hicks_marybeth_2Today’s update on America’s culture war comes from the village of Wintersville, OH, population 4, 067. This charming enclave is home to 21 churches, an authentic drive in movie theatre, and perhaps the only high school marching band in the nation that has turned the vulgar music of Britney Spears into a football halftime show.

Nope. Not kidding.

According to news reports, students in the Indian Creek High School marching band were permitted by director Donald Llewellyn to choose the music for this year’s halftime show.

Llewellyn may not have given his students clear parameters with respect to their choices. They picked popular songs from their iPod playlists – songs their peers sitting in the stands would recognize and enjoy.

The students chose "Gives You Hell" by the All American Rejects, "If You Seek Amy" by Britney Spears and "Don’t Trust Me" by 3OH!3.

Earlier this year when it was released, the Spears song made headlines because of its sly lyrical trick. In the chorus where the song title is sung, it’s meant to sound as if Ms. Spears spells out the f-word. The tune by 3OH!3 includes the f-word as an adjective, as well as a scathing reference to Helen Keller and her deaf/mute disability.

Now, here’s an important juncture in this story. It seems like most adults in a position of authority over a large group of high school students would execute some due diligence to be sure that the songs the students wanted to play were acceptable and appropriate. Then, finding that the original versions of these songs were laced with profanity and offensive themes, would respond, "Nice try guys. We’re a high school band. We don’t play stuff like this."

Instead, Mr. Llewellyn and his staff choreographed an elaborate, nine-minute half-time show featuring precision marching, hip dance moves, and even a vocal rendition of the offensive Helen Keller chorus:

"Shush girl, shut your lips,
Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips."

The show was performed at football games before someone complained to Indian Creek Schools Superintendent Jene Watson. Mr. Watson, asserting the wisdom and authority missing earlier in the chain of events, declared two of the band’s songs unacceptable and banned them from the show.

You might think his decision was supported throughout this small, suburban community. After all, he merely decreed that the band must restrict its choices to the millions and millions of pieces of composed music whose original lyrics did not include the few vocabulary words universally considered offensive. And to be sure, many parents, including some band parents, are relieved that the songs were removed from the band’s halftime repertoire.

But wouldn’t you know, some parents are upset. They believe their children’s freedom of speech is being suppressed and further, that since the band doesn’t sing all the lyrics, the songs are fine.  They’re going to the school board in October to fight for their children’s right to… (now hum "Stars and Stripes Forever") …play vulgar songs at halftime.

Somewhere under an oak tree at Washington’s Congressional Cemetery, John Philip Sousa rolls in his grave.

Here’s the kicker: The Indian Creek band has a web site for band members, parents and fans (www.ichsband.com), where this message is posted under the heading "Student Attitudes:"

"We have had some problems with students on the buses to games and in the stands at the games.  Language and attitude are the problems facing directors and chaperones. Please talk to your student and let them know that this is very disrespectful to the other band members, to Mr. [Llew] and Mr. Howell, and the volunteers who give their time to assist the band.  Please stress to your student the benefits of being respectful."

Interesting. Perhaps this might not be an issue if they were taught to extend that same respect to everyone, including their audiences, and even the late Helen Keller.

Copyright 2009 Marybeth Hicks