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In "Blurred Lines" kerfuffle, what's needed are clear rules: Our View

5:53 PM, Oct. 8, 2013  |  Comments
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The Robin Thicke song "Blurred Lines" was a mega-hit this summer on popular radio, with millions of sales and millions more plays on Internet streaming services. It probably seemed like a natural choice to coach Lisa Joling as accompanying music for the Marshfield High School dance team's performance at the first home football game of the season.

Apparently Marshfield High's Principal Steve Sukawaty didn't see it that way. Joling was dismissed from the job, and she says she suspects it was the result of a parent complaint about the song, which includes sexual innuendo.

The balance of which parts of culture should be allowed to make it into a classroom or an extracurricular activity and what should be banned from schools is a genuinely difficult one. But based on what we know, this appears to have been an overreaction on the part of the school.

The song Joling used was an edited version that did not contain explicit language. The dance routine itself contained nothing objectionable. She said she spoke with Sukawaty the night of the performance, and he didn't express any concerns.

Meanwhile, the cost to the students involved in the dance team of losing their coach is significant. News-Herald Media spoke to parents who were upset about Joling's firing, and it is naturally demoralizing for a student to have a head coach removed.

Still, there are still several reasons to be cautious about assigning blame to Sukawaty or the school district, which has been understandably reluctant to release information about a personnel decision.

"Blurred Lines," after all, does have sexual content. That is true of its lyrics and it's doubly true of the culture that has surrounded it. One version of its official video that circulated online was filled with nudity, a tamer version still features a lot of flesh and suggestiveness - more, certainly, than most parents would likely be comfortable with.

But here's the problem: Just as we would not endorse permitting anything and everything, we also cannot expect schools to ban any and all popular culture from classrooms and extracurricular activities.

What's needed are clear, objective standards that eliminate ambiguity. If that means no use of material known to be suggestive even in an edited version, fine. If it means prior approval of all music choices, so be it. It's not clear in this case whether Marshfield High School had such a policy in place or relied on something more slippery, something more like a "we know it when we see it" standard. Based on the information we have, though, it appears that Joling's song choice was deemed offensive after the fact rather than that she violated a clear, agreed-upon rule. And that is not the way any professional deserves to be treated.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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