Rickter Scale: Keeping abreast of censors

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column that runs in the Goldstream News Gazette and Victoria News

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

At what time in our history did censors decide that a woman’s nipples are public enemy number one and two?

Can anyone explain why Mother Nature’s nursers are blurred or hidden on television, unless they are attached to women in some remote tribe who have obviously evolved further along the chain when it comes to that part of the body? Apparently, there’s nothing wrong with them, whatever size, shape or colour, as long as they belong to someone wearing a grass skirt or loin cloth in some faraway jungle.

If mammary serves me correctly, it’s been 15 years since Justin Timberlake exposed one of Janet Jackson’s during the Super Bowl halftime show. The furor that erupted south of the border went nationwide, with CBS overwhelmed by an avalanche of complaints that lit up the phone lines like a cruise ship at night. The other networks replayed the infamously titillating clip over and over, with the obligatory black bar covering the problematic protuberance.

Politicians in the House of Representatives and the Senate weighed in on the brahaha as well, forcing the Federal Communications Commission to slap the beleaguered network with a $550,000 fine, the largest amount ever issued at that time. The case dragged its way all the way to the Supreme Court before it was finally overturned in 2012.

This unfolded despite the fact that Jackson, some might argue in defence of modesty, wore a metal shield over the offending teat during the split second exposure that could literally poke your eye out. It provides an interesting peak into our cultural norms, where all these years later, the only time you see nipples on television is on Pay Per View or in diaper commercials.

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You can, however, still tune in to a good old-fashioned slow motion decapitation or disembowelment any time of day or night. Maybe censors should set their sights disturbing, violent visuals instead of debating how much areola is acceptable, or whether Montgomery tubercles are the real culprits.

In Canada, for better or worse, we have more of a laissez-faire when to comes to what to wear or not wear, in Ontario at least, thanks to a 19-year-old college student named Gwen Jacob. She was issued a $75 fine in 1991 for baring her breasts on a smoking hot day after a mother filed a complaint because her kids caught a glimpse. Jacob argued in court that her breasts were just fat tissue, not unlike a man’s. The court ruled against her, however, with the judge decreeing that the offending objects were “sexually stimulating to men, both (you can’t make this up) by sight and touch.”

The conviction was overturned on appeal, with the judge deciding that “there was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the appellant did.”

Sounds like a clear cut case of tit for tat to me.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.


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