The Criminalization of Borat
Evan Daniel Emory, 21, got permission from Beachnau Elementary School officials in Michigan to record himself singing the song "Lunch Lady Land" in front of a class of first graders, but under the false pretense that he wanted to use the video as part of his application to a school of education. Emory was actually planning a comedy bit. He later dubbed in sexually profane lyrics and posted the video to YouTube, making it look as if he had sang the dirty lyrics directly to the children.
And then all hell broke lose in Ravenna, Michigan.
Now, I can understand if Beachnau school officials and parents don't share Emory's sense of humor. I can understand a parent becoming rather irate upon learning that Emory had serenaded the kids with filthy lyrics. And even after learning that the dirty audio had been dubbed in, I can also understand a parent might still be ticked off that his kid's face appeared in the finished product. (The video is obviously offline now, but according to the article, it begins with Emory writing on a chalkboard, "Disclaimer: No children were exposed to the 'Graphic Content' of this video.")
All of which is good reason to demand Emory take down the video. It might be good reason to sue him. And maybe you fine Emory for lying to school officials about his intentions. But some in Ravenna are predictably calling for his head.
So let's give due praise and kudos to Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague, who showed some rare perspective in all of this. Tague recently held a press conference in which he calmly explained to angry parents and a hysterical local media that we don't throw people in prison for having a bad sense of humor. Here's Tague:
"Look, I know a lot of people are upset. But the video has been taken down, and the actual damage done to the kids is minimal. They didn't actually hear the sexually suggestive lyrics. Any time you have a story about sex, children, and the Internet, there's going to be a tendency for some people to overreact. Mr. Emory showed incredibly poor judgment here, and I hope he has learned his lesson. But my job is to fairly apply the law, and I simply don't think it would be in the interest of justice to charge Mr. Emory with a crime just to register our moral outrage at his prank.
Oh, wait. That's what Tague should have said. Here's what he actually said:
"The bottom line in this case is that he walked into a classroom and took advantage and victimized every single child in that classroom," Tague said.
"This case is very disturbing to law enforcement officials. We have launched a full-fledged investigation with the sheriff."
Tague said Michigan law 'provides penalty' for those who actually manufacture child sexual abusive material "but also has a provision for those who make it appear that the children were actually abused."
Emory has been arrested. He's currently charged with a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.