Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

A recent article published in the Vancouver Sun entitled “Florida Passes Droopy Pants Law” inspired today’s rant.

In brief, it explained that Florida has passed a law outlawing the sporting of pants that hang below the bum in its public schools. Sponsored by Orlando Democratic Senator Garry Siplin, he commented “the fashion statement has a back story – “it was made popular by rap artists after first appearing amongst prison inmates as a signal they were looking for sex.”

(source: http://archimedes.galilei.com/stlcofcc/blogimages/baggy-jeans-2.jpg)
How erroneous, how simple-minded. What many might perceive as a small trivial matter, something that might appear in Reuters “fun fact of the day”, should in fact be allocated more time and thought.

Baggy clothing has a myriad of originations. Perhaps its most famous proponent was Michael Jordan, NBA superstar and one of the most influential players on and off the court. His Airness has been credited with being the first to wear shorts extending past the upper thigh, to the knee area. “He has said that the extra length allowed him to bend at the waist and tug at the hem for a good resting position…the trend toward the baggy shorts was started and the entire league and sport would follow.”

(source: http://espn.go.com/media/nba/2006/0106/photo/jordan_268x411.jpg)
(source: http://i.a.cnn.net/si/2007/basketball/nba/04/23/halsberstam.magic.bird/Bird_Magic.jpg)

It was in the late 80s and early 90s that the likes of Ice-T and Too Short first established the association between baggy pants and hip hop. Ice-T, aka “OG” (original gangster) has been considered the godfather of “gangster rap”, producing some of its quintessential albums and helping engrain some of its central tenets, such as the introduction of the C-Walk to mainstream gangster hip-hop. His street credibility and his gangster style have lent themselves well to the propagation of such things as baggy pants.

Ice-Ts influence does stem from the Prison system, however, it is not the result of anything sexual in nature, but of the lack of well-fitting prison uniforms. In an institution where an ill-fit (and no I don’t mean a good fit) cannot be belted due to scare of suicide, it would seem that having one’s underwear show is an unavoidable consequence.

It is ironic that through legislation, the state is trying to change a trend it had its own hand in creating through its own shortcomings.

This law is by no means unique, as many cities around the United States have adopted their form of anti-baggy pants legislation. For example: “The Florida city of Riviera Beach passed its own saggy pants law Tuesday, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail for repeat offenders.” Need I point out the obvious paradox associated with this?

Rather than use the strong-arm of the law, wouldn’t it be more prudent to address issues such as those associated with poverty, elevated crime rates, crowded jails and drug problems? That is, address the issues that rendered these people in jail in the first place.

It is difficult to disassociate such a law with its “target market”. Baggy pants are a fashion statement, which as Senator Siplin has said himself, were first made popular by rap artists. Though hip-hop is an art form that transcends ethnicity, it has a distinctly undeniably colored origin and fan base.

I cannot equate such a law with any racist regime, this law does not compare to such atrocities, however, when Kanye West says “George Bush hates black people” there is some truth to his words. Such legislation is only further exemplification of the disregard the state has shown towards certain elements of its population. Like how it failed to provide water to the people of New Orleans for weeks after Katrina, it is failing to realize significance and impact of its law. For a country that upholds such high standards of free speech (Since the late 80s and early 90s, it has been understood by the Supreme Court, that non-speech acts are included under the umbrella of free speech), they are failing miserably. In fact, the Worldwide Press Freedom Index created by Reporters Without Borders ranked the US 48th out of 168 countries. Isn’t such a law a violation of the constitutional rights of its citizens? To many, showing one’s underwear may be poor taste, yet I fail to see how it can be considered in the same realm as racism, Howard Stern, or the Westboro Baptist Church when it comes to pushing free speech to its limits.

(source: http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/ap_sagging_pants_071015_ms.jpg)
Though the linkage is extreme, there are certain images conjured by the idea of state-imposed fashion. Think China circa 1969-1976.

(source: http://yongfeng.blogsome.com/images/ipod.shuffle.chinese.cultural.revolution.jpg)
(disregard the ipod)

If I think obesity is obscene, can I pass a law?

Another rant for another day.