Ohio University Blurs the Lines of Political Correctness with the Marching 110

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UPDATE: The Post story mentioned and quoted below has been updated with this correction: This article misrepresented Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi’s involvement and reasoning in the decision to cancel the performance of “Blurred Lines.”

I have edited this post below, in italics, to clarify. The correction does not change the general gist of the story, which is that the school prevented the band from playing a song, or my conclusion, which is that it shouldn’t have. – JD

According to The Post, the Ohio University Marching 110 was told not to play Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” during halftime of last week’s game against Austin Peay. Why? Because during a meeting with College of Fine Arts Dean Margaret Kennedy-Dygas, School of Music Director Christopher Hayes and Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi, 110 director Richard Suk was told not to play the song. Exactly who gave the order is unclear at this point. Why did the meeting take place? Because the group was responding to “vocal concerns such as those from Allie Erwin, a senior studying political science.”

From The Post:

Erwin wrote a letter that was published in Friday’s edition of The Post expressing her concerns for the 110’s upcoming performance. “The main reason that I sent in the letter was because the song is terrible,” Erwin said. “I really think having the Marching 110 play it is that it says ‘consent is a blurred line,’ and I don’t think it is a message the 110 should send to the university.”

Now, I’m sympathetic to Erwin’s criticism that the song is “terrible.” Its message, such that it has any message, is completely immature. And even if Thicke’s lyrics are meant in jest or are supposed to be humorous, he fails a lesson I learned from Mel Helitzer’s comedy writing class, which I took when I was a senior at Ohio University. When you aim your humor, Helitzer said, aim up. Don’t target–oh, to take just one example–women who have not have given their consent. Humor should target those who deserve it. Donald Trump comes to mind.

The lyrics to “Blurred Lines” are a poor advertisement for humanity, but the song is catchy, and it’s popular, which is probably why the band wanted to play it.

And they should have been allowed to play it.

Erwin has every right to share her concerns about what songs the Marching 110 plays.

Lombardi should absolutely listen to those concerns. He also has a duty to discuss those concerns with the band and relevant administrators.

That’s as far as it should have gone.

The members of the Ohio University Marching 110 should be allowed to play the songs they choose. From Carnegie Hall to the Thanksgiving Day Parade to Monday Night Football, they’ve earned that right by consistently representing the university positively at games and at events nationwide. Yes, the songs the 110 plays sometimes contain colorful subject matter, but this is part of what makes the 110 what it is. The fact that it’s not a boring, old marching band is why the band is beloved.

If this same standard had been applied to the band’s past performances, it would have been prevented from playing any of these hits, some of which went viral and brought positive attention to Ohio University:

– Gangnam Style: The song calls out sexy ladies in the lyrics and the singer basically uses them as props in the video.

– Party Rock Anthem: The singer runs through “hos like Drano,” which is both chauvinistic and confusing, to be honest.

– Love in an Elevator: This song is either about the creative disruption of the market economy or wanting to make love to a woman in an elevator. Knowing Aerosmith, probably the second one.

– New Age Girl: She don’t eat meat…oh, let’s not even go there.

– Pumped up Kicks: It’s not sexist, but the song is about a kid planning a school shooting, which one could argue is worse than sexism.

The reason why most people did not find these songs objectionable when they were played years ago was because most people know the lyrics to these songs–and most of the songs we hear on the radio–are silly and meaningless. “Blurred Lines” isn’t Bob Dylan. It’s the “Growing Pains” dad’s kid.

No one would have walked out of Peden Stadium after seeing “Blurred Lines” performed by the 110 thinking the band or the school had endorsed anything other than a good time. It takes a leap of logic and a belief that one’s classmates have the cognitive capacity of tree stumps to think the band would have endorsed or reinforced ideas about the blurred lines of consent. That’s because most Bobcat fans know the band doesn’t exist to enforce a moral code or advance particular worldviews. It exists to entertain people for 15 minutes on Saturdays.

This new standard sets a bad precedent.

In the near term it robs the 110 of a some of its identity. It limits the songs it can draw from for future performances.

In the long term it tells every other student group on campus that just the slightest bit of pressure can alter its activities and force it to abide by somebody else’s agenda. The comics the UPC brings to campus often make jokes in poor taste. The musical acts who come to campus like Wiz Khalifa–will they be held to the same standard? The humor in The Post has been ribald some years. What about school plays and student movies that are not 100 percent politically correct? Should a group of administrators tell each of them to halt their activities if content contains a message one or more students don’t want “sent to the university?”

Who’s to say what that is?

If the vice president of student affairs, college of fine arts dean and school of music director had told the band the song was in poor taste without taking action, or if students and student groups had met with the band and pleaded their case student-to-student, and the band had taken the song out of the show on its own, it would have sent a powerful message, as the vice president of student affairs, said, “about the climate on our campus in regards to sexism and sexual violence.” It would have signified unity.

By dictating to the band what it can and can’t play, the message that now resonates is that when it comes to political correctness, the university will un-blur any lines before the students are given the opportunity to do so for themselves. This robs students of an opportunity to listen to their fellow students, make important decisions on their own and grow as individuals, which are a few of the things college is supposed to be about.

(Joe Donatelli is a 1998 graduate of Ohio University. Follow him @joedonatelli.)

More:

– Music education alum Rocco Contini (Class of 2013) has a letter in The Post that echoes some of my points. It’s worth a read.

Open letter from 110 alumna Danielle Capriato

– Erwin is part of a group called Fuck Rape Culture

– Letter to The Post from alumna Ann Cugliari

– The Post editor explains some mishandling of the initial story

– The Indiana Daily Student weighs in

– 110 band manager who was rape victim says 110 should have been allowed to play Blurred Lines

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