Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Celebrity Wardrobe Malfunctions: Economic Efficiency, Property Rights Assignment, and Liability in Popular Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Celebrity Wardrobe Malfunctions: Economic Efficiency, Property Rights Assignment, and Liability in Popular Culture

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

During the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in February of 2004, popular American entertainers Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake put on a show that many television viewers later complained was filled with "inappropriate" and "sexually explicit" content. What most were referring to was the end of the live show, when Timberlake removed of a portion of Jackson's bustier, exposing her breast to a worldwide television audience. Later in her own defense, Jackson coined the term "wardrobe malfunction" to describe what occurred during her live performance with Timberlake. The wardrobe malfunction phenomenon is now so well known in American culture that instructors in law and economics and/or intermediate microeconomics courses could integrate it into their classroom presentations, particularly in sections dealing with economic efficiency, property rights assignments, regulation and liability arrangements.

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Oscar Wilde

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

During the nationally televised halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in February of 2004, popular American entertainers Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake put on a show that many viewers later complained was filled with "crude," "inappropriate," "lewd," and "sexually explicit" content. That halftime show concluded with what the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later described as ". . . Mr. Timberlake's removal of a portion of Ms. Jackson's bustier, exposing her breast to the [Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)] camera[s] . . ." that were delivering the spectacle to hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.1 While the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show was in some ways taxing to Viacom, as explained in section 2 below, it represented a boon to popular culture and entertainment media, particularly after Jackson coined the term "wardrobe malfunction" to describe what had occurred during her performance with pop star Justin Timberlake. Although the Jackson-Timberlake episode appeared to be staged, accidental bodily exposures do occur during live entertainment television, and many in the entertainment media began to also use the term "nipple slip," or "nip slip" for short, to describe situations wherein a woman's breast or breasts become exposed accidentally. Tracking these occurrences has been akin to a cottage industry for entertainment/tabloid media such as TMZ.com, PerezHilton.com, and Us Weekly magazine, and for some celebrities, thus providing support for the adage often attributed to the late Oscar Wilde - "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

Further support for Wilde's quip comes from the frequency of wardrobe malfunctions. As Table 1 indicates, over a six month period in 201 1 (April through September), four episodes involving three different national television networks and four very popular television shows occurred. The first, in April of 2011, involved popular actress, Eva Longoria, and Late Night with David Letterman, a nightly talk show airing on CBS, hosted by David Letterman. The most recent episode involves talk show host Nancy Grace and ABC's highly successful Dancing with the Stars series. Sandwiched between these two are episodes occurring on Fox News' Fox and Friends and ABC's Good Morning America, both morning talk shows watched by millions of television viewers.

The wardrobe malfunction phenomenon is so well known in American culture that instructors in law and economics (or intermediate microeconomics) courses could integrate it into their classroom presentations. This phenomenon encompasses law and economics concepts such as economic efficiency, property rights assignments, regulation, and liability arrangements, which are in large part rooted in the Coasian (1960) theory of social costs - a theory that is familiar to many economics principles students - and has branched into the literature on the economics of product safety, regulation, and tort law that has spanned more than four decades (Calabresi, 1968 and 1970; Calabresi and Malamed, 1972; Cooter, 1982; Shavell, 1984; Cooter, 1985; Posner, 1986; Landes and Posner, 1987; Kaplow and Shavell, 1996; Brooks, 2002; Polinsky and Shavell, 2010). …

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