Meep Final Project

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This essay is my final project for my class "Self and Community in the Digital Age." As a component to our project, we have to publish our work to the public. This essay explores the "meep" phenomenon that has manifested itself across the Internet, beginning at Danvers High School in Massachusetts where the principal banned the word "meep." Read more to find out why, as well as examine how the Internet can band unrelated people together while sometimes misconstruing information!

Submitted: December 10, 2009

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Submitted: December 10, 2009



Self & Community in the Digital Age
Final Paper
For a small suburb outside of Boston, Massachusetts, my hometown of Danvers has caused a national outcry – specifically, over the Internet – for the protection of the first amendment of the United States Constitution: freedom of speech. At the beginning of November (2009), principal Thomas Murray of Danvers High School held an assembly at school, as well as sent a phone call to each student’s home, to let students and parents know that if any student of Danvers High School were caught either saying or using the word “meep,” the student would face suspension. Without any background information, this threat, along with the ban of a nonsensical word such as “meep,” sounds ridiculous. Reporters nation wide latched on to the meep ban of Danvers High School and the Internet is now full of articles, blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook status updates, tweets, etc. in defense of the students of Danvers High School who have allegedly been robbed of their first amendment. However, while reading about the meep phenomenon on the Internet, one must remember that to get people to read their articles, reporters sometimes stretch the truth to gain a sizeable audience. And, this time, “sizeable” is a complete under statement. Somehow, the Danvers meep ban has reached not only various states across the nation, but it has also reached Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The Danvers meep ban serves as a case study in which we can examine the effects of the Internet, as well as the media in general, in banding together separate, unrelated communities, as well as in misconstruing the truth to its readers, creating biases.
I first caught wind of the meep story (like many others, I am sure) while browsing through my Facebook mini-feed on the morning of November 12th[1]. One of my friends from high school had posted a link to another friend’s wall that was titled, “Danvers Principle Suspends Any Student Who Says The Word Meep[2].” Confused and intrigued, I immediately clicked on the link and read the article that followed, which vaguely documented the meep story. Apparently, according to, students were using the word “meep” to “disrupt school in a particular part of the building,” as well as planning some kind of school disruption relating to the word via a Facebook event. To prevent the event and stop the disruption that students had already been making, Principal Murray sent the automated phone call to the homes of all Danvers High School students, threatening suspension. The Boston-based website went on to say that Murray stated, “It’s really about language and conduct… For me, it boils down to respectful conduct.’” Moreover, Murray was allegedly planning a “student-and-parent forum on the pitfalls of Facebook.” The article went on to mock Murray’s warning, sarcastically commenting that if not taken care of, the meep situation could have evolved into another Columbine shooting. Reading this article did not correct my confusion. In fact, it heightened it. At first, I found the entire situation completely ridiculous and I immediately concluded that my principal had gone mad. However, after thinking it over, I realized that the story was a little too absurd to convince me that there was not some information missing. Thus, I resorted to my good e-friend Google to figure out what else was up.
Google provided me with more articles, but not more information, as most articles reused each other’s stories, most of them carrying the same tone that elicited disdain and disapproval for the Danvers High School administration. The more articles I read, the more intrigued I became, and, apparently, so did everyone else. I scrolled down pages and pages of articles, reading comments from readers, most of which displayed the same disdain and disapproval as the articles. As someone who knows the administration of Danvers High School (as well as the group of boys who had started using the word, “meep”), I did not share the same negative feelings towards the principal as the reporters and readers did, and I began to wonder if these readers and reporters would feel differently if they had been familiar with the administration, or known how inappropriate and disrespectful this group of boys have always been. I could understand how the situation in its entirety seemed completely ridiculous, but the attitude of these reporters and commenters were beginning to frustrate me. To find a full grasp on this story, I decided to follow the beginning of the “meep” trail across the Internet to see if the articles, forums, blogs, etc. had distorted the reality, as well as figure out the actual truth of the story, for my final project for Self & Community in the Digital Age, a class devoted to exploring the effects of technology, primarily the Internet.
As of December 10th, a simple Google search of “meep Danvers” returns sixty-four full pages of links, ten on each page, all relating to the meep ban at my former high school. Six hundred and forty links, all about this bizarre, confusing meep ban in Danvers, Massachusetts. Ridiculous. To deal with a less overwhelming pool of information, I decided to check out Google News, a search devoted to only news links. Google News provided me with five pages of links, forty-six actual stories in total, due to the fifth page not having a full list. I then sorted the information by date to figure out which online article was published first, the first result being at 5:35am on November 11th, the Gloucester Daily Times, the newspaper of a neighboring town to Danvers.
The Gloucester article[3] is titled “What's wrong with 'meep'? It's all in how you say it” by Ethan Foreman, and even the first sentences, “It’s no surprise that using bad language in school can get you into hot water. But meep?” already showcases a somewhat disapproving attitude. The article goes on to document how the ban occurred, giving more information on the story than the article from Boston Barstool Sports. In his article, Foreman gives more background information, quoting Murray multiple times on why he banned the word: “It’s not really about the word in particular…the reason for the message (was) a group of students were instructed to refrain from that language and other language in a particular part of the building,” “Students were not going along with the direction or refraining from a particular type of language,” “There were multiple reasons why students have been disciplined,” “It has nothing to do with the word…It has to do with the conduct of the students. We wouldn’t just ban a word to just ban a word,” and “It’s really about language and conduct…For me, it boils down to respectful conduct.” So, it appears that my principal did not “go mad,” yet the comments that follow the article seem to state differently. Five out of the seven comments show disapproval of Principal Murray, while the other two are unrelated. “Manny_Live,” one of the five, states, “Principal Thomas Murray – You have proven yourself to be a fool in the eyes of your students.” “To meep with it all I say!!! what a meep-hole!!,” exclaims “mikec79.” “Phantom,” another disapproving commenter, compares “meep” to the word, “hakunamatata” from The Lion King and also states that Principal Murray is being unconstitutional by taking away the students’ “freedome” of speech. “Tonyfishman” believes that the administration is “making a big deal out of nothing,” and “mthomp” thinks “the principal should be fired.” The second article[4] to show itself on the Internet is a replica of the first by Foreman, posted a few ours later (at 8:58am), apparently a writer for The Salem Evening News as well.
Oddly enough, the third article[5] to show up on Google News is an article on the United Press International website, published on November 10th at 2:41pm. This article was shorter and did not deliver any new information, but the fact it spread so quickly to an international news website is remarkable in itself. Nine people responded to the UPI article, though the responses had even less substance than the responses on the Gloucester article. Three of the posts show that the poster accidentally pressed the submit button two extra times, as a post stating, “Lope? Shaft? What's next? Chicken-chokin chimi-changas? Unbefrickinlievable. And meep.” shows up three times by “Muletier.” Other posts include people saying “meep,” asking if “manamana” is allowed, and one person saying that the school looks stupid.
Next, at an unspecified time on November 11th, ABCNews posted an article[6] on their website about the meep ban in Danvers. Like the previous article, the ABCNews online commentary did not introduce any new information regarding the meep ban itself, but it did quote professor Bob Thompson at Syracuse University who also experienced his students saying the word “meep.” Thompson did not seem to care much about his students saying the word, and the reference itself seemed somewhat unrelated and unnecessary. However, the ABCNews article does showcase an impressive one hundred and three comments from readers, ranging from disputes between what is “free speech” and what is not, discussions on the corruption of power, the deeming of Principal Murray as an “idiotic, paranoid, self-righteous control-freak conspiracy theorist,” questioning about why news sites are not covering more important topics, multiple postings the word “meep,” and an attempt to make a Shakespeare joke.
On November 11th at 2:30pm, published a short article[7] that did not provide any new information, and its comments resembled those already stated in previous articles (the questioning of free speech, disapproval of the principal, etc.), and later that evening, the meep ban reached Washington State in a brief article[8] on a Seattle blog. Again, the short posting did not say much, but the fact that it reached the other side of the country so quickly is impressive, as well as troubling.
As the days progressed, the meep story shockingly made its way to other countries. On November 11th, at no specified time, the same article reached two separate Canadian news sites – the Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Sun. In the Canadian articles, the reporter compared the meep phenomenon to the H1N1 virus, while also giving a summary of what happened at the high school. On November 12th at 3:59am, the story showed up on an opinion page of a New Zealand website[9] (though no opinion of the ban was ever stated, a short paragraph account was given). The next day, the story reached the Metro, a news site of the United Kingdom, followed by another publishing on the 14th on the Belfast Telegraph, also found in the UK.
Of course, as a testament to the Google search, the meep story can be found on hundreds of other websites, though the same story is continuously recycled and the stories and comments follow similar trends. Every article mentioned above, as well as most others, all stated that “meep” came from Beaker, a character from The Muppet Show, whose one-word language centered on the term “meep.” However, on November 14th, NPR (another impressive reach) interviewed one of the students from Danvers High School who started the meep trend. According to him, the word did not come from Beaker at all – his friend had heard another person say the word in an Xbox Live party for the video game, Call of Duty. So. There is one place where almost every article documenting the meep story went wrong. Similarly, most articles state that the word was not being used as harassment, but according to a teacher of the high school, as well as a survey that I created and presented to Danvers High School students, the group of boys was indeed using the word to harass a biology teacher. If the reporters and commenters had known that students were using the word as harassment, would their negative attitudes have been any different?
To get first hand accounts on the meep ban, I decided to ask ten students for their story. Apparently, a lot of students had not even heard of the word “meep” being used inappropriately until Principal Murray held an assembly and called the students’ parents. A select group of senior boys, students with a reputation of being disrespectful towards authority and other students, were the culprits, and they were indeed using the word to harass a biology teacher who had asked them to stop. The boys would walk by the teacher’s classroom and yell the word into the doorway, disrupting the teacher’s classes. At this point, Mr. Murray intervened, but the boys continued to use the word, as well as creating a Facebook event asking every student to wear a t-shirt displaying the word “meep” on it. Somehow, Mr. Murray found this event, and thus, the ban was issued to prevent any further disruptions. Most students who I talked to felt that as a whole, the story was ridiculous, but that they understood where the principal was coming from in needing to do something to stop these boys. After hearing first hand accounts from students of Danvers High School, as well as listening to one of the culprits speaking on NPR, I was able to make a graph[10] to display the “meep trail”:
Moreover, I posted a link on my Facebook to a survey I created, asking any current Danvers High School students to please fill it out. The survey asked nine questions in total:
1. What grade are you in?
2. Were you familiar with the term “meep” before the assembly/phone call?
3. Did you use the term “meep” before the assembly/phone call?
4. Do you use the term “meep” now?
5. Did you see/were you invited to the “meep” Facebook event?
6. Did you respond to the “meep” Facebook event?
Yes, I said I was attending.
Yes, but I said I was not attending.
No, I did not answer, or I was not invited.
7. Do you think that the Internet has made the “meep” ban into a bigger deal than it is?
8. Have you been reading the “meep” articles posted on the Internet?
9. Do you have anything else to say regarding the “meep” ban?
Yes (text box)No
Out of the forty students who completed the survey, twenty-six were seniors (65%), ten were juniors (25%), one was a sophomore (2%), and three were freshmen (7%). Twenty-five respondents said they were familiar with the term before the ban (62%) and fifteen were not (37%). Thirty-five students (87%) said they did not use the term before the assembly/phone call, and five (12%) did. When asked if they use the term now, twenty-seven (67%) said they do not and thirteen said that they do (32%). Thirty students (75%) either saw or were invited to the Facebook meep t-shirt event, and ten (25%) either did not see the event, or were not invited. Only five students (12%) said that they said they were attending the event on Facebook, fourteen students (35%) replied that they were not going to attend, and twenty-one students (52%) either did not answer the invitation, or were not invited in the first place. An overwhelming thirty-five votes (87%) think that the Internet has made the meep ban into a bigger deal than it is, while five students (12%) disagree. When asked if the students had been reading the articles regarding the ban over the Internet, thirty-five students (87%) said that they have been, while five students (12%) have not. Out of the forty responses, twenty students (50%) opted out of adding additional comments, while the other twenty (50%) did decide that they had more to say about the meep ordeal, comments that ended up being perhaps the most interesting part of my investigation.
Though some responses were unrelated to the survey (e.g. various keyboard symbols, blank responses) as well as one “clever” response of “meep,” most responses were honest and gave an interesting take on the meep ban. A few commenters agreed with the online reporters and posters who said that the situation was ridiculous and poorly handled by the school administration, and one response also echoed the argument for freedom of speech: “Hurray for suspension of civil liberties! (sarcasm).” However, a number of people seemed to be for the administration and against the media. For example, a senior posted, “It was stupid. It wasn’t about the word, it was all about one idiotic student, harassing a teacher, and the media took it down a whole new road.” Similarly, another student stated, “It’s absurd to have gotten so much publicity over one obnoxious kid who was harassing a teacher.” Moreover, a junior wrote, “Fewer people would have heard about it had it not been for articles posted online and various ‘plots’ on Facebook.” Additionally, “giving high school boys a reaction like this is just what they wanted...if everyone kept quiet it would have been over [within] like a week or two,” said another junior at Danvers High School. A senior replied with an emotionally charged comment, declaring, “The media blew up the situation and showed a lack of respect toward the school system and its decision. Something had to be done about the word, and although the principal may have not handled it correctly, the local media should try to back up MA [schools].” Finally, another senior summed up her thoughts: “It’s ridiculous and the media has made Mr. Murray look like the enemy, while the scum of our school somehow feel like heroes.” I also spoke to a business teacher at Danvers High School who agreed that the Internet and media have “absolutely” made the meep ban into a bigger deal than it is. She also went on to say that she thinks “the whole situation was misunderstood and made by the media to be a big deal when it was not. It also never really addressed the actual issue, which was one of harassment, not freedom of speech.” And so, the people of Danvers High School have spoken.
Ultimately, it seems that the Internet and media in general have both unnecessarily publicized the bizarre events of Danvers High School, and in doing so have created an Internet phenomenon, allying Internet users across the country, as well as overseas, against an issue that has apparently been misconstrued to them. Theodora Michaels, a New York attorney, serves as an example of an unrelated person who inappropriately latched onto the meep ban and its alleged suspension of the first amendment. After hearing about the meep ban, Michaels e-mailed the Danvers High School administration, simply writing, “meep.” The administration then replied, stating that Michaels’ e-mail had been sent to the Danvers Police Department. Okay, maybe this response of the administration is a little over the top, but Michaels’ e-mail in the first place was, to me, completely inappropriate and immature of a grown woman to send to a school and situation that is completely unrelated to her. Michaels then published an open response[11] to the administration of Danvers High School, mocking their threat and scorning their decision. Additionally, various YouTube videos have been posted regarding the ban, one[12] in particular that unsettlingly deems Principal Murray as a “Nazi” and urges other viewers to send Murray e-mails of their disapproval. On Facebook, users also have the opportunity of becoming a fan of the word “meep,” its description having to do solely with the meep ban of Danvers High School. The group currently (as of December 9th) has 5,972 fans. A simple search of “meep ban” on Twitter also elicits numerous tweets by users, commenting on and showing links of the meep ban.
As a graduate of Danvers High School, I do admit that I hold a bias towards the meep ban, but I also believe that my bias holds more weight than the bias of strangers across the Internet, as I know the administration of Danvers High School, as well as the students and teachers who have been dragged into the meep marvel. Though the administration could have probably handled the situation better (but then the question becomes “how?” and, truthfully, after Mr. Murray had already asked the students to stop their harassment, I cannot think of another way to tackle the situation), the Internet and media have definitely expanded on the ordeal, making it out to be the phenomenon that it has become. Honestly, the meep ban of Danvers only serves as one case study that proves how the Internet makes various subjects and occurrences easily accessible to its users, as well as providing people with something to latch on to when they are bored and surfing the ‘Net for pages of interest. Even while presenting this project yesterday, Bennington students from all over the nation approached me asking, “That was your high school that banned the word ‘meep?’” These students, too, shared the same disapproving opinions of other Internet users after reading the articles across the Internet. Of course, the Internet can bring people together over topics that hold importance in our lives, like the real issue of freedom of speech, for example, or by sending petitions to computers around the world to save the beloved historical buildings or art spaces of various communities. However, the meep ban of Danvers High School has proved itself to not be one of these important issues. So, until another father records his son after his first laughing gas experience at the dentist[13] (which is likely to happen within the next week), I guess the Internet users around the world will continue meeping about.

[1] I have not been able to find the exact date of when the meep ordeal began at Danvers High School, but I think it is safe to assume that the assembly and phone call took place on the 9th, since the first articles appeared on the 10th.
[10] With the help of Mr. Devin Gaffney.
[13] See: “David After Dentist”:

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