Across traditional and social media, there’s been a mixture of celebration and criticism following Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show. Some have called Jennifer Lopez’s – also known as J-Lo – and Shakira’s performance a dazzling spectacle, while others deemed it inappropriate for its skin-bearing costumes, seductive dance moves and political overtones.
Nicole Guidotti-Hernández is a fellow at Harvard’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. She specializes in American Studies and Mexican-American and Latina/o Studies. She says the debate over the halftime performance has roots in Janet Jackson’s performance at the Super Bowl in 2004 when a wardrobe malfunction left one of her breasts exposed. Guidotti-Hernández says the shock after that performance, and after Sunday’s, shows just how uncomfortable Americans can be with the bodies of women of color. But for many Latinos, she says the performance was a celebration.
“For many people, this performance of Shakira and J-Lo was about cultural pride, the showing of their physical skills,” she says.
The Super Bowl took place in Miami, and their performance was an homage to South Florida’s Latino culture. Nonetheless, Guidotti-Hernández says viewers watching from elsewhere may have found the performance inappropriate.
“[They] could potentially see the show as oversexualized, but I would also argue that that is a function of the way that Latinos are always already seen as hypersexualized,” she says. ” In the same way that black women are seen as hypersexualized.”
On the other hand, some artists have refused to do Super Bowl performances in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who challenged the league’s stance on civil rights protests during the pregame playing of the national anthem. Guidotti-Hernández says Shakira and J-Lo agreeing to perform was a sign to some of their alignment with the NFL. But then they complicated that narrative with a show that included representations of kids in cages, and a massive chain link fence graphic in their performance. It was an overt political message about immigration at the southern U.S. border.
Guidotti-Hernández says all of the commentary about the performance is a way for Americans to deal with the very complicated, divisive political issues without having to talk about them directly.
“The Super Bowl halftime show has become a means by which Americans work out their feelings about America,” Guidotti-Hernández says.
Written by Caroline Covington.