"Nipplegate" - A Split Second of Titillation at the Super Bowl (February 1, 2004)





For the most part, I watch the Super Bowl for its commercials and the game but I usually don't stick around for the halftime show.  However, I have seen a few of them, e.g. Diana Ross leaving by helicopter after her performance in 1996; U2 performing in 2002 as the names of 9-11 victims were displayed on an electronic banner; Prince stoically prancing around in the rain in Super Bowl XXXI.  But halftime is usually when I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner or washing pots and pans.  And that's where l was when halftime festivities of Super Bowl XXXVIII began (Feb. 1, 2004).  Although I could hear Justin Timberlake singing his hit song Rock Your Body, I missed "the incident" when he aggressively exposed Janet Jackson's right breast to the night air - and to 90 million viewers nationwide.  In fact, I wasn't even aware of it happening until the next day when I went into the office and overheard the water cooler chatter.




Although Janet Jackson's career went into somewhat of tailspin after her "wardrobe malfunction" Timberlake's wasn't hurt one bit.  By the way, there was a football game played that evening as well, one with a thrilling ending.  After the Carolina Panthers tied the game with one minute left to play the New England Patriots won the game on a field goal with four seconds remaining. 





Milli Vanilli Fraud Rocks the Pop Music Industry (November 15, 1990)

Milli_vanilli In mid-November 1990 I was away on a business trip in Los Angeles visiting my company's office there for the first time (ad agency NWAyer).  That evening, a Thursday, I was in my hotel room (the newly renovated Biltmore) getting ready to drive into West Hollywood for a bite to eat when I heard a breaking story on the evening news about Grammy-winning vocal duo Milli Vanilli (Best New Artist of 1990).  It was revealed that they hadn't done their own singing when recording or performing!


Milli_vanilli_albumcover Despite this deception I couldn't understand why a class-action lawsuit was filed to obtain refunds for those who purchased MV's CD/record Girl You Know It's True (which sold nearly 10 million units and produced five top-5 singles).  After all, the wildly popular songs were unchanged, with the same great hooks and beats, so if fans previously liked hits such as Girl I'm Gonna Miss You why would they no longer enjoy them now?  Of course, MV had to give back their Grammy.  And unlike Vanessa Williams, whose career took off after a scandal (nude photos) forced her to step down as Miss America in 1984, the fledgling careers of Rob and Fab were largely over (and, sadly, Rob committed suicide in 1998).


The fascinating clip below shows them accepting their People's Choice, American Music and Grammy Awards. 






Anita Hill Testifies Against Clarence Thomas (October 11, 1991)



Oct. 11, 1991 was a Friday, and that afternoon I was sitting in my office at ad agency NWAyer when I heard on the radio news of the rather contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.  Anita Hill, a former colleague of Thomas', had made allegations about lewd comments he made and sexual harassment she had been subjected to when they worked together (he was her manager at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)  Curious, I walked down the hall to the office of the director of national broadcast buying to watch some of the live testimony on his TV. 


I was taken aback by Hill's frank testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, e.g., Thomas' comment about a pubic hair being on a can of Coke on his desk during a meeting with her (perhaps the most ignominious brand mentions of all time?).  Never before had words such as these, or for that matter, "penis" and "oral sex" been talked about so openly in a public forum.  (This was seven years before the references to the semen stain on Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.) 


The riveting "he said/she said" testimony continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening (when Thomas got his chance at rebuttal).  In addition to watching some of it at the office I continued watching the coverage at home before and after I went to the gym and then after traveling out to New Jersey to spend the night at my boyfriend's apartment.




Four days later Thomas was approved in a very close vote in the Senate.  In fact, the 52-48 vote was the closest confirmation vote of the 20th century.  (By comparison, Elena Kagan was confirmed this summer by a 63-37 vote, Sonia Sotomayor by 68-31 and Chief Justice John Roberts by 78-22.)  The book The Prince & the Pauper: The Case Against Clarence Thomas provides an essay that offers background into Thomas, an analysis of his confirmation as well the political process that resulted in his selection. 




In 2018 this unpleasant skewering of Hill was brought to mind when another Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of attempting to rape her in 1982 when they were teenagers in Maryland.


Brett kavanaugh





Remembering the Tragic, Shocking Death of Princess Diana (August 31, 1997)


Princess diana in pink


It was the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend 1997 and I was out at my summer share in Fire Island Pines, which is situated a few miles south of Long Island.  As my housemates and I were finishing dinner we became playful - as a group of eight gay men can easily do after a marvelous dinner and a few glasses of wine. For whatever reason we were inspired to try on some campy hats, feather boas and wigs that just were on the "wig wall" (just having a gay old time - literally!).  Eventually we got around to clearing the table and loading the dishwasher and then decided to go out to Sip'n Twirl, a dance bar in the harbor.  


It was well past midnight when we finally got our asses in gear and left the house for the 10-minute walk to the club.  We were making our way along the rickety boardwalk called Fire Island Boulevard when an acquaintance of one of our housemates walked by and said rather dismissively, "Oh, I guess you're going down to join the rest of the queens sobbing over Diana".  We didn't know what he was referring to (our house didn't have a TV) so he told us of the recent news bulletin reporting on Princess Diana's death in Paris in a high speed auto accident. 




Stunned, we returned home instead of continuing to the bar.  Since we didn't have a TV in the house it was actually somewhat of a relief because we weren't immersed in the news coverage that dominated the rest of the weekend. 



The following Saturday was Diana's funeral.  It aired beginning at around 4AM here in the U.S.  Once again I was out at FIP, but this time I had an opportunity to watch it at the house of a fellow from Cherry Grove who I had just begun dating.  However, I just wasn't in the mood to watch something so dispiriting.  Instead I borrowed a tape from a friend at work who taped it on his VCR and I watched it in fits and starts over the course of the following week.  A memory that sticks with me was seeing the hearse bearing Diana's casket with its windshield wipers slowly moving back & forth in order to clear flowers/bouquets being thrown at the vehicle by the millions lining the streets.  (Mother Teresa died the week leading to Diana's funeral but her death was somewhat overlooked.) 




The 2006 movie The Queen is about the British public's backlash when Queen Elizabeth failed to join her subjects in publicly mourning and commemorating Diana's death. (British actress Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the queen.)  






Governor McGreevey Reveals: "I Am a Gay American" (August 12, 2004)

It was late afternoon on Aug. 12, 2004, a Thursday, and I was finishing the exit interview of our department's summer intern (at media buying/planning agency Carat USA.)  Then I heard the soft "ping" from my computer indicating incoming mail so I casually glanced at the screen and saw a CNN Breaking News alert (the 21st century's version of "Extra, extra read all about it!"). 




It reported that New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey was stepping down upon revealing at a news conference that "my truth is that I am a gay American."  Furthermore, he had been involved in an adulterous affair with his former 36-year-old homeland security advisor who planned to press sexual harassment charges against the governor.  McGreevey's announcement was made to pre-empt this action.  The aide, Israeli citizen Golan Cipel, vigorously denied the affair and claimed McGreevey made three advances that he rebuffed.  (He returned to Israel and hasn't been heard from since.)




Upon reading this news I let out a "whoa!" and chuckled with surprise. The expression on his wife Dina's face in the photo above is priceless.  I'd love to know what was going through her mind at that very moment. A few years later her tell-all book, Silent Partner, told us.




Since then online news alerts have informed me of other equally stunning admissions of philandering by two other governors, i.e. Eliot Spitzer of New York (March '08) and Mark Sanford of South Carolina (June '09) and online adultery by New York congressman Anthony Weiner (June '11).  For these revelations, however, I didn't make any audible exclamation, I just shook my head silently, exasperated by their transgressions.






Richard Nixon Resigns the Presidency (August 8, 1974)





I was a teenager at the time of Richard Nixon's resignation and had yet to develop much in the way of a political consciousness.  Sure, I knew my parents were registered Democrats but I didn't really have an opinion about President Nixon (although I had some initial misgivings when he was first elected because the scuttlebutt on the playground was that he was going to institute Saturday classes).  And although the televised Watergate hearings had been a constant presence, and part of the background "noise" at home during the preceding 12 months, I watched tonight's presidential address to the nation with no feelings of triumph or vindication.  Rather, it was a somber occasion and I thought how lamentable it was that Nixon had let his presidency unravel.  (For background on the Watergate affair you may find Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward's acclaimed book The Final Days helpful; or perhaps the Oscar-nominated film from 2008 Frost Nixon.) 


It was just me and my mother watching; Dad was outside puttering in the garden.  And although I knew I was witnessing an event unmatched by few others in US history, I had other pressing concerns on my 17-year-old mind -  I was editor of the yearbook and had plans to make as my senior year in high school approached.  (I also hoped that Nixon's resignation wouldn't cast a pall on the upcoming school year.)






Speaking of the yearbook, I had just returned the day before from a workshop for yearbook staffs from high schools throughout Western Pennsylvania.  It was held over the course of three days at Seven Springs ski resort, about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.  My ascension to the post of editor (at Sto-Rox High School) was a bit unconventional because I hadn't been part of the yearbook clique.  A new yearbook advisor decided to select the editor based on who wrote the best essay - and I was chosen. 





The next morning, a Friday, I watched as Nixon and Pat Nixon, now private citizens, left the White House and boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, CA.  Newly sworn-in president Gerald Ford and the new First Lady Betty Ford saw them off.  However, I was preoccupied with my morning paper route (I delivered the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) because I had one paper left and I didn't know who I had missed.




My interest in politics would begin in earnest two years later when Jimmy Carter ran against Ford and I voted in my first presidential election. 





Tragedy, and Scandal, at Chappaquiddick (July 18, 1969)

Maryjokopechne_tedkennedy As the nation prepared for one of man's greatest triumphs (the Moon landing on July 20) another event was unfolding that would remind us of human frailties that time and again lead to the downfall of great men.  The news of the deadly car accident involving married Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and his young female passenger Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick Island (off Martha's Vineyard) interrupted my family's viewing of the Miss Universe Pageant that Saturday night (back then beauty pageants were a big draw).



Chappaquidick headline

Although the accident occurred late Friday Kennedy waited until after daybreak Saturday to report it.  And despite the fact that I was only 12 at the time even I could sense that there was something amiss about his explanation.  And although it occurred on the eve of the Moon walk it would easily outlive that news cycle.  (Looking back, it was a precursor to the uncensored scandals that are now sadly the norm.)   




28 years later another Kennedy tragedy would occur in the middle of July (July 16, 1999) when John Kennedy, Jr. was killed in the crash of the plane he was piloting off the waters of Martha's Vineyard. (See my post about the deaths of Princess Diana and JFK, Jr.


For the uninitiated the book Chappaquiddick Revealed: What Really Happened goes into detail about the scandal and the implications it would have on Ted Kennedy's political career.  And in April 2018 a movie about the incident opened.  The actor who portrays Kennedy, Jason Clarke, was born, no joke, on July 17, 1969 - the day before the incident.  


The book


Chappaquidick movie
The movie

Bobbitt, Menendez & Harding - Oh My! (January 1994)

Some newsworthy events unfold over a course of weeks so they can't be pin downed to one moment in time.  Such was the case of the unrelenting cold and snow of January 1994 and a number of high-profile criminal cases that received considerable attention in the same month. 


Iceonhudson For much of the nation it was one of the coldest and snowiest Januarys on record.  New York was hit by a lot of sleet and freezing rain; a number of sub-zero mornings caused ice to form on the Hudson and East Rivers (which I could see from my office at ad agency NWAyer on the 34th floor of Worldwide Plaza on West 50th St.), making for slow going for river traffic.  In the middle of the month I tried to escape the brutal cold by flying down to Orlando where I made my first visit to Disney World and Epcot.  Unfortunately the Arctic chill followed me (the same misfortune befell me two years later when I took a vaction in Key West in February).


Tonya.hardingMenendez _brothers Lorena.bobbit Before the introduction of the "reality" TV format, there was Court TV (now called truTV). During this frigid and inclement month I got into the habit of watching it because of its "gavel to gavel" coverage of a number of headline grabbing cases.  First was the trial of Lorena Bobbitt who cut off her husband's penis while he slept and then tossed it out of her car window.  Less salacious, but equally riveting, was the trial of the Menendez brothers, Lyle and Eric, for the murder of their wealthy parents.  (Even more attention was generated due to the brothers' flamboyant attorney, Leslie Abramson.)  Then feisty figure skater Tonya Harding was added to the mix when she was implicated in the pipe bashing of her rival Nancy Kerrigan a few days before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and one month before the Winter Olympics. (Besides Court TV these cases received exhaustive coverage from CNN, Nightline and the Big 3's evening news shows.)




Star_jones Toobin These cases also made celebs of legal analysts Jeffrey Toobin and Star "before The View" Jones (who knew she had a law degree?).  I suppose these tawdry cases were a welcome diversion from that winter's onslaught.  Of course, this was all just a prelude to the huge media circus created later in the year as the OJ Simpson murder case unfolded.



From the Zeitgest Archives: July 6-11

LadyGodiva,jpg Long before Lady GaGa there was Lady Godiva who on July 10, 1050 rode nude on horseback through the streets of Coventry, England in a protest over taxation (imposed by her husband no less!).  916 years later she was immortalized in song when the British singing duo Peter & Gordon released their single Lady Godiva which reached #6 on the U.S. charts in the fall of 1966. 



Madonna_in_playboyNudity also broght attention to Madonna this week in 1985 when Playboy published "full frontal" photos of her snapped before she became a sensation.  This controversy erupted as her career was in rapid ascent - her album Like A Virgin was still high on the charts and her movie Desperately Seeking Susan was a summer hit (I saw it twice).  However, rather than being a ruinous scandal it was the first in a string of controversial career boosters.



Eva_peron Madonna_as_eva212 years later Madonna starred in another movie, Evita (which I also saw twice).  And on July 7, 1947 the cover subject of Time Magazine was none other than Argentina's notorious, but beloved, first lady, 28-year old Eva Peron.  Sadly, she would die 5 years later from cancer.  (Personal anecdote: The super of my apartment building is from Argentina and when she was a small child Eva Peron handed her a small toy when she made a visit to her town of Rosario.)  


 Young_johnlennon_paulmccartneyTwo of rock music's seminal hits reached #1 on the charts this week, the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction in 1965 and the Doors' Light My Fire in 1967.  4 years later, also in early July, Doors frontman Jim Morrison would be found dead in a Paris hotel room of a drug overdose at the age of 27.  And on July 6, 1957 17-year old John Lennon & 15-year old Paul McCartney met for the first time when they attended the same church picnic. 



Heatwave,jpgOn July 9, 1936 New York City recorded the highest temperature in its history - 106.  (And this was before air condtioning was the norm.)  In my lifetime the hottest temperature I've experienced was 103 on August 10, 2001 and again last year on July 6.  Some wonder if this temperature will ever be matched since the official readings for the city are now reported from grassy Central Park while before 1961 official readings came from concrete encased Rockefeller Center.


HurricanesUp until 1979 hurricanes were the domain of women but on July 11, 1979 that all changed when the first hurricane named after a man formed.  And although Hurricane Bob was relatively benign others such as Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992) & Ivan (2008) showed that they could be as ferocious as Camille or Katrina.  In 1991 another Hurricane named Bob struck and was a bit more destructive than the first as it clipped the eastern tip of Long Island and then barrelled through Rhode Island and Cape Cod. 


Oliver_northFinally, telegenic & cocksure of himself, Oliver North captured the hearts of the Conservative right on July 7, 1987 as he masterfully portrayed himself as an uber-patriot in front of TV cameras at the Iran-Contra hearings.  Sarah Palin, who possessed the same skills in front of TV cameras, would pull at the same patriotic heartstrings two decades later.