WASHINGTON, DC—As the nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the Super Bowl XXXVIII tragedy, an FCC study shows that millions of U.S. children were severely traumatized by the exposure to a partially nude female breast during the Feb. 1, 2004 halftime show.
"No one who lived through that day is likely to forget the horror," said noted child therapist Dr. Eli Wasserbaum. "But it was especially hard on the children."
The tragic wardrobe malfunction occurred approximately 360 days ago, during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's performance of "Rock Your Body," when Timberlake tore Jackson's costume, accidentally revealing her right breast.
"By the time CBS cut to an aerial view of the stadium, the damage was done," said Wasserbaum, who has also worked extensively with orphaned and amputee children in Third World war zones. "I've found that children can be amazingly resilient, but this event was too much for many of them to take. The horrible image of that breast is likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives."
According to the 500-page report filed by the FCC, more than 90 percent of the children who saw the exposed breast said they were "confused and afraid."
"Mommy has dirty chest bumps," said a 5-year-old boy quoted in one of the thousands of case studies compiled by the FCC. "She's like the bad lady on TV. I'm afraid Mommy will take off her shirt and scare everyone. I hate Mommy."
Girls were traumatized as well, often expressing apprehensions about sexual development. According to Wasserbaum, one 8-year-old girl told her parents that she didn't "want to get evil breasts."
Wasserbaum said children of both genders associate their trauma with footballs, presumably because of the context in which they were exposed to the breast.
A great number of children who witnessed the tragedy are still plagued by nightmares of sun-shapes that recall Jackson's nipple ring. Of the infants who saw the breast, 76 percent are unwilling to breast feed or use a bottle, forcing their parents to nourish them intravenously.
"When the tragedy took place, we knew it would cause psychological trauma, but we had no idea how long the effects would last," Wasserbaum said."Our worst fears have been confirmed. It will take years to repair the damage."
Cases of deviant sexual development induced by breast-glimpsing are widespread amongst older children. Pathologies range from schoolyard exhibitionism to gender-role confusion and violent shirt-tearing.
"The FCC imposed the maximum $27,500 penalty on each of the 20 CBS-owned television stations," Wasserbaum said. "But the government offered no recompense to the individuals exposed to the breast. And neither Jackson nor Timberlake has ever specifically apolgized to the children whose lives they ruined, or donated a penny for the adolescents' psychiatric care."
Across America, parental concern over the condition doctors have dubbed Nearly Naked Breast Disorder continues to grow.
"How can my son Brandon be expected to make it through something like that unscathed?" asked mother of four Shonali Bhomik of the San Francisco-based What About the Children? Foundation, one of many social-awareness groups spearheading the fight for increased NNBD funding in Congress. "For approximately 1.5 seconds, he saw a breast. The image was seared into his innocent, tiny retinas. He can't close his eyes without replaying the whole ugly scene over and over in his little head."
"For the love of God—that breast was almost nude," Bhomik added.
Bhomik said she has concerns about her son's development.
"I shudder to think how this could affect my son once he reaches puberty," Bhomik said. "Little Brandon just wanted to watch the fun halftime show with his family. He was only 10 years old."
Bhomik is one of millions of people facing every parent's worst nightmare: that their child will see a partially exposed breast.
Wasserbaum said there is no way to predict whether the children will recover.
"One thing is certain," Wasserbaum said. "For us as a nation, the horrific consequences of almost-nakedness have only just begun to make themselves apparent."
Wasserbaum added that children who saw the televised breast in Europe, Australia, and various other nations throughout the world were somehow unaffected by the sight.