Here we go again.
During the Super Bowl halftime show, singer M.I.A. flipped off millions of viewers during TV’s most-watched telecast of the year. She made the gesture (photos and video below) during a performance of Madonna’s new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” M.I.A. also seemed to say an expletive (“I don’t give a s—”), but it wasn’t really audible.
NBC and the NFL issued dueling press statements. First, the network released an apology and called the moment a “spontaneous gesture” – a phrase that might go down in history alongside “wardrobe malfunction.” “We apologize for the inappropriate gesture that aired during halftime,” the network said. “It was a spontaneous gesture that our delay system caught late.”
But the NFL’s statement had sharper language blaming NBC and condemning the incident. “There was a failure in NBC’s delay system,” the NFL said. “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans.”
Note the network called the gesture “inappropriate” while the NFL dubbed it “obscene.” The latter is a loaded word since the Federal Communications Commission says airing “obscene content at any time” violates federal law.
Then NBC revised its statement to point out the NFL played a role here too, adding this line: “The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show.”
According to an NBC spokesperson, the monitoring system tried to blur M.I.A’s gesture, but was too late by a fraction of a second.
The bird flipping is likely to overshadow Madonna’s performance and could taint NBC’s expected ratings victory lap tomorrow. It almost instantly provoked comparisons to 2004’s infamous halftime show when Janet Jackson’s nipple was briefly exposed. The Jackson incident resulted in the FCC going after CBS and inspired a broadcast-wide tightening of live telecast content standards (though, obviously, mistakes can still happen). Ironically, the NFL took over production of the annual Super Bowl halftime show after Jackson’s performance, to have better control of the content. An NFL spokesperson says M.I.A. did not perform the gesture during rehearsals.
On one hand (so to speak), M.I.A.’s “flip slip” seems less likely than the Jackson’s blunder to outrage viewers and watchdog groups since it didn’t involve nudity. On the other, it was aggressively deliberate and a bit more obvious than the incident eight years ago (very few live viewers actually noticed Jackson’s nip slip). Comments collected from viewers on Twitter included “M.I.A. Didn’t flip us all off. She just had a middle finger malfunction.”
Here’s the moment, as captured by a photographer:
Yup, no mistaking that.
Here’s a screen-grab from the NBC telecast to give you a better idea of what viewers saw:
And here’s the video, see 8:03: