Monday, September 13, 2010

The "Gay" Life of a Kookaburra in Australia... And the opportunity in a word

Down Under there's this famous song, "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree."

Here's the lyric...

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra
Laugh, Kookaburra
Gay your life must be.

So now a primary school in Australia has decided that their kids should sing that final line as "Fun your life must be."

The reason?

Garry Martin of Le Page Primary School in Melbourne decided to replace the song's last line "gay your life must be" with "fun your life must be" to end the laughter that erupted in the classroom when the children sang the word "gay."

..."Seventy years ago when the song was written 'gay' meant you are happy. Nowadays we know it's got all sorts of different meanings," Martin told Reuters.

I know the school's getting a lot of flack about this being too politically correct, or maybe just not politically correct enough, but what I wish had happened is that they'd talked with the kids about the word "gay."

Yes, "gay" can mean fun.

It can also mean a boy who falls in love with another boy. Or a girl who falls in love with another girl.

And sadly, "gay" has also become slang for "icky" or "bad" as in, "that's so gay."

If the song had been using the word "gay" in a negative way, I don't think I would have been upset about a change in lyrics to stop slamming down a minority.

Think of the racist songs that we no longer sing today (Yeah, Disney never did re-release "Song of the South," did they?)

But in this case, the use of the word "gay" has a good connotation. "Gay" can mean fun - and why are we protecting children from knowing THAT?

I'm glad to know that they're having second thoughts:

Due to the controversy, Martin said it might be better to revert to the original word "gay."

"I possibly should have stuck with the original and explained that in a tender, caring way," he said.

Because if the kids are snickering and laughing at the use of the word "gay" - that's a great opportunity to talk to them about how we gay people are just that - people.

And sometimes, our Gay lives are fun, too. Just like that Kookaburra.

Here's a video of a children's choir singing the song with the word "Gay" intact:

How do YOU think kids should sing the song?


Here's a link to the full news article.

The song was written by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair.


Caz Williams said...

That's so sad. There was no sniggering when we used to sing it at school. Sadly, I can see how it would happen now, though. I hear the word gay used to describe 'icky, bad' things by kids fairly regularly and it always makes me wince. Definitely need to leave the song as is. As you say, take the laughter as a sign that some discussion is needed.

Lisa Jenn said...

Now I'm imagining what "concerned" celebrators of Christmas would use to replace the word gay in "Deck the Halls." :-P

When I worked at Girl Scout camps in the 90s and early 00s, we used the word gay in "Kookaburra" without a fuss -- even though the salient meaning then was homosexual. And now that I do storytimes for preschoolers, I've got some rhymes that use the word gay, too; it's a great rhyming word. Gay as in happy may be growing ever more archaic, but no more so than the words merry or apparel. Keep it alive!

MotherReader said...

I think it is ridiculous to change the words of the song. If the kids giggle at first, than as you said, it's a great teaching opportunity. Or if you choose not to talk about it, you can let them get over it and move on.

You know who probably came up with this brilliant idea. Some older guy named Dick.

ivanova said...

Why try to stop elementary school kids from giggling? It's like trying to stop the tides. Innocent phrases like "Keep your eyes on the balls," "The Egyptians erected a pyramid," etc have been keeping kids in stitches for generations. Something like this can be a teaching moment, even though it doesn't sound like the kids were being mean-spirited.

Anonymous said...

This is EXACTLY the reason why I left teaching. Because apparently we all have to check our logic at the door.

But it does make me wonder, though, particularly with the pejorative use of "gay", what the effect of the intentional use of language can be. In other words, if enough of us started deliberately substituting "gay" for "happy" in all of our speech, would it help to negate the negative use of "gay". Could the deliberate switch on a widespread basis make "gay" gay again?

Perhaps we should start a movement.

Heather Houlahan said...

A hundred years and more ago, "gay" was slang for men and especially women of loose morals, prostitutes and their customers, porn consumers, people who went out and sexed it up illicitly with a side of drinking, drugs, and gambling perhaps.

And yet the word survived in its original connotation. Survived well enough so that old farts could lecture in a tiresome way about how "they" have "ruined a perfectly good word that meant happy when I was young."