“Let Everything Remain Inside – That’s the Main Thing”

Egad, the German press again! You know I don’t like to concentrate overmuch on one country; even two-in-a-row from the same national press is usually too much, unless the two are related and there was a clear necessity for follow-up. But today’s entry, brought to you by some happy serendipity, is to me the deserved dessert to yesterday’s main course about the Abdelghani Mzoudi acquittal in Hamburg.

You might have heard about an incident at the end of the Super Bowl half-time show last Sunday in which Janet Jackson revealed rather more of herself than is generally deemed proper by American public broadcasting standards. Whether the same incident would have been too racy for European public broadcasting standards is another question; Wolfgang Koydl of the Süddeutsche Zeitung takes the incident as his point-of-departure on a riff about American attitudes towards certain body parts in American Prudery: Let Everything Remain Inside – That’s the Main Thing.

The article’s sub-headline reads “Americans are obsessed by bras in all their variations. But they’re still supposed to stay out of sight. In this view [yes, this pun is also there in the German], the problem with the Super Bowl breast-scandal had to do less with too much breast as with too little bra.” And so Koydl heads off on a cultural examination of Americans’ relation to women’s upper supporting undergarments. It’s truly an obsession, according to the German, but that’s no surprise when you consider what he calls American “prudery” when it comes to the display of “secondary gender-characteristics.”

Unfortunately, Koydl’s evidence for such “prudery” is a rather lame set of quotations from a couple of characters who we can only assume are some Yanks he managed to interview for the article. A “Jim” tells Koydl that he would have been “deeply disturbed, morally angry – just really disgusted” if daughter “Emmy” had happened to be before the TV screen during the Jackson-Timberlake act. (Luckily, she had gone to brush her teeth.) “How could I have explained that to her!” he wails. His neighbor “Greg” adds: “You Europeans are all a little ‘oh la la’.”


That’s hardly enough, in my view, to justify Koydl’s conclusion that “more than the Atlantic separates the Old World from the New.” But let that pass: it’s not like that’s something that really needs to be proved, anyway. I, for one, am perfectly comfortable with accepting that thesis for the sake of argument as Koydl goes on to trace some of the manifestations of this “bra-obsession.” This includes a brief historical background, which makes clear that the bra is an American invention in the first place, pioneered back in 1893 by a certain “Marie Tucek.” (Aha – a rather Slavic name, I would say! A little Google-referencing on the Net bears this fact out independently; bewoman.com, anyone, for example?) But it was the quest to “make the world safe for democracy,” i.e. that World War against the German Kaiser, that really got the brassiere accepted by American women: that was an undergarment that didn’t require any of the scarce metal that was needed at the time, as Koydle puts it, “for panzers and pistols” instead, while the old-fashioned corset did.

As for today, he claims that “[t]he American woman could do without every other piece of clothing but her bra,” and Jane Doe apparently buys just as many of the “Minimizer” (designed to flatten those delightful natural curves) as she does of the “Pushup” (designed, as we all know, to enhance them). Now that Americans are now once again caught up in a similar wave of patriotism, Koydl has just the thing to recommend: the “Beverly Hills Cop” model with pouches on either side, one for holding a sawed-off Colt, the other for a can of pepper-spray. Ah, those German views of the Yanks in this Age of Bush! Perhaps this suggestion could be useful to Janet Jackson in her attempts at image-rehabilitation.

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