An International Postscript on L'Affaire Breast

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

Rochester, MN -- After three weeks it’s plain as day that not a single newspaper columnist in America was able to resist the urge to write about the Breast.

After three weeks of determined resistance, today I finally surrender to the urge myself. I hasten to add that while I admit to abjectly caving, it is only because I have finally found a redeeming international angle to the story.

At first I skirted Janet’s naked publicity stunt because I believed it was all about Americans’ hypocrisy and prurience in matters of sex. I didn’t want to write about that because what in heaven’s name else is new?  

The United States wields potentially apocalyptic military power across the globe. And our pop culture also stomps heavily across the planet via satellite feeds and CDs and films and videos that are rank with violence and nudity and indeed are very often blatantly pornographic.

And yet on Super Bowl Sunday, we Americans howled in outrage at a two-second peek at a lady’s nipple. That’s childish and strange, but not new.

A Lock of Hair

Then came my epiphany. I recalled seeing similar explosions of public outrage in Japan and Spain that both involved the nation’s royal families. And reflecting on these similar incidents made me conclude that the Super Bowl mammary moment had very little to do with sex. Instead, a bitterly frustrated desire for national identity and unity was the culprit.

First the Japanese example. In June 1993, Crown Prince Naruhito, a shy and awkward young man who’d taken his sweet time finding a woman to marry, finally wed Masako Owada, a 30-year-old career diplomat from Tokyo.

In the moments after the wedding ceremony, the Prince and Princess faced a gaggle of Japanese press photographers. In a moment of unguarded concern for her husband’s appearance, the Princess reached out to lightly brush a lock of hair from his eyes. A photographer captured the moment and when the next day’s papers published the photo a national scandal erupted.

How grossly ordinary! How much like plain old human beings these Children of Heaven, as Japanese tradition has it, were made to appear! How undignified and especially how un-Imperial and un-Royal!


As in every country with a monarchy, the Japanese royals are supposed to project the best and highest in the nation’s soul and psyche. Ordinary is not good enough because the Japanese, as a nation, want to be better than that.

In Spain only one month ago, a similar outrage occurred and it once again involved the country’s Prince and Princess, Felipe de Asturias and Leticia Ortiz. This time the happy royal couple was giving their first interview to the Spanish press to announce they were a couple and were engaged. As the cameras were rolling, the star-crossed Leticia made the mistake of brushing her hair back with her hands several times – very coquettish and un-Royal!

The papers killed her for it. Even worse, in the interview she wore an Italian designer dress instead of a Spanish one, and she snapped at Prince Felipe, who had begun to say something while she was talking, saying “Let me finish!”

That last transgression was the worst. It was a sudden moment of exposure of the reality beneath the façade, that was just too much for the Spanish people. Of course, Spaniards know the Prince and Princess are only human. They just don’t want to see the raw evidence of that on national television.

What the Spanish want from their royals we Americans want from our Super Bowl – a few delicious moments of feeling unified as a nation and good about ourselves.

Nothing Unites Us

More Americans watched this year’s Super Bowl game and half-time show (130 million) than voted in the 2000 presidential election (105 million). Once upon a time, Americans had fireside chats with President Roosevelt, and the Amos and Andy radio show, and the Ed Sullivan Show.

Now our national life is fractured into a million pieces and timeslots. No politician unites us. No celebrity unites us. No elections unite us.

Only the Super Bowl unites us. Only this year, a plain old ordinary breast divided us. Like the stinging paradox of a plain old King or Queen in Spain, or an ordinary human Empress in Japan, this was the source of our outrage.

It was the disappointment to be reminded in the very midst of our one remaining national celebration of oneness and uniqueness, how divided and common we are.  It was not an exposure so much as a self-exposure.

We acted outraged. In reality we hurt, because we want to be better than that.

Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report