movements in dances like the Samba and Salsa, which you can see freely during primetime on Dancing with the Stars. Nobody takes issue with that. And yes, I know those dances have been described as “sexy” — point conceded. But for God’s sake, you could make a case for the Waltz being even more erotic than those fever-pitch moves, with its rhythmic count, close embrace, and mesmerized staring into a partner’s eyes. Have you ever felt scandalized by a Waltz? Then you probably shouldn’t feel scandalized by what you saw last night.
As for the costumes, I heard a whole lot of people saying they didn’t need to show that much skin during a family event like the Super Bowl, but let’s be honest — you’re going to see even more skin from the cheerleaders on the sidelines of the same game. And frankly, I’ve seen Olympic figure skaters in more revealing outfits. It’s nothing new, and it needn’t set off bells and whistles.
Some people complained about the alleged “double standard” of women not wanting to be objectified, but being okay with wearing revealing outfits like that. For one thing, was it Shakira or J.Lo saying she doesn’t want to be objectified? Did either of them ever say she doesn’t want men to look at her? If not, she can wear what she wants.
Hell, she can wear what she wants regardless of whether she ever said that. Believe it or not, a woman can dress in a sexy outfit without denying her right to be treated as more than just that sexy outfit. It’s possible to be embrace one’s physical looks and to even enjoy being appreciated for those looks, while simultaneously hoping to be appreciated for other things. It’s not an all-or-nothing equation.
Think of it this way — I love the feeling of making people laugh. For me, there’s nothing better, nor more euphoric. So I cut up. I tell jokes. I perform improv comedy. I write a blog that’s allegedly funny. But I also like to be appreciated for other things. Every once in a while, I’ll even try to write something moving, something that makes me proud because it brings people to the point of tears. Those are two different facets of my writing goals. My favorite is still when someone has laughed, but I love being appreciated for the other. People — women included — are much more complicated than a one-dimensional character. And the multiple dimensions do not cancel each other out.
And let’s be honest — the onus of other people’s reactions to the performers’ costumes is on the other people, not the performers. If you looked at J.Lo and felt lustful, that’s on you. I’m not even saying lust is a bad thing; I’m just saying, own your reaction rather than blaming someone else.
I also doubt their routines corrupted any young minds. If a kid watched the show last night and that kid hadn’t already been imprinted with emotional reactions of his/her parents, then that kid probably didn’t take anything away from the performance other than, “Pretty ladies dancing fast.”
What I saw was two beautiful, talented performers having a blast onstage, paying homage to their roots. I have a friend who happens to be Latina, who took even more positivity from it than that — until the backlash started. She told me and other friends, “Some of the comments I saw on my feed were so offensive in the midst of my having a Latina power moment that I was completely deflated.”
That makes me sad for her. But, she added, “I am going to watch it again tonight. Lol.”
I think that’s a great idea, and not just for her. If you didn’t enjoy the performance, give it another shot. Watch it again, but from a different viewing perspective — try looking at other facets of the performance. Instead of focusing on the dancers’ hips, focus on their hands, feet, and heads. If that sounds weird, please just trust me. You’ll see some well-choreographed, synchronized movement from entertainers attuned to their bodies.
Watch Shakira as she skips like a child, and ignore when she gyrates her hips like whatever or whomever you think gyrates hips like that. You’ll see unbridled joy, not degradation.
Watch J.Lo on the infamous pole — NOT a stripper pole, by the way. Just a dancing pole. Look at her biceps and quadriceps, instead of the parts of her body that are touching the pole. Her muscle control and definition are incredible, and you’ll understand why those poles are increasingly becoming part of challenging fitness routines.
Watch them both as the music moves through them and they dance with more fluidity, grace, and precision than most people could ever hope to have.
Watch the stage — that technological marvel that looked like a circle of glass, with a crew creating fantastic lighting and special effects that you could swear the dancers are about to fall into.
Watch all of this, and consider the possibility that last night’s performance was a work of theatrical art for the ages.
Or don’t. It’s no skin off my nose. Which is good, because as you’ve already made clear, you don’t care for too much skin.