In the past few decades, the Super Bowl halftime show has often been inappropriate for kids. Realistically, some have been inappropriate for adults. From the “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004 to the reports of inappropriateness that I saw about this year’s show. Almost every year, I see a bunch of friends talk about how scandalous the halftime show was.
However, I want to present a simple way for us, the people, to change it.
If you suspect a Super Bowl halftime show will be inappropriate, or it starts being inappropriate, turn off the TV or change the channel.
That might seem almost too simplistic but it happened before. The current practice of the Super Bowl halftime show being the concert / spectacular of the year came in response to people doing just that. If 20% of those viewing the Super Bowl turns off a halftime show for a specific reason, broadcasters will avoid a halftime show with whatever issue made people turn it off in the future.
Let’s go over a little history of the halftime show. In early Super Bowls, a marching band or bands would perform at halftime. They experimented with a few other things such as a stage magician one year. In the early 90s, they moved more towards a popstar concert, but these were done rather simply. In 1992, Fox came up with a brilliant idea: they would run a special episode of a popular show timed with the halftime show with a timer on the bottom of the screen indicating when the game restarted so nobody would miss the game. The special episode of “In Living Color” drew 22 million viewers and CBS lost 22% of its viewers for the Super Bowl during halftime.
This lead to the model of all future halftime shows as a spectacular presentation. In 1993, Michael Jackson performed and the ratings went up during halftime, setting a record for viewership for any TV program in the US up to that moment. Jackson’s performance is probably the only concert on TV I remember as a child or a teen. Michael Jackson was not angelic but it was far from the scandal of modern halftime shows. (Note: this was before any accusations of sexual misconduct against Jackson came to light.)
TV broadcasters want an audience so they can sell ads. Super Bowl ads cost $5.6 million for 30 seconds this year. They make this much money because everyone is watching. If they knew 20% stopped watching during the halftime show, the ads during halftime would probably drop in price by a million dollars apiece. That would make them wake up and do a halftime show that matched the values of more viewers.
Obviously, the current show matches some people’s values but there are ways to pick songs, costumes and dance moves more amenable to the whole population, including those with stronger values. Just looking at the lyrics of the top ten songs of 2019, 4 are OK for those of us with values so this is not impossible. (Lil Nas X, Old Town Road; Halsey, Without Me; Marshmello & Bastille, Happier; and Khalid, Talk seem to have no objectionable content, and a few others might be OK but might not be like Post Malone, Wow, which seems to just be bragging about riches.)
I have turned off the TV or switched the channel during the halftime show for about two decades. Sometimes, I’ve gone to have sit-down dinner as we kept food out of the TV room, other times we’ve talked, in Rome we’d watch it via DVR (kickoff is 12:30 in the morning & I like at least some sleep) so just fast forward past the halftime show, and this year someone else who I was watching with decided to show some funny YouTube videos. If a large portion turns it off, the networks will probably change it. They changed it when they lost 22% to another network’s comedy show and they would likely change it if they lost 22% of us as we considered it inappropriate.
This is not to say we should not object to halftime shows as they currently tend to be. Many parents just let their kids watch it, and we want to help those kids get good values. However, a bunch of us turning it off is probably the best way to get strong leverage for such a discussion. If 15-25% of people turn the halftime show off because it is against our values, then networks likely respond if we suggest they do a show more in line with our values. If we object each year then turn it on the next year, they don’t feel much of an obligation to change.
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