There are plenty of hot takes out there, as we demonstrated extensively through almost three years of chronicling them weekly. But something that’s notable there is that while prominent national TV figures like Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless wound up near the top of our standings for their repeated commitment to outrageous takes, there have also been plenty of takes perhaps even more bizarre from local newspaper, radio, and TV figures. Fortunately, many of those aren’t always seen by the entire world, because those people don’t have national platforms. But giving a giant, uncritical national platform to a dumb take is perhaps even a bigger problem than having a dumb take in the first place, and that was shown by USA Today‘s amplification of a ridiculous opinion piece from Gil Smart on Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl LIV halftime show performance.
There were undoubtedly going to be silly takes on that halftime show from some figures on the margins of the media world, and that’s to be expected. But the bigger problem is when a giant company decides that one of those absurd takes is worth spreading nationally. And USA Today deserves a whole world of criticism for amplifying Smart’s piece, which originally ran in Treasure Coast Newspapers and asked if the halftime show was “obscene,” suggested it “looked a lot like softcore porn,” and argued that future halftime shows should come with a parental warning. And while that comes with the standard opinion section disclaimer of “This piece represents the views of its author, separate from those of this publication,” the publication’s decision to present this take to a national audience says a whole lot about them.
Treasure Coast Newspapers is a Gannett (the largest U.S. newspaper company, and one that’s even bigger after their acquisition by Gatehouse; they own USA Today and tons of other newspapers across the country)-owned group, associated with three small daily newspapers in Florida (The Stuart News, The St. Lucie News Tribune and The Indian River Press Journal). None of those newspapers are even in the Top 10 in circulation in Florida, so Smart’s piece wouldn’t have been seen by all that many people if it had just been kept to those outlets. And Smart himself only had 1,698 Twitter followers as of 8:30 p.m. Eastern Monday night, so even his tweet of his piece didn’t receive that much reaction; 41 replies, no retweets, and 10 likes in the first nine hours it was up:
Last night might have been the first time a stripper pole was featured in the Super Bowl halftime show. It surely won't be the last https://t.co/4on79rH1T8
— Gil Smart (@TCPalmGilSmart) February 3, 2020
But boy, when USA Today republished that piece (something they frequently do with local news stories or even opinion columns they feel will be of national interest, but usually not with things this stupid), the numbers changed dramatically. On Twitter alone, they tweeted it out from the main @USAToday account (3,97 million followers) at 12:50 p.m. Eastern Monday (so almost an hour and a half after Smart tweeted it himself), and by 8:30 p.m. Eastern, it had over 1,100 replies, 381 retweets, and 1,601 likes:
"The NFL has an obligation to warn people with children that what they're about to see may be upsetting to some viewers," @usatodayopinion contributor Gil Smart writes. #halftimeshow #superbowlhttps://t.co/ToDUzY6MQD
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) February 3, 2020
Here’s the start of that column:
Was the Super Bowl halftime show obscene?
That’s the debate roiling social media the morning after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. It was a great game, a fantastic comeback engineered by the Chiefs’ young quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But the halftime show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seemed to garner more buzz than the game itself. To some, the show was a joyful, Miami-infused explosion of dance and high-energy music that got you out of your seat — and not just for another fistful of nachos, either.
To others, it looked a lot like softcore porn.
JLo, in particular, spent a lot of time grabbing her crotch. A popular meme on the social news aggregator Reddit featured “The three seconds you wanted from the Super Bowl halftime show” — a clip of the two stars shaking their respective booties.
And the 54th Super Bowl may have marked the first time a stripper pole was part of the big game.
You know, it wasn’t actually a “debate roiling social media” (outside of particularly stupid corners of social media) until Smart’s piece claimed it was. There haven’t been a lot of intelligent people complaining about this, and the “won’t someone please think of the children!” critics who did show up can be pretty safely ignored. And beyond that, the “it looked a lot like softcore porn” claim’s pretty ridiculous considering the absence of nudity here; it may have been suggestive, sure, but this isn’t too close to anything that would actually be defined as pornography. And as many noted, the costumes here weren’t too different from what most NFL cheerleaders wear, and there haven’t been a whole lot of complaints about a lack of content warnings there from aggrieved parents.
It should be noted that Smart goes on to call for content warnings on halftime shows. By the MPAA guidelines, this would appear to fall somewhere between G (“nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture”) and PG (“The more mature themes in some PG-rated motion pictures may call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity”). So a dude in Florida is upset that there was suggestive clothing on a Super Bowl halftime show, but not even anything approaching “brief nudity.” (It’s also funny that of all the potential issues with NFL content, from on-field violence and concussions to long-term health impacts on players, it’s the halftime show outfits that bred this call for a content warning.) And the whole country had to find out about this thanks to USA Today amplifying Smart’s column. To borrow from another Smart:
Look, people can have whatever opinions they want, and if Smart wants to go around arguing that kids can’t ever view scantily-clad bodies, more power to him; he’s being wrong and dumb, but he’s entitled to be wrong and dumb. Going further still with that argument to wonder if this halftime show was “obscene” and compare it to “softcore porn” is sillier still, as there isn’t a lot to back that up, but there are plenty of people with dumb opinions, and if this one had remained quarantined within Treasure Coast Newspapers, most of the world probably could have gone about their business on the day after the Super Bowl without being infected by its stupidity. Instead, Gannett decided to blast it out there on a giant national platform, and for that, they deserve the lion’s share of criticism here. Dumb takes appear in local newspapers every day, but they’re not always pushed to the main USA Today account. And we’re all now dumber for having read this one.