The Halftime Show — “Let’s Get Loud” About the Underlying Message
Embarrassingly, I don’t know much about football. It’s embarrassing because my husband is a big sports fan, following various teams loyally on his ESPN app, keeping track of scores, stats, and various other pieces of data. One would think that through osmosis I would have absorbed enough information from him to at least know who will be playing in the Superbowl. Sadly, I did not. I had to look it up a couple of days before the game, in order to be able to maintain at least a somewhat intelligent conversation with coworkers who were much better informed than me.
Now the halftime show — that’s another story! I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Lopez ever since “Selena” had shimmied her way into the movie theaters and our hearts two decades ago. I follow JLo on Instagram; I know the names of her kids; I was upset when she and Marc Anthony divorced. All that’s to say that I was excited about watching Jennifer perform; in fact, we were planning to watch the halftime show with our two daughters, ages 12 and 9, who were allowed to stay up a bit later for the occasion.
I should pause here to say that I am very familiar with the performance arts in general, and dancing in particular. I was a competitive Latin dancer in my youth, I did gymnastics, high school dance team, and so on. I have also been to Vegas, seen at least a dozen Cirque du Soleil shows, and am thus very aware of what dance costumes usually look like. Rhinestones and bodysuits are nothing new to me.
However, watching Jennifer Lopez and Shakira dance during the halftime show — with my two girls next to me — made me slightly uncomfortable. I know this has been a hot topic in the media lately; there seem to be two camps, firmly divided. There’s a group that thinks the show was fantastic, keeping in line with the themes of Latin American entertainment and Miami performers. There’s also a group that feels that JLo thrusting her pelvis, grabbing her crotch, and shaking her famous behind is not necessarily a family friendly production. I am, reluctantly, a part of the latter group.
I say “reluctantly,” because, as mentioned, I know dancing. I am not repulsed by tight-fitting costumes, glitz and glitter, high heels, or any of the other performance arts accoutrements. It is all just part of the showy art of entertainment. What concerned me was the heavily sexualized nature of the movements that both Jennifer Lopez and Shakira chose for their choreography. Grinding, spreading their legs provocatively, and shaking their rear ends into the camera were all choices they made with their choreographers and show producers. If I was watching this performance only with my husband or any other adult, I would have no issues. We’ve all seen this and much more on the glitzy Vegas strip! However, the Superbowl is often a family event, with many children excitedly participating in this national annual ritual, along with their parents. With my daughters next to me on the couch, I had to process and explain why the two women on the screen are climbing a pole, rotating their hips, touching themselves, and the like.
Did I think that Jennifer Lopez looked incredible? Of course, I did! She’s a powerhouse of a woman, a triple-threat, as they say in showbusiness (dancer, singer, actress) and an empire all at once! I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she accomplished during a 30-year-long career. What I am questioning is why some women entertainers feel that it’s necessary to portray themselves in a sexualized manner in order to… well, entertain. I realize that Jennifer is not the only performer who has felt the need to show off her body. (Remember Janet Jackson?) But this still doesn’t answer the question as to why do it.
Some might say — ratings. Yes, of course, ratings. The truth is though, that the Superbowl already has a very captive audience. If, instead of climbing a pole (if you haven’t seen “Hustlers,” by the way, you should!), Jennifer Lopez chose to just strut the stage, sing and dance, I doubt that the national audience would run to the kitchen for a snack during the halftime performance. She’s Jennifer Lopez, for Pete’s sake! We would remain glued to our TVs for as long as she’s on the screen, shaking her famous derriere or not.
As part of this discussion, a friend reminded me that Adam Levine of Maroon 5 also removed his shirt during his halftime performance recently. Again, I would say — why is this necessary? As a talented performer, singer, musician, Adam, like Jennifer, had no need to disrobe (in February! His Jewish mother must have been furious!). His singing should have spoken for itself.
In the end, my husband and I explained to our daughters that this is a show, nothing more. Jennifer Lopez does not go to the grocery store and shake her body while picking out tomatoes. Shakira does not rotate her hips while picking up her children from school. This is all just entertainment. My kids nodded, implying that they understood, yet I am afraid of what kind of underlying effect all this leaves on my daughters and all the other daughters who watched around the country. The two strong Latina women who headlined the show had some fantastic implicit messages about refugees (children in cages, anyone?), unity, and Hispanic cultures. A small part of me wished that one of their messages was that women don’t have to be scantily clad and grinding on their knees to be taken seriously as artists. As someone who respects these two women so much, I think better of them.