Nielsen ratings for NBC's Super Bowl broadcast Sunday estimate that nearly half the households in America were tuned to at least part of the game in Indianapolis between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
That suggests that four or five of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were among the 110 million or so Americans exposed to the halftime show that starred Madonna and supporting players Cee Lo Green, the group LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, who uses the stage name M.I.A.
If so, the justices stumbled into a real-world experience directly related to cases now before them at the court.
About eight minutes into Sunday's halftime show, M.I.A. was taking a vocal solo when she smiled defiantly into the TV camera, raised the middle finger of her left hand and delivered the line, "Yeah, I don't give a s—-."
Although it involved no nudity, the M.I.A. moment recalled the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show during which Justin Timberlake tore away the upper part of Janet Jackson's costume, exposing one of her breasts for a fraction of a second.
Soon after, the Federal Communications Commission reversed a long-standing policy that said broadcasters were not responsible for so-called fleeting expletives. The new policy said that in some, but not all, circumstances, fleeting expletives were actionable violations of rules prohibiting the use of words and images classified as indecent.
The FCC began citing and fining broadcasters for violations, both fleeting and extended, of the new indecency rules. Broadcasters complained that the rules were impossibly vague and inappropriately gave the government the power to make artistic judgments.
In July 2010, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the FCC's indecency regulations violate the Constitution. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider two appeals of that ruling; oral arguments were heard last month. A decision is expected sometime in June.
On Monday, The Los Angeles Times quoted an anonymous associate of M.I.A. who said the 36-year-old, London-born rapper, songwriter and music producer had been "caught in the moment" and overwhelmed by adrenaline and was "incredibly sorry."
The NFL, which was responsible for choosing and policing the halftime entertainment, said it was incredibly sorry for M.I.A.'s gesture and language. NBC, which broadcast the game, said it was incredibly sorry that an electronic delay system delayed kicking in until a few seconds after M.I.A. flipped off the world.
As in the past, the predictable effects of this silly incident were excessive media attention, effusive Internet traffic, a smattering of protests and little of consequence whatsoever. The Supreme Court justices might keep that in mind.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.