Bands Will Be Bands

Dick joke. 

If you were popular in high school you probably don’t know this, but Ohio State University has the best marching band in the world. A legendary football program combined with a recruiting pool of thousands of band nerds from all over the Midwest have made them the halftime equivalent of The Beatles, provided The Beatles had a Rain Man-esque fixation on spelling out the word OHIO.

But of course, there’s a dark side to superstardom. For The Beatles it was heroin; for OSU’s band it’s apparently a host of sexually explicit nicknames and risqué traditions. Following a two-month investigation into the band, Ohio State recently released a report that uses hilariously clinical language to document the band’s raunchier antics:

Reading this, I feel like ‘Tulsa’ got the short end of the sexually explicit nickname stick, unless the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma has some kind of smutty backstory that I’m not familiar with. And while I’m sure ‘Barker’s trick loses something in the retelling, I’ve got to applaud the University investigator who felt that a guy saying, “Girls, girls, we have these types of girls” is worthy of mention alongside ‘Squirt’ and ‘Taint Brush.’

OSU’s band director has already been fired as a result of the investigation. Speaking as a four-year member of a college marching band who had the nickname ‘Poopy Baño,’ I feel as though that’s a pretty excessive response.

Being a liberal, I get precious few opportunities to gripe about the ‘PC police’ – more often than not, I’m the one driving the squad car. If asked I can provide a list of offensive sports mascots that ought to be changed, I strenuously avoid using the word ‘retard,’ and whenever I go on profane tirades about Senator Dianne Feinstein I take pains to use gender neutral offensive language so as to only insult her legislative work and not her gender.

But what’s happening at OSU is PC police brutality. By and large, the stuff detailed in this report isn’t hazing – it’s stuff that happens when 225 young people spend hundreds of hours together in close quarters and inclement weather over the course of several months. I’m not making the “boys will be boys” argument; this is more like “bands will be bands.”

During my freshman year in my band's trumpet section, one of the upperclassmen had a ‘trick’ we called “The Batwing” where he would pinch and stretch his scrotum to resemble the Batman symbol. On the trip to our first away game of the year he made his way down the aisle of the trumpet bus with his fly unzipped, tapping each male trumpet player on the shoulder and flashing the Batwing when they turned around. He didn’t just do it to freshmen – pretty much everybody save for the three girls in the section got Batwing’d.* It wasn’t hazing, it was just a thing he did as a goof because we were all pretty close at that point in the season. (This guy is a police officer now, by the way.)

For reference. 

*I guess that sounds sexist or exclusionary, but I’m sure he would have shown his balls to the girls (one of whom was one of our section leaders) if they’d asked.

Since we were usually traveling to bowl games around Christmas, the section had a tradition called Secret Holiday Item Trading, or SHIT for short. It was basically a Secret Santa arrangement where everybody got together and exchanged tacky gag gifts, which over the years included a blow-up doll, a gallon of bleach, a six-foot tall inflatable penis, and just so much porn.

One of the section’s most hallowed institutions was the Trash Bitch, a rotating position held by various freshmen (myself included) throughout the season who were tasked with taking all the section’s refuse to the garbage. My junior year the trumpet section added a Recyclables Bitch position in an effort to go green.  

And oh God, the nicknames! SpiderGay, Boss Waffle, Bukkake Shorts, Jefe the Mexican Drinking Machine, Sock Tree… Anybody with red hair was automatically dubbed Ginger Balls, and like Ohio State’s band we had a Tits McGee all our own.

Maybe those antics sounded crude and shocking to you. That makes sense, because if you examine any large, tightly knit organization full of 18-23 year olds who spend upwards of 30 hours a week together, you’re bound to find some stuff that seems pretty shocking from the outside looking in. And before you pass too much judgment on my band, remember that these are a lot of the same people who shaved their heads in solidarity when a member of the trumpet section got cancer, and provided constant love and support for him and his family throughout his battle with the disease.

I’m not going to claim that nobody ever got offended by the trumpet section’s antics. I for one said and did some pretty crude things back in the day that I wish I could take back, and I think most of the other members of the section feel the same way. Why, I guess you could say we learned from the experience, which is the sort of thing that happens from time to time in a college environment.

That said, I have a lot more really fond memories of the fun we had together being a bunch of smartass nerds in silly uniforms. That kind of camaraderie is what makes a tedious activity like marching band fun. If you really think it’s a moral crisis that college-aged adults in a voluntary organization make off-color jokes, you should probably hold off on reading this article about the Greek system until you’re near your Victorian fainting couch.

Having read the report about the Ohio State band’s shenanigans, I’d say approximately 80% were the sort of shenanigans you’d find in virtually any college marching band save for perhaps Brigham Young’s, while the rest (rewriting other schools’ fight songs to include jokes about rape and the Holocaust; slutshaming a girl in an unofficial band newsletter) called for some disciplinary action against the band members involved. 

The most telling piece of information in the report comes at the very beginning: This investigation was started because of a complaint from the parent of a band member, as opposed to someone who was actually, you know, in the band. And now Ohio State’s band director has been fired because he didn’t regulate the band’s very culture out of existence.  

Fire as many band directors as you like, but those nicknames and traditions aren’t going anywhere. Just try telling a couple of hundred newly independent college students not to do something and see what happens. That “overly sexualized” culture is going to be back as soon as the PC police return to the station – except now, out of spite, it’s going to be much dirtier.

Truman Capps would like to state on the record that all of the antics he described took place years ago and without the knowledge of any members of the his band’s staff.