07/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Moon Over Suburbia

The story rocking my little town in suburban New York is that of a senior at our high school's graduation ceremony who marked the occasion by mooning the audience. This act would have been news enough, but then the principal -- a fine and dedicated public servant known to me -- revoked the young man's diploma and summoned the police, who arrested the lunar exhibitionist and charged him with disorderly conduct and exposure to a person.

Well, surely we do not wish the pillars of our community to turn into overboiled spaghetini at the first flash of goofballiness in the first degree. Still, is this really a matter for the criminal justice system? Do we really need to insert the long arm of the law into a case that already has such a vivid anatomical presence?

I say nay. For one thing, the boy has lost his diploma. He also faces life with a family, which, if it is like most families, can be counted on to bring this up, bring this up, bring this up, at sensitive moments for decades to come. His classmates and townsfolk will now remember him for this singular moment, but also, thanks to the miracle of youtube, every gimlet-eyed college administrator, every suspicious prospective father-in-law, every skeptical potential employer, every miserly bank loan officer, and every conscientious State Department Terrorist Watch List administrator will see him coming, and not face first. The reality is that this kid could cure cancer and win the Nobel Peace Prize, and the reference to this moment of glory might not get bumped out of the opening paragraph of his obituary. In that light, a criminal conviction seems rather like gilding the lily. Or the rose.

But more to the point, it should not be wasted on anyone that this little escapade took place within hours of the death of George Carlin, whose, shall we say bottomless rebelliousness not only brought joy and laughter to millions, but was a provocative and altogether useful counterweight to authority of every stripe. The event also fell less than a fortnight before our annual celebration of Independence Day, the achievement of which was accomplished not only through the efforts of men of marble whose faces now grace our money, but also through innumerable pranksters, rascals, rogues -- all right, asses -- but sons of liberty all, who cared less for three branches of government and the separation of powers than they did for just sticking it to the king.

Discipline, obedience, respect for authority -- these are all valuable attributes to be taught to the young. But the spirit of rebellion, as exhibited by this youthful cheeky valediction, should not be so harshly squelched.