The persecution of the butt print artist (updated)
(Originally posted December 13, 2006; updated on January 10, 2007.)
We live in an age in which public condemnation is based not on consideration of evidence but on the frowns of newscasters and the bluster of talk show hosts; and the pervasive fear that an action or event may draw the Sauronic gaze of Eyewitness News is having a chilling effect on free expression and individual rights. Case in point: Monacan High School in Richmond, Virginia, which has suspended a high school art teacher for his artistic activities outside the classroom.
Elder PoopReporters know this teacher as Stan Murmur, Butt Print Artist.
The problem arose when a four-year-old clip of Murmur from his appearance on Unscrewed with Martin Sargent surfaced on Youtube. In it, Murmur -- clad in towel turban and Groucho glasses so no one from his academic life might recognize him -- gives Sargent a graphic and hilarious demonstration of how butt print art is made.
For this, Chesterfield County Schools have placed Murmur on five day suspension while they "investigate" the video. Says Chesterfield Schools spokesperson Debra Marlow: "The school division has personnel regulations that indicate teachers are expected to set an example for students through their personal conduct. The Supreme Court has also stated that schools must teach by example, and that teachers, like parents, are role models."
By the standards of today's America, in which any action that deviates from the norm causes local news producers to cue up their ominous music, I can see why Murmur's video -- removed by time, space, and fake noses from the school board's jurisdiction though they may be -- would make Superintendent Chesterfield nervous. (That Speedo really flattered the artist's virility!)
But what exactly is the school board worried about? That their students may learn that the male butt exists? These are high school kids -- chances are they discovered Murmur's video on the jailbait cleavage factory that is Myspace. Which means they're exposed daily to a lot more material with the potential to warp them than the comedy stylings and droopy abs of a mild-mannered art teacher. Murmur's students have seen South Park and Family Guy -- they know the butt is there. They know that poop comes out of it. But thanks to Murmur, they now also know that art and creativity can be found in the most unlikely of places. Shame on the Chesterfield Schools for trying to deprive them of that.
Hopefully a five-day suspension will be the end of it. Murmur's art was all in good fun, he took reasonable precautions to separate it from his day job, and the revelation of his secret identity hasn't taught the children anything they didn't already know. But nothing good ever comes when Action News puts you on the front page of their site; I have a feeling that Stan's about to be wrongfully terminated. Which may be for the best -- there will soon be a creative, talented, and charismatic art teacher looking for a job with a school district that will actually appreciate him.
UPDATE: January 10, 2007, 11:06 AM. The news broke last night: the Chesterfield School Board has voted unanimously to terminate Stan Murmur for "conduct unbecoming of a teacher."
"It is not the art," said Chesterfield School Board Chairman Marshall Trammell. "It is the disruption in the classroom." The board deliberated for three hours, Trammell said, before concluding that "it's only reasonable to think that school employees' actions outside school can affect what happens inside schools."
That is reasonable, if the teacher was robbing old ladies or stealing lollipops from children in his off hours. But Murmur's actions outside the school were innocuous; indeed, they probably made him a more effective art teacher. And the students' knowledge of his actions could only result in a wider interest in art education.
To his credit, Murmur remained dignified and composed after the hearing. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he wanted his students to know "I very much valued and appreciated being their teacher." Murmur wouldn't comment as to whether he's been contacted about teaching at other schools -- schools that will recognize him for the asset he truly is.
UPDATE: January 18, 2007. Stan Murmur speaks to PoopReport.