Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

Or: "who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull...."

As reported here:

Those of you not registered at the NYT, here is the story in brief:

As the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Juneau on its way to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, students were allowed to leave the school grounds to watch. The school band and cheerleaders performed. With television cameras focused on the scene, Mr. Frederick [a senior at the school] and some friends unfurled a 14-foot-long banner with the inscription: 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus.'

Mr. Frederick later testified that he designed the banner, using a slogan he had seen on a snowboard, “to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television.” Ms. Morse [the principal of the school] found no humor but plenty of meaning in the sign, recognizing “bong hits” as a slang reference to using marijuana. She demanded that he take the banner down. When he refused, she tore it down, ordered him to her office, and gave him a 10-day suspension.

Mr. Frederick is now suing Ms. Morse and the school district for violating his first amendment rights. The case, like a soul from a dead body, has risen from the vulgar depths of the lower courts to the heavenly sphere of the Supreme Court, which will soon pronounce judgement on its righteousness or villainy.

The case is fascinating for any number of reasons, perhaps not least because Ms. Morse apparently had to stop to decipher that the inscription was some kind of "slang reference to using marijuana." Principals are so lame. But the case is also fascinating because, as the New York Times plays it up, it has temporarily aligned the Felix religious right with the Oscar American Civil Liberties Union (odd couples indeed), and (again, a series of firsts) because it pits the religious right against the Bush Administration, which can't look past its hatred of drugs and its apple-polishing respect for authority long enough to see that if students are not allowed to hold up a banner that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," then they may not be able to hold up a banner that says "John 3:16."

I tend to be a first-amendment absolutist, willing to protect all speech, even the most hateful, so long as it does not threaten or seek to incite violence or physical harm against a group or individual. So I think the kids are alright here, as Pete Townsend might put it. At the same time, though, I recognize that schools must silence some speech part of the time just in order to function. I silence my students all the time. How else would I get them to listen to or think about poetry? But a prank banner at an already campy torch-passing ceremony does not seem to disrupt the function or purpose of schooling. It's a kid with a bong sign.

And, truth be told, I'm inclined to believe that Jesus does in fact deserve bong hits. Even if I'm wrong, though, and he doesn't, people still have the right to say so.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not worthless

I cannot believe that it has been three weeks or so since I have updated this commonplace book. Even more unbelievable is that I have left that Frank O'Hara ploop poem up in the interval. Fortunately, though, we have no readers to disappoint or offend.

But it is a sign of how low we have fallen if our criteria is whether something had some, however miniscule, value.