Rap artist M.I.A. ruffled some feathers during the Super Bowl half time performance Sunday night, flashing her middle finger while saying the s-word as she sang onstage with Madonna and Nicki Minaj.

The foul language appeared to have been bleeped out, and several moments later, the screen went black in what appeared like a delayed attempt to censor the gesture.

NBC and the NFL issued apologies after the incident, reported our colleague Melissa Bell on Celebritology, and an NBC spokesman called the display “a spontaneous gesture that our delay system caught late.”

According to Celebritology:

“While the FCC could — maybe — slap a fine on NBC for this halftime mishap (one not nearly as noticeable as the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake incident of 2004) the harsher punishment may have been issued backstage. I’m not sure how friendly Madonna may be feeling after being upstaged by both M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green during her own halftime show.”

In traditional form, the “Knicker-knotting commenced almost immediately,” said TV critic Hank Stuever:

“If nothing else, we get to see how far things have come since Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ eight years ago. Have we evolved? Which is to say, have we devolved enough to let it blow over?”

The quick movement did not go unnoticed. Questions about its meaning, and general level of offensiveness, have reverberated around the Internet and proverbial watercooler, says Alexandra Petri of ComPost:

“The roar echoed from the stadium into living rooms across America. Now the Parents Television Council, an organization of people who notice and file a complaint every time a fly whispers something obscene or a dog or horse appears nude on television, is up in arms.

The gesture was fleeting, but, thanks to technology, it is now indelibly inked into the Internet forever.”

Like it or not, it has become almost a time-honored tradition, Petri says, for us to collectively get indignant about something that happened at the Super Bowl each year:

“In fact, I somewhat like this tradition. Something swift but offensive happens at halftime, and then we yell about it. It’s an annual ritual, a litmus test of our attitude towards the Devolution of Discourse.

“I am glad that we live in a society where this sort of thing is generally regarded as untoward and To Be Frowned Upon. It would be a sign that we had all gotten a tad too lax in our attitude towards the selfish acts of desperate performers if we let our children get the idea that you could go around giving the finger to millions of Americans and get away with it too. This is an idea that they must come to on their own as adults.”

More on the Super Bowl half time performance:

ComPost : M.I.A. and the halftime crisis

Post User Polls : Madonna halftime show: Best Super Bowl performance ever?

Celebritology 2.0 : Madonna, Kelly Clarkson, Cee Lo, MIA: Who was the best Super Bowl performer?