It is now widely accepted that a terrible and shameful thing occurred in America on Sunday night. The nation - moms, pops and little kiddies - were enjoying one of those bonding family moments which only televised sport can provide. It was half-time during the Super Bowl and CBS television was providing entertainment for its millions of viewers with Viagra ads for the oldsters and live rock performances for the kids.
Then it happened. Justin Timberlake was on stage performing "Rock Your Body" with Janet Jackson. As the song reached its climax, he reached across his singing partner and, whoops, accidentally removed a key element of her leather gear, exposing for a second or two her naked right breast, complete with a nipple decorated by a rather dashing little gold crown in the shape of a sun.
It was the briefest flash, smaller in every sense than when our own Judy Finnigan unwittingly exposed herself at a televised awards ceremony, but the news, complete with frankly rather shocking photographic evidence of the tit in question, made headlines across the world. In America, there was an orgy of excited recrimination from the various watchdogs that speak for the country's famously noisy silent majority. The Traditional Values Coalition and Parents Television Council expressed outrage; Concerned Women for America condemned what it described as "a pornographic show". President Bush, asked about the incident, confessed that it had occurred after he had fallen asleep, 8.30pm.
While CBS formally apologised, the head of the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would be investigating the affair. "Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better," he said. It seems only a matter of time before parents start suing CBS for the trauma and distress that their little ones have been caused by the sight of Janet Jackson's right breast.
Those in the know have darkly hinted that the flash was no accident and it is certainly true that Janet's nipple seemed dressed to impress. Justin, too, has form when it comes to self-promotion through public groping: it was he who last year fondled that icon of contemporary sexuality, the behind of Kylie Minogue, while performing at the Brit Awards.
Before all this gets out of hand, it may just be worth suggesting an alternative approach. The moment has surely arrived when we might consider reclassifying the female mammary gland, and recognising that it is now too thoroughly exposed to have any kind of mystique. The breast should be officially de-registered as an erotic zone.
Over the past decade, sexuality has changed from being regarded as something that occurs between people, usually two people, and their bodies into a matter of disparate body parts. There was the great buttock fad of 2003, a trend that did so much for the careers of Minogue and Jennifer Lopez and turned the annual Rear of the Year into a major news event. Men, meanwhile, have become absorbed by their own intimate dimensions, an obsession which has spawned a vast, mostly fraudulent industry offering size enhancements of one kind or another.
But the breast has led the field. More than ever before, it has come to represent a brassy, public version of sexuality, an indicator of libido and erotic enthusiasm. All over the world, millions of women have fallen for the idiotic notion that what they need to make them attractive to men is a large, taut chest with the inner consistency of a baseball. Breast enhancement has become a sort of civic right with parents unblushingly paying for their teenage daughters to be given a boob job.
In an allegedly post-feminist age, it is regarded as normal for a woman to undergo pain and expense, after which her own physical sensations will be considerably reduced, in order to appeal to men who happen to like their lovers to look like blow-up dolls.
Like some monstrous modern version of Philip Roth's The Breast, a novel in which his narrator awakes one morning as a 155lb, six-foot high mammary gland, breasts have grown ever larger, acquiring as they do personalities that are almost separate from that of their owners. The true stars of the TV series I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here, for example, have turned out not to be human at all. They are the two mighty, man-made protuberances that the model Jordan carries before her.
There is something faintly grotesque going on here. The very part of a person that is least her has come to represent what is (or should be) one of her most personal and human aspects, her sexuality.
Unfortunately, bigness is never quite enough. Like some malign alien invader from a futuristic movie, breasts are never satisfied with what they have but need to dominate their host body. Jordan has already confided to the nation that her ambition is for further "enhancement". Where will it all end? With her having to enter a room one breast at a time? With the ultimate test of her sexiness being an inability to stand up without falling flat on her face?
The paradoxical side-effect of this trend has been to turn what was once a sweet and sexy part of the female body into a blowsy reflection of debased male desire. Surely it is time to agree that the contemporary breast has become too big for its own good, too public to be worth a moral panic.Reuse content