NEW YORK — Less than a second stood between British singer M.I.A. giving the finger to 114 million people watching the Super Bowl halftime show and no one noticing at all.
That's how close NBC censors came to preventing the gesture from being seen Sunday night, but the Super Bowl instead wound up with another entertainment oops moment. The gesture swept across social media, showing up in screen grabs and video, reminding everyone of Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction in 2004 when a nipple was exposed ever so briefly to a Super Bowl audience.
Both NBC and the NFL, which puts on the halftime show, apologized.
M.I.A.'s record label said Monday it had no comment and her Twitter account was silent since noting she was in Lucas Oil Stadium with Madonna. And the Material Girl, who invited M.I.A. to appear during her performance of "Give Me All Your Luvin'," had no immediate comment.
The Nielsen Co. said that 114 million people watched Madonna's halftime show, even more than the average of 111.3 million who watched the game. It was the most-watched halftime entertainment show ever.
The gesture was "so shocking that I had no idea she even did it until NBC issued an apology for it," wrote Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik on his blog.
The digital video recorder maker Tivo said there were no appreciable bumps in playbacks at the time of M.I.A.'s gesture, meaning many people either didn't see it or shrugged it off. Tivo has some 2 million customers in the U.S., said Tara Maitra, the company's senior vice president.
"I never even noticed," said Joan Kistner, a marketer from Chicago who watched the game. "It wasn't until this morning when I heard the news" and so many people were talking about it that she knew it happened.
"I don't know why they glorify bad behavior," Kistner said. "Some things should just be left alone. I really think she owes Madonna, who obviously wanted her to be part of the show, an apology."
The NFL and NBC should take steps to hold people accountable for their actions, said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council.
"Most families would agree that the middle finger aimed directly at them is not appropriate, especially during the most-watched television event of the year," Winter said.
Back in M.I.A.'s native Britain, the London Times noted that while all eyes may have been on Madonna at halftime, "it was the extended middle finger of the British hip-hop star M.I.A. that caused the most controversy."
The Guardian wondered whether anyone would really be outraged.
"You'd be forgiven for not having a coronary over the fact M.I.A. gave Super Bowl viewers the finger during her halftime guest spot with Madonna," the newspaper wrote in its music blog. "For most fans, it was probably more shocking to see M.I.A. performing a rehearsed dance routine than flipping the bird."
Indeed, M.I.A. is provocative and an artist taking advantage of all those TV viewers might not be all that surprising. Still, host Gretchen Carlson on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" urged M.I.A. to "get a life" and culture vulture Perez Hilton tweeted: "Think she'll ever be invited on live TV again?"
Jackson's incident raised a storm of controversy and put CBS in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission amid questions about the responsibility of TV networks to police their airwaves. The network and FCC are still fighting over whether CBS should pay a $550,000 fine.
One person who didn't miss M.I.A.'s message was Marlee Matlin. The actress, who is deaf, tweeted: "When we expected some beautiful sign language during the (hash)SuperBowl National Anthem, we got instead a "sign" during M.I.A.'s rap. Ahem."
Associated Press Writer Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report.
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