PERSPECTIVE: Duane Michals hilarious, yet inappropriate

Allison Lazarus

By Hannah Stewart, ’12, Contributor

On Friday, Dec. 4, Upper School students shuffled into the Keeler Theater during last bell to hear photographer Duane Michals discuss his work. A self-taught artist who briefly dabbled in commercial photography, Mr. Michals has had his images published in many magazines, including Esquire and French Vogue. Although students and teachers alike were hanging on his every word when his 50-minute lecture was cut nearly in half, I support the administration’s decision to stop it early.

Mr. Michals jumped right into his speech with two jokes. I was surprised by the seemingly endless amount of energy that this man had. He apparently admired his vivacious personality as much I did, telling the audience repeatedly that he was 77 years old. With his years came quirky yet wise anecdotes, which he spontaneously shared with us: “If you’re bored, you’re boring” or even the provocative “You are more important than Jesus” when trying to prove his point that we have our whole lives in front of us and are free to choose our futures.

However, Mr. Michals’ spontaneity became less controlled as his talk progressed, undoubtedly because he noticed the majority of the Upper School population, including teachers, erupt into laughter whenever he swore (for example, after one such reaction to him backtracking after saying a curse word: “Oh, am I allowed to say bull****?”). He repeated this same “Oops!” reaction several times after the incident, which garnered less laughter each time as it became less sincere.

As Mr. Michals neared the point at which his lecture was going to be cut off, he focused less on sharing his art with us and more on trying to make us laugh. He announced that he would share “a pornographic limerick” with us. I knew then that it would be just mere moments until students would be ushered out of the theater. Clearly a speaker who loved to get positive reactions from his audience, Mr. Michals ditched all preconceived plans of discussing his art and shifted to sharing irrelevant explicit content with us. Sure enough, soon after that we were told to head to our advisory, where we were to discuss what just happened. The student body rose to give a standing ovation to our now confused speaker before leaving the theater.

I stood as well to applaud the hilarious and charismatic Duane Michals. I won’t deny that I enjoyed his speech and was entertained for its shortened duration; however, the content was not appropriate for its in-school setting. As Mr. Michals continued his talk, his profanity was escalating, and it became clear that he wasn’t going to turn back to the initial point of his appearance: his art. I believe that CCDS handled this situation in the most graceful way possible by giving him some time to correct himself when he got sidetracked and then promptly ending the speech when it got out of hand.

In anticipation of getting words put into my mouth, I tell you this: I was not offended in any way by Mr. Michals. In fact, I found him incredibly entertaining, but his lecture was inappropriate for school hours.

Photo courtesy of