The aim of this post is to give a fair-minded critique of the school administration’s role in this rap video controversy at Douglas County High School, and to try to articulate some of the deeper reasons for the community’s outrage.
In their defense, Principal Weaver saw a good opportunity to raise money for the school by allowing MTV to use the facilities. Good principals want to do more to improve their school for their students and teachers to than what normal funding sources typically permit, and so they stay on the look out for opportunities to raise additional funds. Once the contract was signed and filming began, the administrators did not have control over how the MTV staff conducted themselves, especially when they were not filming for the show. I am sure Mr. Weaver and his staff were just as mortified as the rest of us, probably more so, and they moved quickly to rectify the situation, launching a massive communications effort to apologize to parents.
At the same time, questions should be raised about the judgments that were made to do business with MTV in the first place – a TV station infamous for its debased, undignified, mindless content exemplified in such shows as Jersey Shore and Teen Mom – especially in support of its show Scream. Common Sense Media, a website that aims to help parents and other adults help children make good choices about their use of digital media, gave Scream 2 of 5 stars for its overall quality. Its parent guide describes the show as, “Extreme graphic violence includes very gory deaths: stabbings, a throat slashing, and a decapitation. Often, the targets of this violence are young, attractive women in revealing costumes; menace is amped up with music and camera angles.” Why would the school system support and implicitly endorse this kind of entertainment?
To atone for the sins of their stars Tyga and KeKe Palmer, MTV offered DCHS yearbook students access to Tyga in a classroom interview. The school system accepted this olive branch and promoted the event to assuage concerned parents, saying that the students received career advice and that it was a positive experience for all. At first, I thought that it was good that they at least tried to turn a negative situation into a good one, but then I read a litany of concerns about the wisdom of this move. Why is the school system now holding up the offender – who also by the way is notorious for dating 16 year old Kylie Jenner when he was in his mid-20s – as a role model for students to emulate? Does that not do further moral damage by normalizing and legitimizing the immoral behavior celebrated in the video and embodied in his personal life?
MTV will be back on campus next week filming more. The olive branch worked. If the filming of this video on school grounds was a violation of the contract, the appropriate decision would be to not allow MTV back on campus to continue shooting. They deserve the repercussions of lost time and money (since this would likely mean they would need to start over at a new location).
A number of people have criticized the moral concerns of parents and others arguing that teenage children are already exposed to this kind of graphic content. This argument is flawed for many reasons. Besides the fact that there are at least some children who are not thus exposed, the issue is less about exposure and more about the effects on children’s attitudes towards such behavior. Children become more aware of evil in the world as they grow older, but whether they become agents of evil themselves depends on the attitudes they develop to these things: do they learn to revile immoral, wicked actions, or do they accept it as normal, attractive, legitimate, and desirable? That has everything to do with how they are educated. That is why children encountering such things in an educational environment, by people held up as role models by their school leaders, provokes righteous indignation.
CEPS is concerned not only about academic excellence, but also moral excellence among school staff. Moral excellence entails having wisdom to make good moral judgments, discerning the fine lines between right and wrong. What we see in this situation is a failure of judgment: both in the decision to affiliate with MTV and in the decision to hold forth decadent celebrities like “Tyga” as role models. to students.