Prince at the Super Bowl: What phallic symbol?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Music, Society
February 5th, 2007 • 4:44 pm

I must say I find it mind-boggling that anyone reporting on Prince’s performance during the Super Bowl half-time yesterday would mention this even half-seriously—let alone actual compare it to the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004 with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

And yet in several reports that I’ve read on-line today, I’ve seen these comments about how Prince’s guitar looked like a “phallic symbol” when he was playing it behind this big white sheet that was flying in front of him, creating this spectacular shadow silhouette of the artist on stage.

It’s not just ordinary viewers in their comments. It’s also journalists themselves. Here’s a typical example:

I will say the scarf was the worst idea this side of starting Grossman, and Janet Jackson has got to wonder how Prince can get away with a phallic symbol of a guitar. But considering he had to perform live in the middle of a monsoon, I think he should be complimented for neither falling down nor electrocuting himself.

The “NippleGate” scandal of 2004 was bad enough. But does anyone really seriously think there is still anything shockingly suggestive about a guitar player playing his instrument with such expressive gestures? In 2007?

It really boggles my mind how hypocritical American society in general is about sexuality. The tiniest bit of nudity becomes a national scandal, and now we have journalists trying to pretend that they are shocked by the fact that sometimes, in certain positions, under a certain light, an electric guitar might look like a phallus. Is it really all that you think about?

It is really amazing to me that, when it comes to sex, American society still appears unable to grow up and finally reach some level of maturity about the whole thing. On the contrary, things seem to be getting worse. It is really depressing to think of all the self-censorship that this immaturity in American society is causing in art in general and in movies and TV programs in particular.

Meanwhile, the same society continues to tolerate the fact that its youth is exposed to ever-increasing levels of graphic violence, with nary a peep. Now if I had kids, that is what I would be worried about. Not that I believe that there is any direct connection between depictions of violence and actual violence… But the amount of explicit violence that is tolerated by that same society that refuses to even acknowledge the existence of sexuality is really beyond belief.

I cannot help but think that, if American society were the other way around about sex and violence, the whole world would be a much better place. But I guess I won’t ever see anything like this in my lifetime.

7 Responses to “Prince at the Super Bowl: What phallic symbol?”

  1. Arden says:

    As an American, I’m also amazed that people have such an aversion to nudity and sexuality. If you ask me, what should have happened at the so-called “NippleGate” was Justin should have ripped Janet’s top off, without nipple covers or whatever, the lights should have gone off, and that should have been the end of the show. Who cares if she shows a little breast on TV? It’s a perfectly natural thing.

    People in this country are so afraid of the human body that they go to great lengths to cover it up (case in point: John Ashcroft and the statue at the Justice Department), despite the rampant sexuality in the advertising market. They have magazine ads and TV commercials showing everything BUT the nipple, vagina, penis or whatever, yet if people get even a GLIMPSE of crack they go batshit insane. It’s really annoying, especially on subscription television where some of the raciest movies are neutered to the point of not even being worth watching. If you’re going to remove all the nudity, curse words and ultra-violent scenes, why are you showing this movie on this station??

    Other countries allow limited amounts of nudity on-screen and their people don’t seem to suffer any from it. Children’s heads are not going to explode if they catch a glimpse of a girl’s breasts; if people are really that concerned about it, they should monitor what their children watch. I think it’s about time we relaxed the standards in this country and stop listening to the ultra-conservatives who feel threatened by the human body and equal rights for homosexuals.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    My thoughts exactly :). Unfortunately, as a French man living in Canada, I am all too aware of both the differences between Europe and North America and of the US influence on Canadian media.

    And then the situation is the exact opposite when it comes to violence. I really am not someone who is shocked easily, but during one of the commercial breaks at half-time yesterday, there was this commercial about various health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, etc. I can’t remember what exactly the commercial was for, but I was really distressed by the amount of graphic violence that they felt it was necessary for them to use to carry their message across. You could see a man dressed up as a heart (the “heart disease” guy) being whacked this way and that way, against a wall, etc.

    I believe the ad was actually about something positive, like disease prevention or something. I just find it really sad that these ads have to resort to such gratuitous violence to carry their message across. What does it say about American society, really?

    Anyway, I am glad I am not the only one who feels that there is a pretty bad double-standard here.

  3. Simanek says:

    First off, it’s great to hear that Prince was the main act at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, I missed the show. I’m sure it was great, even with the rain. As for the phallic symbol, it’s been awhile, but isn’t his guitar a variation on the ancient symbol for ‘male’? What will the media do if abstract symbols representing sex are aired on TV freely?

    I agree with everything said here. It’s only a matter of time before the ‘Land of the Free’ becomes the ‘Land of the Freedoms … Um, I just deleted a tirade. It’s frustrating to live in a country with such a history bragging about personal freedom and realizing the government and apparently the ‘Liberal Media’ (wink, wink) are entirely destroying anything left of it. A liberal media wouldn’t get excited over Prince’s guitar’s silhouette.

    It’s also sad to hear that we are influencing Canada. Sorry about that. Please remember that there are a lot of great people and even some jerks over here that agree with you.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    The symbol in question is actually a combination of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ symbol—plus some kind of horn thrown in for good measure, which some argue was part of some old alchemy symbol—so both sexes are equally represented. And visually it’s not more phallic looking than any other guitar as far as I can tell.

    I am afraid your influence is geographically and culturally hard to avoid :-). Unfortunately, it also gives rise to the same kind of primitive anti-Americanism that can now be seen in Europe. It’s just a bad scene.

    It’s a good thing that there are still artists like Prince, who transcend borders, genres, and cultural isolationism or insularity—and there are still people everywhere, including in America, of course, who appreciate real artistry and have a healthy and mature attitude towards sexuality.

  5. Jussi says:

    I completely agree about the sillyness of the American hypocrisy about breasts and nakedness. But I disagree about:

    And visually it’s not more phallic looking than any other guitar as far as I can tell.

    The purple guitar Prince used in Super Bowl is frankly more phallic than the most. Especially when the Artist was behind a curtain and shown as a shadow the lower extension to the guitar really did not leave much to the imagination.

    It was sexy and very direct and I was not shocked nor hurt but at that point I was thinking that this is surely going to stir some controversy in the US. I’m a bit surprised it did not get any more media attention, maybe it shows that in USA a nipple is still that much more of a threat than a penis. :)

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    I have watched the performance again and I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m just so used to it after all these years of watching Prince and Jimi Hendrix and all the others… But I really fail to see how this particular guitar is more provocative than any other.

    As for media coverage, it did get a pretty long article in the Washington Post, I am afraid…

  7. Jussi says:

    Well, if you don’t see it you don’t. But there definitely is a difference between your father’s electric guitar and a custom made electric guitar that has an extension that is on waist level and formed very much like an erect penis.

    It’s hard to make it more obvious and still legal.

    I unfortunately am not able to see the whole show at this point so I can’t take you a screenshot :)

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