Super Bowl’s Explicit Halftime Show May Harm Young Viewers: Psychologist

By Kevin Hogan

NEW YORK—The halftime show during the Super Bowl on Sunday featured a controversial performance with the use of a stripper pole and dancers wearing revealing clothing. There are concerns that children and teens exposed to this type of explicit content may develop behavioral problems.

“Over time, what will happen is a kid will become desensitized. It will become flatline, and that behavior, that sexuality, becomes normalized,” said psychologist Jayme Albin in an interview with NTD. “So now in order to get that same sensation, they have to act sexually, it’s very similar to a person using drugs.”

Albin says children exposed to adult themes may accept subtle sexuality, which can lead to high-risk behaviors such as having multiple partners and not using contraceptives.

She added that watching too much explicit content excites the brain, which later crashes. This leads children to act aggressively and have behavioral problems. At a minimal level, it can cause children to have difficulty solving problems or develop attention deficit disorders, she added.

On the other hand, the halftime show promoted diversity, according to cultural analysis professor María Saldaña-Portillo at New York University.

“Shakira singing loudly and proudly in Spanish reminds us that not only are we a multilingual country but that the U.S. is part of a much larger American continent made up of a an incredibly diverse population,” Saldaña-Portillo told NTD in an email.

And yet Albin warns that a performance such as this connects “in a child’s brain, the association of [a] family fun event with a sexual experience.” She added that it sends a message to teens that not only do they have to act sexually, but that their self esteem is connected to it.

“That was extreme, and it’s sending a meta message to children, especially teenagers, that you have to be extremely sexual, [and] extremely talented at being sexual, because it’s no longer good enough to be sexual. You have to be now good at it,” Albin said.

Pepsi’s vice president of marketing told ABC News in September that “these two remarkable artists are setting a new precedent for what this show can become, and we’re confident that this will be an incredible performance for the ages.”

Saldaña-Portillo added to that saying, “The pole dance bit was also a nod to her [Jennifer Lopez’s] incredible performance in “Hustlers,” and post the Oscar nominations, reminds us she was robbed of a nomination for best supporting actress.”

But Albin said that the performance sent the wrong message. “I think that sends a message that having a stripper pole in your everyday life is normative,” Albin said.

In response to this year’s halftime show, EWTN News anchor Raymond Arroyo posted on Twitter quoting his teenager, who pointed out that social norms are different during the Super Bowl’s halftime show.

The founder of YogaFaith, Michelle Thielen, told NTD in an email that sexually charged performances like this cause society to degrade.

“Sporting events, alcohol, and barely dressed performers are [a] breeding ground for prostitution, rape, and human trafficking. Large sporting events such as the Super Bowl not only promote it, but halftime shows that include stripper poles, exotic, mostly naked dancing, rope, and bondage influences are degrading to all females and humanity,” Thielen wrote.

Albin said that parents are responsible for talking to their kids and explaining to them that these are paid entertainers and that children should not copy that type of behavior in school or elsewhere.

Halftime Shows Over Last 2 Decades

Over the last 21 years, the halftime shows at the Super Bowl have featured performances by by top tier entertainers. In 2000, one of the performances included Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias singing “Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand,” in the halftime show that was themed “Tapestry of Nations.”

Actor and producer Edward James Olmos narrated the show saying things like “the sage of time has returned to rekindle the human spirit” and “the gateway of time has opened, giving us hope for a better tomorrow.”

Olmos added that “as the rhythm of our hearts inspires our drums, it fills the world with joy, compassion, kindness, and love.”

Four years later at the halftime show in 2004, Justin Timberlake sang the lyrics “gonna have you naked by the end of this song” immediately before ripping Janet Jackson’s breastplate off exposing her right breast to about 140 million people watching at the time. Timberlake called the incident a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The FCC received about 540,000 complaints (pdf) because of the exposed breast in 2004, and over 200,000 complaints (pdf) from this year’s halftime show featuring a stripper pole and other suggestive dancing.

The chart below shows the amount of clothing worn by the least clothed main performer in the Super Bowl halftime show over the last 21 years. The two-period moving average trend line in red shows that around 2010, the amount of clothes the performers wore began to decline.

NTD Photo
Estimated percent of body covered by opaque clothing of least dressed main performer in Super Bowl halftime shows over the last two decades. Data created through simple observation of performers in halftime shows in YouTube videos compared against a body surface area diagram. (Kevin Hogan/NTD News)

In 2019, Adam Levine performed at the halftime show taking his shirt off after singing the lyrics “I swear I’ll behave.” At the time, this was the show with the least clothed main performer, who was half naked on stage.

The next year, Jennifer Lopez was more exposed than Levine was in 2019, almost to the same degree a woman who is wearing nothing but underwear would be, represented in the chart above by the pale orange line.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KRHogan_NTD