My son Jackson sings about sex, drinking, drugs, breakups and school shootings. Which is a way of saying my son sings along to Pearl Jam, Pink, Taio Cruz, Flo Rida, and Foster the People. Jackson does not know he is singing about sex, drinking, drugs, breakups and school shootings. When he sings, “you better run, better run/faster than my bullet” from Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” he doesn’t know that his lilting soprano is six degrees of separation from Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. He just turned 8. He is blissfully oblivious. For us grown-ups, it’s September 11th. In his first grade class, it’s Patriots’ Day.
Which is why the case of the first grader from Aurora, Colorado, is so head-scratching. The 6-year-old earned a three-day suspension from school for singing LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” to a female classmate.
This was the second time he’d been busted singing, “Girl look at that body/I work out/I’m sexy and I know it.” (The first was in art class; the second was at lunch). The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, written, graphic, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” An example of this offense, as outlined by the school board, includes “sexually oriented ‘kidding’ or inappropriate references to sexual matters” and “continued or repeated offensive sexual flirtations, advances or proposal.” When those guidelines were drafted, I don’t think it was the Go-Gurt demographic they were targeting. Nevertheless, the kid was deemed guilty, and disciplined accordingly.
When CNN ran the story two days ago, the comments fields lit up like 9:30 p.m. on July 4th. Some of the 1,469 comments include “no wonder there are so many teen pregnancies,” Don’t want to be suspended? Follow the rules and stop acting up,” and “Where is he hearing that music anyway? The kid is 6!!”
That’s a very good question: Where is this kid hearing such a racy song? Well, for starters, there’s YouTube: The video has been viewed more than 232 million times. Then there’s terrestrial radio. Let’s pick a random city as an example: how about Austin, TX? According to the Austin Stateman’s radio and TV blog, “Sexy and I Know It” was played 180 times on Austin’s pop radio stations during an average week in December. Now take that figure and multiply it by the total number of metropolitan areas in the U.S.: 366. So by a very conservative estimate, the song was played 65,880 times nationwide in one week.
Don't forget the Super Bowl, watched this year by more than 111 million people. (The first grader, a big-time Denver Broncos fan, was one of them.) M&Ms, the candy with animated spokespeople, used “Sexy and I Know It” in their Super Bowl TV commercial. At halftime, LMFAO performed “Sexy and I Know It” alongside Madonna.
Ricky Martin covered “Sexy and I Know It” on Glee (average audience: 6 million.) Elmo did his own version of the song, “I’m Elmo and I Know It,” on Sesame Street. (Views on YouTube: 10.2 million.)
That’s nearly a half billion inpressions for one song. One song. You can add another couple hundred million impressions by simply adding Rihanna's "S&M."
I am not here to chastise LMFAO, M&Ms, the Super Bowl committee or pop radio. The truth is pop culture doesn’t have an FCC or MPAA ratings board. The viral video of the moment can be a homeless man with a golden voice or talking twin toddlers or a police chase gone terribly wrong. We simply don’t care. As the “culture” behind the “pop,” our vetting process is almost mindless: Watch, laugh, like, forward, repeat.
And now we’re going to punish the kids for living in our world? That first grader in Colorado was doing what he’s built to do: discover, learn, absorb, mimic, express. A child's mind doesn't discriminate between learning ABCs and PG-13 pop songs. Collectively, we've put them in this compromised situation. One hundred thousand years ago, long before we laughed out loud or smiled, winked and stuck our tongues out the side of our mouths, the little ones would mimic the chirping cicadas or moaning mammoths. The world changed, not the kids.
We can't not live in this world. There’s nowhere else for us to go. So expect another news article or three about young kids singing inappropriate songs at school. And when that time comes, let’s find someone else to punish, or skip the punishment altogether. When someone spills a drink, you address the accident with the person holding the cup, not the sponge.