It wasn't what Jackson did that was offensive. It was what Timberlake did. Here was a massively popular, relatively hip singer whose message was that it was a hip, transgressive thing for men to rip clothes off women when they feel like it (which is quite often). I watched the game with a group of non-evangelical, non-moralistic dads who were uniformly horrified. The problem for them wasn't sex--their kids see flesh all the time in videos--but a form of sexism, not prudery but piggishness.But if it was sexism and not prudishness that was really offensive here, why didn't people on the left get upset about it? The fact that the right reacted to the breast-baring proves that it really was about sex, doesn't it?
You might well ask.
But didn't you notice that the feminist concern about sexual predation, a huge deal circa 1992, fell into steep decline shortly thereafter? The people of the left had a keen eye for the sexual subordination of women in the late 80s and early 90s, the era of the anti-pornography movement. They gasped about sexual harassment around about when Clarence Thomas was nominated as Supreme Court Justice. And then it all just suddenly went away, because party politics outweighed whatever real concern about feminism they'd ever had, and Bill Clinton needed help beating Paula Jones into submission. Feminism has never recovered! Oh, abortion politics still remains, because it works well as a campaign issue, but there's not much serious attention to feminism on the left anymore.
And I don't mean to say that the conservatives have been fine feminists through all of the flap about the flopping breast. I only mean to say that I once thought I could rely on the Democrats to take the feminist side of things, until a big lightbulb went on right around when I read this article in 1996.
UPDATE: Thanks to Prof. Bainbridge for linking. And let me underscore that I am pro-feminism. My point here is that during the Clinton era, the Democrats showed that they were not reliable supporters of feminist values. They like to act as though they are, because it attracts a nice chunk of voters. That is, feminism is a means to an end, which is party power. And when feminism was inconvenient to the end of party power, they sold it out. That's how you can tell it's a means and not an end. For me, it's an end! (And please note that I am not attempting to define the feminism that I strongly support, so don't assume I buy into the form it took during the anti-pornography era of the late 80s and early 90s.)