It has often been said that “Dying is easy; Comedy is hard.”
Although no one knows who said it first, the lesson remains: words have meaning and it’s important to choose them carefully. That was the lesson learned last week by some well-meaning parent volunteers at Nation Ford High as well as Principal Jason Johns.
A controversy arose concerning a poster for the school’s upcoming homecoming dance. Parents were concerned and offended by an Edith Head quote the volunteers thought would be a playful way to remind girls attending the dance that although it’s not formal, they shouldn’t dress as if they’re going to appear in a music video, either.
To further drive the point home, the poster asks girls going to the dance to “leave something to the imagination.”
That attempt at humor went over like a led zeppelin with other parents who were offended by the reference to female sexuality. They say the wording of the poster was both sexist and a perpetuation of harmful messages about body image that confront teenage girls daily through print and broadcast ads, magazine covers and other media.
When one parent of daughters emailed Johns to request the posters be taken down and replaced with more appropriate ones, he replied respectfully, but with an answer the parent found unsatisfactory. She contacted other school district officials as well and an ensuing email chain inflamed, rather than soothed, the offended parent as well as like-minded parents.
Predictably, because outrage as well as news travels as fast as the speed of Facebook, the issue boiled over on social media, attracting posts and tweets from around the region and eventually the nation. It wasn’t long before the posters were altered. They weren’t replaced, but the Edith Head quote was blacked out. The phrase “leave something to the imagination” remained, however, which is evidence that Johns may have been eager to remedy the situation, but missed the bigger picture.
The parents were upset because the posters singled out and drew attention to females’ bodies. Others might argue that those parents were hypersensitive, but how’s it in anyone’s best interest to make that judgment call? Just don’t go there.
Like most controversies driven by social media, it didn’t take long for this one to blow over. But maybe it shouldn’t entirely. Our free speech-dependent democracy is in the midst of an intensifying debate about political correctness and self-censorship. Wouldn’t this be a great time for a district-wide forum where residents, including our students, can openly air their views on the broader topic? Both our tech-savvy high schools could stream it live and those who can’t be there in person could participate by social media.
Controversy over that particular school dance poster will fade faster than a Snapchat post, but the bigger issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s set an example for how civil, educated people engage in free speech.