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Reflecting upon the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Morse v. Frederick (PDF), a.k.a. “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS,” doesn’t do much good for my mood, especially when it comes to Justice Roberts’ unimaginative parsing of of the meaning of “bong hits”:

At least two interpretations of the words on the banner demonstrate that the sign advocated the use of illegal drugs. First, the phrase could beinterpreted as an imperative: “[Take] bong hits . . .”—a message equivalent, as Morse explained in her declaration, to “smoke marijuana” or “use an illegal drug.” Alternatively, the phrase could be viewed as celebrating druguse—“bong hits [are a good thing],” or “[we take] bonghits”—and we discern no meaningful distinction between celebrating illegal drug use in the midst of fellow students and outright advocacy or promotion. See Guiles v. Marineau, 461 F. 3d 320, 328 (CA2 2006) (discussing the present case and describing the sign as “a clearly pro-drugbanner”).

The pro-drug interpretation of the banner gains further plausibility given the paucity of alternative meanings the banner might bear. The best Frederick can come up withis that the banner is “meaningless and funny.” 439 F. 3d, at 1116. The dissent similarly refers to the sign’s message as “curious,” post, at 1, “ambiguous,” ibid., “nonsense,” post, at 2, “ridiculous,” post, at 6, “obscure,” post, at 7, “silly,” post, at 12, “quixotic,” post, at 13, and “stupid,” ibid. Gibberish is surely a possible interpretation of the words on the banner, but it is not the only one, and dismissing the banner as meaningless ignores its undeniable reference to illegal drugs.

Somebody ought to buy the Supreme Court a dictionary. In the meantime, I think it incumbent upon every American (and most especially political cartoonists) to make as wide use of all the definitions of bong as is possible in speech, screen, and print. An insurrection of the language is the best way to render the opinion of the court meaningless.

Update: Bill Poser continues his exploration of Morse v. Frederick with a semantic analysis of the sign that is, unlike Roberts’, consistent with a modern hermeneutics of utterances. I’d add that, in addition to the fact that the Supreme Court did not take seriously the possibility that the sign could be nonsense, the Court also overdetermined the intent of the phrase “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” because of an oversimplification of teenagers. “Teenagers believe ‘bong’ means drug paraphernalia,” goes Roberts’ logic; “Therefore, the phrase advocates illegal drug use.” It’s a particular set of beliefs about teenagers that the opinion rides on that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; moreover, it inscribes with the force of law a premise that teenagers are universally disposed to see drugs everywhere they see bongs—instead of, say, hits.


PS.A loop is a loop is a loop.



I know, I know. A week late, a dollar short…

I’m glad you posted it nonetheless. BONG HiTS 4EVA!
The idea that the guy who started this whole brouhaha is sitting in China, bemused and a little exasperated by this whole case, gives me reason to keep on living.

Don’t you mean “bemused and exasperated, as if he had been bonged on the head by a pigeon”?

Why yes, yes of course.

I made the animated .gif myself, I want you to know. I am awaiting praise.

It’s kickass.