From 2008: That Time I Went to War Over Violent Camp Songs

I wrote this post in 2008. The events in question happened in 1996-2003 or thereabouts.

Believe it or not, there are still people in the world who have not heard me wax nostalgic ad nauseum about my days as a Girl Scout camp counselor/lifeguard/small craft instructor/ranger-of-all-work. This is not, however, a waxy-nostalgicky post. This post is about the endless noble war against camp songs.

Yes, camp songs.

My first introduction to the war was during my Program Aide days (just like counselors, only we were paid in gummi worms and chocolate pudding), when one day we were informed that we should curtail our singing of “A Boy and A Girl in a Little Canoe” because a parent had complained that it “sounded too much like sexual harassment”:

A boy and a girl in a little canoe
With the moon shining all around
And as they paddled their paddles
You couldn’t even hear a sound
So they talked and they talked till the moon went dim
He said ya better kiss me or get out and swim
So what you gonna do in a little canoe
With the moon shining all a-
Boy paddling all a-
Girl swimming all around
Oh yeah *kiss kiss* Oh yeah *kiss kiss*

Someone came up with the idea to make the girl demand the kiss and the boy take the swim, which the parent accepted but the PAs did not – we didn’t see how that solves the problem.

Instead, in a fit of dark humor, we the PAs promptly came up with a reason every single one of the then-187 tunes in my songbook was unacceptable – everything from “passing counterfeit money” (“The Donut Shop”) to “invades the privacy of whales” (“Sara the Whale”).

Fast-forward some seven years, when I was a unit leader at the resident camp. We’d just gotten a brand-new camp director. Her first executive order was a ban on any songs that had a religious (read: Christian; she was fine with neo-Wiccan rounds) theme, which none of us really cared about anyway; it axed only “Rise and Shine” and “Dem Bones,” both of which were long, tedious songs we only ever sang because they annoyed the campers more than they annoyed us.

She immediately went on to axe anything that was “violent or depressing.” Big Problem: we instantly lost about 95% of our inventory, including a few the campers simply adored. Like:

Black Prince: “zap em zap em zap em zap em zap em till they die….”
Oom-Plunka: “the tombstone fell over and split-splat, he died…he went down to mm-mm and sizzled and fried…”
Little Chickie: “well I had a little chickie and she wouldn’t lay an egg, so I poured boiling water up and down her legs….”
Batman: “I know a man his name is Batman…steamroller got him, now he’s flatman….”

Said counselor did this in the name of creating a “safe space” for girls. I think she did exactly the opposite.

The violent songs are fun to sing precisely because they’re violent. They give us a way to express the kind of emotions women are not only not supposed to express, we’re not even supposed to have. Taking away any acknowledgement that, yeah, sometimes you just want to see a lying jerk get squashed by a tombstone takes away the chance to talk about why you want to see a lying jerk get squashed by a tombstone, along with the opportunity to say yeah, you do but you’re a reasonable human being who won’t actually do the squashing.

And, like so many other things, there’s no way for women to win. We’re told we don’t feel anger, fear, or hate, so we suppress those feelings. Eventually, unable to cram any more suppressed emotions into our packed psyches, we blow up – and when we do, we’re “hysterical females” who are “unable to control their emotions.”

Bullshit. No normal human being will respond well to a lifetime of being told they don’t feel normal human emotions. We need to make it okay for girls to have alltheir feelings, so they can to learn to express those feelings in healthy ways (like singing violent songs) instead of unhealthy ways (like beating up other kids, depression, or self-harm).

Pretending painful emotions don’t exist is like pretending your walls don’t have termites. You might feel fine today, but when the walls cave in sometime next week, you’re gonna be shocked – and left holding the bill.

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