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Letters Published in February 28, 2007 Issue
Feb. 28, 2007 - Letter submitted by Tom McClain, Stewart, Ohio
Knightstown – A good place to visit, a better place to live. So proclaims the signs as one comes near Knightstown traveling National Road U.S. 40.
In 1960, I had completed graduate studies at Peabody College (now a division of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, Tenn. The superintendent of the Knightstown school system, Mr. Lyle Bell, had contacted me about a teaching position in the school district.
I rode the bus to Knightstown and met Mr. Bell at Maddix Restaurant and Bus Station on a Saturday afternoon. Mr. Bell drove me around the two schools that would be needing a principal/teacher that year – Central on State Rd. 109 and Kennard.
From the moment I first observed Knightstown, I believe I was fascinated by the warmness and charm of the area. I signed a contract that August afternoon to teach at Central School.
From that signing date until September 1966, I was a resident of the city, and what a great impact it has made upon me. I felt as if I really belonged.
Mr. Bell was such an inspiring leader. I am so grateful that I was permitted to be tutored and assisted by him and his staff.
I was an active member of a good church in Knightstown that entrusted me with duties and responsibilities that have been of tremendous help across the years.
At various times across the years, I have had occasion to be in or near Knightstown and I always felt the “coming home” feeling! Knightstown – A good place to visit, a better place to live.
I feel like offering a big thanks to all the fine citizens who me so much in those early days. You were a warm-hearted folk. Thanks so much.
Feb. 28, 2007 - Letter submitted by Jill Null, Knightstown
As the parent of Knightstown’s infamous “Teddy Bear Master,” I am overjoyed that the movie is finally approaching the end of its run. The DVD controversy made headlines from South Africa to Beijing, and inspired colorful commentary in numerous newspapers, from The Banner to The Wall Street Journal. It has been interesting to listen to the world chuckling at our squabbles, and to observe those who profess disdain for the First Amendment boldly exercising their First Amendment right to proclaim their views in this newspaper. The time has come, however, to make a final examination of this incident, and to lay our evil teddy bears to rest.
When our beleaguered filmmakers returned to school, they sought out the young man who turned them in and testified against them in federal court. Their message? “No problem, dude.” Their words contrast sharply with the behavior of their adult role models.
In the film that caused all this trouble, the actors wear clown wigs, coke-bottle glasses and “redneck” teeth. Their plastic weapons were purchased in the trick-or-treat aisle at Big Lots. In addition to the well-publicized, South Park-inspired teacher scene, the miscreants filmed themselves engaging in other “criminal” activities, such as eating unthawed TV dinners, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and dancing dangerously close to my flower garden. The movie’s supporting cast included “Samuel L. Jackson” and a band of stuffed toys lead by a dragon named “Puffy Pufferton,” a dog named “Athlete’s Foot” and an obnoxious plush Santa Claus. These are your “terrorists,” Knightstown.
Contrary to public opinion, the only character who is killed in the film is the one played by Charlie Ours, who is disguised in a mullet wig. Charlie’s character defeats the marauding teddy bears, but succumbs in a bloody battle with Santa Claus. The young man has pressed no charges and the jolly old elf remains at large.
The hysterical reaction to this nonsense is somewhat understandable. Those of us raised in the Andy Griffith era tend to find contemporary horror films most disturbing. The muffled sound and muted lighting of a cheap home video camera added to the creepy confusion in this masterpiece. It seems logical to me that all involved should have viewed the film together and attempted to discuss it rationally before squandering thousands of dollars. Nothing about his incident was rational, however.
The student promoters made five DVDs, three malfunctioned, and all interest evaporated. The “threatening” material on the film had been recorded a year-and-a-half before falling into the hands of school authorities, and no acts of violence had ensued in the interim. Then, a sensational press release ignited a media firestorm and school officials, in their zeal to suppress free speech, manufactured and distributed 13 copies of the DVD. By the time they reclaimed and destroyed them, the film had been elevated to cult status. Clips aired on the evening news. The Today Show and Inside Edition called. There followed a deluge of requests to make the DVD available for sale, substantial sums of money were offered, and a determined agent attempted to arrange late night screenings.
My son accepted no money but said “the buck stops here.” It is appalling that adults are still fighting about this when his lengthy apology dates from five months ago.
Prior to his expulsion, Isaac Imel had never seen the movie he was expelled for making, as his participation had ended months before the DVD was compiled. Without notifying Isaac’s parents, a school official summoned Isaac and demanded a written confession. When Isaac’s statement proved to be non-incriminating, he was called back to write a second paragraph. This exercise demanded more creativity than his role in the movie, which was described by the judge as that of a “bit actor.”Isaac’s parents attempted to negotiate at every juncture; their lawsuit was a last resort.
It was unclear whether Cody Overbay was expelled for filming Santa Claus’ mad dash through the forest or for a two-second cameo of his face in the teacher scene. Cody testified under oath that a factor in his demise might have been his work as the movie’s “stuntman,” a capacity in which he contributed a single back flip. Ruling that the back flip and the DVD were protected by the U.S. Constitution, Judge Sarah Evans Barker sent the stuntman and his cast back to school.
There is a lesson to be learned from all this: Mistakes are an inevitable result of the human condition – kids make them; parents make them; so do Charles A. Beard administrators. “No problem, dude,” we just need to think for ourselves. No one denies the tragic reality of school violence; but when we cease to communicate with one another and commence to lock down our institutions against figments of our imaginations, we have become the bogeyman that we fear.
We are better than this. In a few short years, we will depend on the current students of Knightstown High School to be our doctors, our lawyers, and our filmmakers. Let’s try to judge them less harshly and love them more boldly. We should emulate the dedicated teachers who used this messy incident to stimulate classroom discussion on the rights and responsibilities of self-expression. We should answer the students who have asked why this issue was of more concern than the real fights that break out at school or the drugs that are available in the halls. We should support Dr. McGuire’s school leadership initiative and accept his challenge to foster positive change. It is time to stop playing with teddy bears and get down to work.
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