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M.I.A. has digit malfunction, flips off the Super Bowl

February 6, 2012 |  5:11 pm

MIA at the Super BowlEight years after Janet Jackson's famous wardrobe malfunction, the Super Bowl halftime show has delivered another performance not suitable for broadcast TV. I'm not talking about Madonna's surprisingly inexpert lip-syncing Sunday; I'm referring to M.I.A., the English rapper, extending her middle finger to the global television audience while a recording of her voice blares "I don't give a shhhhhh."

If you're one of the 15 people who didn't tune in, it's easy to find recordings of M.I.A.'s bird-flipping online. NBC's censors were a tad slow on the draw, so the video goes fuzzy after the deed is done, not during. That's likely to prompt the morality police to complain to the Federal Communications Commission, which has a zero-tolerance policy for the spoken equivalent of the rapper's gesture. At least, that's the FCC's policy today; the Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether it's constitutional for the agency to penalize broadcasters for airing the fleeting use of an expletive.

Given how she courts controversy, it's no surprise that M.I.A. would use the Super Bowl stage to do something meant to be shocking. Perhaps that's what Madonna had in mind when she gave the rapper a cameo role (alongside Nicki Minaj) in one segment of her show. The Material Girl has reached the age at which she's entitled to provoke by proxy.

Still, M.I.A. seems to have missed an important memo from the Powers That Be. Appearing in a Super Bowl halftime show means that you've crossed the line separating artistic integrity and commercialism. If you're not celebrating a career, you're either pimping a new record to the masses or trying to introduce yourself to them. In other words, you're taking a short cut in the path to global stardom.

This is a forgivable transgression if you're already a global star and you absolutely kill, as Prince did in 2007. Otherwise, it's just a declaration that you're part of the Big Corporate Entertainment Machine and you're in it for the money.

That's fine, really -- even musicians have to pay the rent. But once you've crossed that line, you can't credibly flip the bird at your audience. In a sense, M.I.A. did that just by appearing on the Super Bowl stage.

Maybe M.I.A. was trying to show that she can keep it real no matter how many people are watching. She's a rule-breaker! No one tells her what to do! A better way to deliver that message, though, would have been to turn down the invitation to play a bit part in the Madonna Traveling Circus. Turning her back on the chance for Super Bowl fame would have been better for M.I.A. than the fame she found Sunday.


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