Super-Cooled Sports Dirt
Moral Contagion and Super Bowl
Commercials in the Shadows
of Janet Jackson


by Lawrence A. Wenner (Loyola Marymount University)

This study provides a select thick reading of how the moral contagion that followed the
exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast during the broadcast of the 2004 Super Bowl moved
into the commercial realm. It is framed by an assessment of how the Super Bowl was
“super-cooled” by the “moral panic” that followed the Jackson incident. Super Bowl
commercials, usually “celebrated” in postmortems of the broadcast, came under closer
moral interrogation. To understand the cultural fallout and “cooled environment” that
ensued, a critical approach that blends concerns over “communicative dirt,” the char-
acterized reader, and ethical criticism is used in the analysis of four commercials that
were “banned” from the 2005 Super Bowl broadcast. Conclusions focus on dynamics
of moral contagion in the Jackson incident and its likely impact on moral contours of
the public sphere in light of changed notions of “banned” texts in the internet era and
selectivity in processes that lead to cooling.(download)