A Good Laugh Is Not Subversive


School Ban On Singer Is Misplaced Emphasis

September 16, 1990|By Chris Kaltenbach

Wasn't it Thomas Jefferson who once said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty?" Well, it also seems to be the cost of a school system rapidly losing all sense of perspective.

Somebody had better keep an eye on these folks.

Two months ago, our county's reigning educators were ready to kick some poor kid out of school for popping a couple of Vivarin tablets between classes. Now, they've banned a singer of such risque and potentially subversive songs as "My Brother Thinks He's a Banana" and "Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan."

This from a school system where only 6.2 percent of high school students were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists this year (a lower percentage than in Howard, Prince George's, Montgomery or Baltimore counties), where standardized test and achievement scores often rank below the state average, where kids in some schools still have to contend with substandard learning environments and instructional materials? All these very real problems, and the school system is even thinking twice about a guy who sings "My Mommy Drives a Dump Truck"? Barry Louis Polisar, the evil influence whom our sharp-eyed education sentinels have ensured will never corrupt kids in these parts, has been performing those songs for 15 years. He also sings a little ditty entitled "I'm a 3-Toed, Triple-Eyed, Double-Jointed Dinosaur." In past years, and surely without the knowledge of those in charge, he even performed in some schools in Anne Arundel County.

Not anymore. A 10-member review committee has deemed Polisar's songs "unsuitable for use as instructional material." Bruce Horner, the school system's music coordinator, told The Sun last week that the committee decided Polisar "wasn't a good role model for kids." The songs, which often poke fun at parents, siblings and other adults, could "aggravate" problems kids might be having with those same people, he said.

Besides, the group noted, Polisar doesn't have much of a voice.

Huh? To say the review committee missed the point is to belabor the obvious. To say they take things more than a little too seriously may understate the case -- show this group a Marx Brothers film, and I'll bet they don't crack a smile.

Obviously the songs are meant to be funny. Not hee-hee funny, but HA-HA funny. The idea of a three-toed dinosaur may not seem particularly funny to you or me, but the average 7-year-old would probably find it uproarious.

Polisar's songs are not satirical little ditties whose meanings may be lost on the unobservant, or songs of political protest that may offend some sensibilities. They're lampoons, parodies. They make kids laugh.

Is that wrong? No. Will some kid, upon hearing Polisar sing "Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan," go out and try just that? I doubt it -- no more than kids stick their feet outside moving cars after watching "The Flintstones."

No, what these kids would probably do after hearing Polisar's songs -- and what they have been doing for more than a decade, apparently without incident -- is laugh and have a good time. And maybe that's all the lesson they need to learn, that there are a lot of things to laugh at in this world, even some things that may touch a little close to home.

I can think of far worse role models.

As for the committee's observation that Polisar's voice isn't particularly tuneful -- I trust this means that no song by Bob Dylan will ever get played in an elementary school? Woodie Guthrie didn't exactly have a voice that could shatter glass, so I hope the strains of "This Land is Your Land" are never heard coming from a county classroom.

For that matter, my mother always hated John Lennon's voice. She's a wonderful woman, but thank goodness she isn't on that review committee -- kids wouldn't be able to hear "She Loves You" or "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" until they reached secondary school.

Just how ridiculous is this decision? Try this for perspective: Our county's taste patrol has placed Barry Polisar, author of such offensive lyrics as "My brother thinks he's a banana/But my mother won't ever admit it/He sleeps curled up in the fruit bowl/Though my grandma tries to forbid it," on the same level as photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and rap group 2 Live Crew.

Whether you agree with censorship or not, there's no disputing that Mapplethorpe's images are graphic, disturbing and offensive to many people --not just prudes. And while freedom of expression is certainly worth defending, 2 Live Crew's songs of murder and violence certainly push that right to its outer edge.

But Barry Louis Polisar? Author of "My Brother Threw Up on My Stuffed Toy Bunny?" Horner, according to a story in yesterday's Sun, has stopped answering questions concerning the Polisar decision; he was out of the office yesterday afternoon and never returned my phone call.

Not, of course, that any reasonable person should blame him. If I had to somehow defend such an indefensible position, I wouldn't return phone calls either.

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