After controversial half-time performance, Twin Cities marching band changes show
FARMINGTON, Minn. — Farmington High School marching band leaders are making changes to their football halftime show in response to complaints from supporters of President Donald Trump.
The performance of "Dystopia" during last Friday's game sparked emails and phone calls, Farmington High School Principal Dan Pickens said.
Pickens, who attended Friday's game, said the show built dramatically to "kind of a cool ending" when the word "RESIST" was spelled out on 10-foot boards.
"It was really the word that rubbed people the wrong way," Pickens said. "Unbeknownst to me, it has a different meaning today."
For Trump's opponents, "resist" has become shorthand for pushing back against the president and his policies.
"People were taking it politically when it wasn't supposed to be," Pickens said.
The day after the performance, the marching band's Facebook page explained that the show was inspired by the George Orwell novel "1984" and "The Hunger Games" books and movies.
The Facebook post did not directly address complaints about alleged political messaging.
"Our show represents the age-old struggle between the powerful and the powerless, while also reinforcing important values like unity and strength. A central theme of our show is one that is important for both students and adults to consider, 'What would it be like to live in a world where culture and personal expression are forbidden?'" the Facebook post read.
Erin Holmes, one of the band directors, said in an email Wednesday that they weren't trying to send a message.
"There is not and never has been any intended political message in our fictional marching band show, Dystopia," she wrote.
In response to the complaints, district administrators directed band leaders to make changes to the show. "RESIST" will be replaced with "UNITE," raised-fist imagery removed and some narration tweaked.
"While the ending must change, the overall concept and design of the show will remain intact," band staff wrote in an email to parents Tuesday explaining the changes.
"There is certainly an inherent irony in the fact that our show is being censored, but with the right perspective, this can be an important educational opportunity for our students."
After looking up modern references to "resist" online, Pickens said he "can see why it was perceived" as political, but in his view there's "not a chance" band leaders intended to be subversive.
Devon McCarthy, 15, a sophomore trombonist, said it hadn't occurred to him that the show was about anything other than a "fictional dystopia world."
"Our directors have brought up the book '1984' by George Orwell many times when they've been talking about the themes of the show," he said in a phone interview.
Orwell's novel, published in 1949, has been an easy reference point for critics of the U.S. government well before Trump took office. Government surveillance after 9/11 was likened to Orwell's Big Brother character and the war on terrorism to the novel's perpetual war.
But "1984" became a best-seller again when, after Trump took office last year, an aide coined the Orwellian phrase "alternative facts" while defending lies about the size of the inauguration crowd.