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Flipping the bird isn't original, but a comedian at halftime would be

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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An aging Madonna isn't shocking, but Louis C.K.? Now that would get people talking. (Getty Images)  
An aging Madonna isn't shocking, but Louis C.K.? Now that would get people talking. (Getty Images)  

I can say that in the light of Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show that I now have a far greater appreciation for Janet Jackson's breast.

Or, more precisely, its role as a social discussion engine. Now that M.I.A. (if only) has decided to use the most lightweight form of provocation to make herself momentarily notorious in the least threatening venue on earth, Jackson's mammarial flash is the start of the French Revolution by comparison.

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We must first start, though, by understanding that the Super Bowl halftime show is essentially CPR for every big-name act that has reached that age, level of irrelevance, or the need to score with one more big recording. It used to be that the Super Bowl halftime headliner went straight to the Secret Square, but since Hollywood Squares no longer exists, the halftime show is now the new halfway house to The View.  

In other words, this is a name from the past going all-in with seven-deuce, and nothing is to be expected from it. I mean, Madonna? Seriously? If this wasn't so perfectly NFL entertaining values at work, it would be to laugh.  

And then, by hauling in M.I.A., a mid-level theatre-filler on her best day, Madonna made it even less appealing ... if such a thing is possible in a Super Bowl Halftime show.  

But the idea here is for the artist to be noticed, and M.I.A.'s moment of inspiration was to use a gesture that every 7-year-old in America uses on every schoolyard during every recess, and then to utter a phrase used by nearly every worker in America after every new outrage from the manager, supervisor or boss.  

A middle finger and an "I don't give a s---." Well, we've seen that first one a million skillion times, and the fact that she was on the stage for that event means we know what she doesn't give.  

At least Jackson, with her own silly prop, Justin Timberlake, did something very few people in America do on a daily basis. Now that was being a provocateur, a driver of conversation, a disturber of the status quo. It also did nothing of note for her career, but there are some things nothing can save.  

Truthfully, if the NFL wants to save itself from even this tepid level of annoyance while making the halftime show something people would actually watch and talk about the next day, it's time to get rid of the music entirely. It's dated, bland, lip-synched nonsense by people and bands that only appeal to 50-year-olds in denial about being no longer being hipsters.  

The answer, and I may have proposed this before in some other drunken venue, maybe even this one, is comedians. Professional stand-up comedians who:  

 Are used to working 15-minute sets.

 Can swear in context without making it seem like that's the only thing they have going for them.

 Will entertain the people at home while driving out the silly jumping young people in front of the stage or computerized light shows like Sunday's.

 Can work their material for any crowd because, as the late Bill Hicks once famously said, they've all worked at the Comedy Pouch in Possum Ridge, Arkansas.

 Could bomb for a stiff audience like a Super Bowl crowd and still be back on the road two nights later carpet-bombing a receptive crowd with A-level material.  

Chris Rock would kill. So would Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais and Lewis Black and Kathleen Madigan and Greg Proops and Aisha Tyler and Dana Gould and ... oh, look, pick a professional, any professional. They've done this, they're good at it, they will make the halftime show worth paying attention to, and they won't make the Federal Communications Commission wet itself in unison.  

Actually, they will absolutely make the FCC foul its collective trousers, but that's not a bad thing at all. In fact, they'll give the FCC something worth wetting itself about, which sure beats M.I.A. and her naughty attention-starved fourth-grader thing. If you're going to go, go big. Or, as movie mobsters like to say, "come heavy or don't at all."  

In the meantime, Janet Jackson and her rogue hooter remains the leader in the clubhouse, and by an ever-widening margin. You go, Velcro, girl. Or, in this case, ma'am.  

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com)

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