Last Friday, the halftime show of the Rice University Marching Owl Band (MOB) focused on their opponent Baylor’s recent title IX violations. This turned out to be a controversial move, with some viewers outraged over the MOB’s insensitivity and others pleased to see attention paid to such an important topic. I decided to delve deeper and draw my own conclusions.
- The band formed the shape of IX in apparent reference to Title IX, and Baylor’s recent, repeated sex assault scandals.
- The band then formed the shape of a star while playing “Hit the Road Jack”, in apparent reference to Baylor’s former president Ken Starr. Starr was removed from his position after the school was sued for failing to investigate sexual assault allegations against football players.
Rice later released a statement saying, “The MOB sought to highlight the events at Baylor by satirizing the actions or inactions of the Baylor administration.”
The real question, I think, is whether it’s OK to go for a laugh at Baylor’s expense in this way. I gathered some pro and con arguments:
The band was attempting to bring attention to the huge problem of sexual assault by college athletes, and they were doing it right there on a college athletic field. In other words, they were shedding light on a horrible situation in the place where light is most needed.
The joke is that Baylor violate Title IX, and their president was fired, because Baylor did a terrible job handling sex assault allegations. So Baylor sucks. The target of the joke is the administration, which is certainly one of the bad guys in the Title IX suit at Baylor. This is an example of “punching up” (at the perpetrator and/or rape culture) versus “punching down” (at the victim) and is generally considered the only responsible way to tell a rape joke.
But was it just the administration that was being targeted? Or was it all of Baylor University, including victims of sexual assault? The routine was performed in front of the Baylor fan section, which one could argue represents everyone at the university. So is the joke punching sideways? I guess we won’t know unless we talk directly to whoever came up with this idea. A marching band routine is perhaps not an effective medium to communicate that type of distinction. And if that distinction can’t be made well, then, perhaps the statement isn’t appropriate.
Was the band motivated by distress about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and the frequency of reports about college administrations failing to handle these crises appropriately? It kind of doesn’t seem like it. The MOB has a history of poking fun at their opponents in various ways. It kind of seems like they may have been exploiting a horrific issue because it was the easiest way to make fun of their opponents.
I think there are merits to both sides in the above arguments. When things get confusing like this, I find it helpful to consider the people who could potentially have been hurt the most. So, if I was one of the victims of a sex assault at Baylor that wasn’t handled appropriately by the administration and I was watching that game, how would I feel about that halftime show? I think there’s a good chance that I’d feel pretty shitty. So, sorry MOB, but I think the potential for harm was higher than the potential for good.
Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments.