Saturday, December 02, 2006

lord, save us from these bong hits and teddy bears

i don't know what's more pathetic: the fact that the supreme court will hear a case about a banner that read "bong hits 4 jesus" or the fact that, with the current makeup of the court, i'm afraid that the prudes might actually win.

it was 2002. the olympic torch was about to come through juneau, alaska. a high-school student eager to get his face on television made a banner with the absurdist slogan "bong hits 4 jesus" and unfurled it on a public sidewalk near his school—but not on school property. (the torch was to pass by the school.)

when his principal saw the banner, she crossed the street and snatched it out of his hands:

Student Joseph Frederick says the banner's language was designed to be meaningless and funny in an effort to get on television as the Winter Olympic torch relay passed by the school in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2002.

But school officials say the phrase "bong hits" refers to smoking marijuana. Principal Deborah Morse suspended Frederick for 10 days because she said the banner advocates or promotes illegal drug use in violation of school policy.

okay, let's concede that "bong hits" refers to smoking marijuana. what, pray tell, is "bong hits 4 jesus" supposed to mean? smoking weed on jesus's behalf? is it some kind of prayer ritual, replacing the traditional incense with ganja? why would jesus want us to take these bong hits, and how would jesus benefit?

or maybe it's a pledge drive to collect marijuana so that jesus can take some bong hits? being crucified is a real bummer, and the j-man could probably use a few tokes to help him relax after that ordeal.

any way you slice it, it's just a goofy banner. frederick was not on school property; it's not like he wore a "legalize it!" t-shirt to school or was actually passing out bong hits during study hall. still, the principal apparently feels she has the right to punish students for exercising their free speech rights, no matter where they are. and she believes it so strongly that she has hired anti-blowjob crusader ken starr to take her appeal to the supreme court.

one thing is certain: if the principal wanted to keep the student and his silly banner off tv, she failed, because this story is now getting far more attention than it ever would if she had just let it be.

still, at least the student only got suspended. it could've been worse: he could've been expelled like the knightstown students who made a horror movie parody called the teddy bear master.

A homemade horror-movie parody about evil teddy bears led to the expulsions of four Knightstown High School students who produced it, two of whom are suing to get back into school.

Their lawsuits claim school officials violated the students' First Amendment rights because the movie was made outside school and caused no disruptions.

But Knightstown Principal Jim Diagostino and Superintendent David McGuire saw menace in the movie. In particular, a teacher in the movie who is threatened by the teddy bears shares the same last name as a teacher at the district's middle school.

so the students made an allegorical home movie featuring characters inspired by their teachers? the horror! the horror!

seriously, who didn't occasionally fantasize about that hardass teacher or annoying classmate getting beaten up or attacked by evil teddy bears when they were in high school?

At issue in the students' lawsuits is whether the district overstepped its bounds. Indiana law allows expulsion for activity unconnected with school if it's unlawful and interferes with school operations.

emphasis mine. i can understand the policy... but what about this video is unlawful? and how did it interfere with school operations? they made a movie (which, last time i checked, is free speech), on their own time. and hell, the teacher in the movie doesn't even die!

More than an hour long, the movie draws inspiration from the animated, satirical Comedy Central series "South Park." It is titled "The Teddy Bear Master," and Linda Imel said the boys intended it to parody the horror movie "The Puppet Master."

In the movie, according to the lawsuits, students harass a teacher named Mr. Clevenger during class. Later, the teddy bear master orders stuffed animal minions to kill the teacher, citing earlier embarrassment caused by Mr. Clevenger.

But in the classroom, the students fight off the teddy bears.

according to the superintendent, the real mr clevenger "felt threatened" by the video. but threatened how? is he afraid that the teddy bear master is actually going to sic a bunch of killer toys on him?

the article doesn't mention the elephant in the room: columbine-style school shootings. teachers and school administrators are so freaked out about the possibility of someone walking into the school with an assault rifle and going on a killing spree that they've gotten trigger-happy themselves. rather than protect and stand up for their students' rights, they'll just kick out any student who looks like a troublemaker. this doesn't help anyone: it sure doesn't help the kids who got expelled for their extracurricular activities (i thought extracurriculars like this were a good thing?), nor does it make the school any safer. come on: if these kids really wanted to kill mr clevenger, rather than just poke some harmless fun, they would have been spending that time trying to acquire weapons and plotting to do so, rather than spending "a number of months" making a f'n film parody.

it's tough being a high school student these days. much tougher than it was even 12 years ago, when i graduated. i have to wonder what would've happened to me if my school environment had been this paranoid. i was a bit of a troublemaker myself: i even founded my own underground newspaper (and this was before the web got big; i had to pay out of my pocket to get the things printed up at office depot). certain powerful school administrators made it no secret that they didn't like me, yet i never got more than a stern talking to. in today's environment, though, i'm not sure i would've gotten off so easy.

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