The Time Cher Took On Censorship And The U.S. Navy (And Won)
American singer and hair icon Cher has never been one to shy away from pushing boundaries and celebrating her own femininity. She’s right up there in the Provocative Costumes’ Hall of Fame with the likes of Madonna, Rihanna, and every other famous pop star since the ‘80s, we guess. And while (most) people today won’t bat an eye seeing a superstar flashing some butt, we sometimes forget how different things used to be in the old ‘80s. Like when the Navy got their trousers in a twist when the Goddess of Pop and also Legs made a music video aboard the famous WWII USS Missouri battleship.
“Well, that sure looks like a jolly good time,” said not the Navy, even though the very real Navy sailors in that music video clearly disagreed with them. See, Cher and her team thought that it would be pretty sweet to acquire access to a Navy vessel and film the music video for “If I Could Turn Back Time” — the song that you will now have stuck in your head for the rest of the day you are welcome. The Navy agreed, thinking that it could be a golden opportunity to recruit some youngsters who watch MTV music videos and would also like to dance around on their ships, apparently. But on the day of the shoot, some Naval officers were regretting their decision when they saw Cher walking out on deck dressed in that mesh bodysuit and a piece of material so tiny that you probably won’t be able to wrap it all the way up around one of her giraffe legs. It’s one of the most memorable outfits in music video history and one that made some on board nearly choke on their sexual repression.
One Naval representative reportedly told the director that she should change into a different outfit. Others presumably just stood there and drooled like cartoon sailors. The Navy was loudly upset and claimed that they weren’t told about Cher’s revealing attire during their pre discussions, even though Cher’s spokesperson said the officers saw the storyboards — with one showing Cher in a sheer outfit — beforehand. Of course, distancing themselves after the fact is just a thing that the Navy does, just like they did after the Village People filmed “In The Navy” on one of their vessels back in 1979 and only realized later that they had “the gays” on board.
When Cher’s video was released on MTV, the Navy got angry complaints from the public saying that they should be ashamed of themselves for letting such a glorious human strut her stuff all over their, uh, decks. Others even wrote to then-President George H. W. Bush about the “trash” MTV was allowed to broadcast. Texarkana lobbied (unsuccessfully) to have MTV permanently removed from the cable, and after the first couple of weeks, MTV themselves decided to switch Cher’s video to the 9 p.m. - 10 p.m. slot. Note that this was the same year that MTV started putting black bars on body parts in other music videos, like Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator.”
Luckily, iconic imagery and pop stars like Cher have proven to outlast such silly censorship.