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Have you ever engaged in risqué behaviour at work that went too far and caused outrage among management and customers alike?

If you have, fear not because you are not alone.

On 1st February 2004 during their Superbowl halftime show performance, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake suffered what was later euphemistically referred to as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ when Ms. Jackson’s breast, complete with a nipple shield, was exposed by Mr. Timberlake to the 144 million viewers watching at home for about half a second.

The incident, which came to be popularly known as ‘Nipplegate’ caused a furore in the US and abroad with some commentators calling the incident a cynically pre-planned publicity stunt and US commentators in particular viewed it as proof of a decrease in the morality of American culture.

The incident led to an immediate crackdown on perceived indecency in broadcasting and The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined CBS a record $550,000.

Jackson performed a medley of hits, before surprise guest Timberlake appeared to perform a version of his song “Rock Your Body”. As Timberlake reached the final line of the track which says, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, he reached across and pulled off part of Jackson’s costume to reveal her right breast which was partially covered by a piece of nipple jewellery.

Jackson’s representative attempted to explain away the incident by saying, “Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed,” but this was considered scant consolation for the 540,000 reported US TV viewers that made an official complaint about the incident.

Jackson admitted that neither MTV nor CBS had any previous knowledge of the incident and that Timberlake’s ripping of the wardrobe was a late addition that was made during their final rehearsal.

The NFL were upset that the Super Bowl had been overshadowed by a halftime performance and said at the time, “We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show. They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show. It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime.”

CBS and MTV’s parent company Viacom, angered that the Super Bowl performance had cost them all future halftime shows, hit back at Jackson by effectively blacklisting her music videos from their properties namely: MTV, VH1, and various radio stations under their umbrella. The blacklist also spread to include non-Viacom media entities as well.

AOL had spent somewhere in the region of $10 million to sponsor the halftime performance and exclusively host video of the event online. Following the outcry and the negative press that came with it however, the company was quick to demand a refund from the NFL. The NFL argued in turn that CBS or MTV should reimburse AOL. McDonald’s, despite stating that it found the halftime show, “inappropriate,” decided to continue with Timberlake as their celebrity endorser.

A young software programmer named Jawed Karim who worked at Paypal was, as legend would have it, unable to find any footage of the Jackson Super Bowl performance online. As a result of his frustration, Karim and some friends created a website where people can easily upload and share videos. Thanks to the scandal, YouTube came into being in 2005 and one year later it was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion.

The Guinness Book of World Records ultimately named Nipplegate the “most searched item in Internet history,” and the incident also made “Janet Jackson” the most searched term, event and image in internet history, as well as the most searched person and term of 2004 and 2005. Nipplegate also broke the record for “most searched event over one day”.

Have a look at a video of the performance below and ask yourself if you would have got into quite as much trouble for suffering a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at work. It’s fair to say that even without a trusty nipple shield, you probably wouldn’t have caused quite the scandal that Messrs Jackson and Timberlake did.



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