What We've Got Wrong With the K-State Marching Band Story

Beware of falling victim to the social media viral phenomenon

Posted Sep 08, 2015

The Kansas State University marching band director is in hot water following this weekend’s halftime performance. The show was space-themed and included music from the “Star Trek” TV show and “Star Wars” movies. The “controversy,” though, centers on a 3-second segment of drill in which theStarship Enterprise was depicted as destroying the University of Kansas Jayhawk (a major K-State rival). However, some didn’t see a spaceship; rather, they perceived something a little more phallic in nature. Which has generated a significant amount of sensational buzz and subsequent fallout for the K-State marching band director.

Now, in full disclosure, I’m sharing my view of this incident as a former high school and college marching band student, as well as the wife of a high school and college marching band director, who was the son of a high school marching band director. I understand, appreciate, and love marching band. And I’ll share my view of this “story” clearly and bluntly…

It’s stupid.

Okay, maybe “stupid” is too strong a word. But for those not easily distracted by sensationalism, it’s easy to see how overblown and ridiculous this story is. Consider the following:

  • If you were to actually watch the performance, you’d hear an announcer stating that the Starship Enterprise was about battle with the Jayhawk.
  • The band is clearly playing the theme from “Star Trek.”
  • This 3-second segment is part of a larger, cohesive 7-minute show.

In short, this 3-second segment is taken out of context. With the drill in motion, the announcement, and the music it all makes sense. But to base this entire story on a single screenshot...?

Given this, any rational person should surmise that there was no ulterior motive to this one page of drill. If anything, I think this weekend’s story speaks more to the influence of social media and the viral phenomenon. As a taboo, NSFW topic, chances are greater for this type of “story” to reach a tipping point and be shared over and over and over again. A different weekend or a different news cycle and this story may not have gone viral.

Furthermore, the focus this weekend has leaned so heavily on the band director and that 3-second screenshot of a clip that we’ve lost sight of the real losers in this situation. It’s not the audience, it’s not the reporters, and it’s not the K-State football coach Bill Snyder (as some claim).

It’s the students.

When I became a parent for the first time, I remember feeling like I had an instant connection to every other parent out there. We shared a bond, and I understood for the first time the depth of feeling and shared experiences we have in common. You can’t explain this or make someone else understand unless you’ve experienced it for yourself.

It’s the same with marching band. There’s a work ethic, a sense of pride, and a camaraderie to being in a marching band that I haven’t experienced in any other ensemble (and I’ve been involved in many).

In most cases, students take marching band as a one-credit class. Now, a typical 1-credit college class should generate about 3 hours of work a week. But marching band students often practice 4-6 hours a week on top of the 5+ hours they log in for game day.

Marching band members are the school’s biggest fans. They cheer the team on from the stands in intense heat and freezing cold, then perform at halftime to entertain the audience. And the work is commonly under-appreciated. Half the audience leaves during the halftime show, announcements blare during stand tunes, and students are deemed nerds (though many wear that label with pride). But they’re still show up, week after week, year and year, working with intensity and passion to give fans an entertaining show.

This context and understanding has been lost in this weekend’s story. And it's unfair, mostly for the students involved. Let’s not lose sight of this.

March on, Wildcats.

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