Eric D. Snider

The Saggy Bottom Boys

Snide Remarks #561

"The Saggy Bottom Boys"

by Eric D. Snider

Published on October 29, 2007

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The city of Dallas, like all large metropolises, has many important problems facing it. For example, a great many of its residents are Texans. That's a hurdle few cities have been able to overcome. But the most critical issue on the minds of Dallas officials is this: how to get teenagers to quit wearing their pants so low.

The saggy pants trend began in hip-hop culture and has spread among white and Latino youth, but it's still mostly urban black kids who embrace the style. The look is part of the "gangsta" image. Somehow, wearing your pants so you look like a confused old man on "America's Funniest Home Videos" is meant to make you seem tougher. Maybe the idea is that you're so tough, you don't have to worry about running away from anything, and to prove it you incapacitate yourself by belting your trousers around your knees.

Some American communities have already passed ordinances banning the wearing of saggy pants and allowing for fines of up to $500 for violators. Port Allen, La., recently enacted such a law; Alexandria, La., and Brunswick, Ga., are considering it. Even Atlanta -- a city that's about to run out of water -- thinks the saggy pants issue is important.

Alt text
Visible underwear gets people's panties in a bunch.

Now, the rules here aren't against letting your pants sag and show your naked butt. That's already covered (as it were) by indecent-exposure ordinances. What we're talking about is where the pants hang low and you can see the guy's underwear, usually boxers, although maybe there are some gangstas who wear thongs.

Ordinances against saggy pants probably won't pass any legal tests. Laws about fashion are notoriously difficult to justify from a constitutional standpoint, as we all remember from the case of People v. Hammer, which sought to ban the wearing of M.C. Hammer pants in the early 1990s. If a case about saggy pants should make it to the Supreme Court, the law is sure to be struck down, considering the justices don't even wear pants.

But that hasn't stopped some communities from getting worked up about it, and Dallas is the latest. Some city councilors have talked about passing a law. In the meantime, the city has launched a campaign against saggy pants, hoping to convince young men to dress more appropriately on their own. There are now billboards in Dallas with three different slogans:

Represent Yourself Like You Present Yourself

Don't Be Lame, Elevate Your Game

That's Not Hip-Hop, That's Flip Flop

The first two are OK, but the third one doesn't even make sense. It sounds like some old white people tried to envision a slogan that black youth would respond to and came up with a big pile of failure instead. "That's not hip-hop; that's flip flop! Word! Bling! Diggity diggity! We know how to 'rap' the kind of lingo you kids be jivin' with!"

The billboards all have this unifying slogan, as seen here:

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That's right: "Pullem' Up." Now, those of you familiar with the rudimentary laws of English grammar and punctuation know that it should say "Pull 'Em Up." The "'em" part is short for "them," and the apostrophe goes in place of the missing letters. Combining "pull" and "'em" into one word and putting the apostrophe after it is what we in the language business call "wrong." (Also: "stupid.") If I were a "gangsta" or a "thug" who wore his pants low and I saw that billboard, I would refuse to comply on principle alone.

Also, you have to wonder just how offensive it is to show people your boxers when the billboards discouraging the practice include a picture of someone who's doing it.

Much of the discussion in Dallas has been couched in terms of perception: When you wear your pants that low, you look ridiculous, and you look like a thug, and people won't give you a job. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway (who is black, by the way) told WFAA Channel 8 that it's to help kids present themselves better.

"It will help the kids that are sagging, it will help them get a job. Because, you know, they can't go in sagging and get a job. It only perpetuates bad activities and bad habits.... Who wants to come into a neighborhood where there's a bunch of sagging of pants and people showing they behinds?"

I agree with him that letting your pants hang down that low looks silly. But remember, this is a city where people walk around wearing cowboy hats, which should only be done by actual cowboys, and even then only after prayerful consideration. There are also a lot of people in this area who wear flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off, and who drive Ford trucks onto which they have affixed stickers of Calvin peeing on the Chevrolet logo. I wouldn't give any of those people a job, either.

In its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the young people, Dallas has joined forces with a rapper named Dooney Da Priest, who has recorded a song called "Pull Your Pants Up." Dooney even has his own billboard, seen here:

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"Pull Your Pants Up! It's rude, not cool ... Walking around showin' your behind to other dudes."

(Evidently Dooney thinks that saggy pants are invisible to women; only dudes can see them.)

His song continues this theme. Some of the lyrics:

"I think it's gay but some of y'all think it's cool / Walkin' around showin' your behind to other dudes."

"You walk the streets with your pants way down low / I don't know / Looks to me you on the down low."

In the black community, "on the down low" is slang for having secretive homosexual encounters while otherwise living as, and claiming to be, a straight man. I learned all about it on "Law & Order: SVU" a couple years ago.

Trying to convince kids that wearing their pants low makes them look gay is actually a pretty good approach, even though it's obviously not true, since gay men dress much better than that. The reason kids wear their pants low is that, whether they're actually involved in illegal activity or not, they want to look like gangstas 'n' thugs. The trend comes from prison, where not being allowed to wear belts means that some prisoners' pants sag. Kids on the outside started wearing their pants low in emulation, because as you know, there is nothing more awesome than going to prison. That's the perception they want people to have. They want people to think they're murderers, thieves, and bullies. They do NOT want people to think they're gay.

It's hard not to think that this whole thing is just another example of an older generation being appalled by a younger one. When the complainers were young, their parents and grandparents were griping about how kids nowadays were wearing blue jeans everywhere instead of a nice pair of slacks. Before that, people were outraged by women wearing bloomers instead of elaborate corsets and trusses. Before that, I think men were supposed to wear capes and top hats everywhere, and if they didn't, they were whipped in the town square.

Granted, none of those revolutionary fashion choices resulted in people's underwear being visible, but still. There's nothing inherently indecent or obscene about underwear, especially since the modern fashions make boxers almost indistinguishable from regular short pants or swim trunks, both of which are perfectly OK to display in public.

It all comes down to one of our basic rights as Americans: the right to look stupid. From the powdered wigs of the 1700s to the elaborate mustaches of the 1800s; from the spiked hair and mohawks of the 1980s to the saggy britches of today -- we Americans pride ourselves on our tolerance for other people looking ridiculous. Let us not forsake that open-mindedness now. Not while there is still a plague of mullets infesting the land.

(If you would like to hear Dooney Da Priest's rap song "Pull Your Pants Up," visit his MySpace page -- or just click here.)

Stumble It!

Notes:

(Sources: Anti-sag ordinances in Port Allen, La., Alexandria, La., Brunswick, Ga., and Atlanta; billboard slogans; explanation of the origin of sagging; Dwaine Caraway's interview with WFAA.)

Interesting that on Dooney Da Priest's MySpace page, he prints the lyrics to "Pull Your Pants Up" with "rude" in place of "gay," even though it's clearly "gay" in the recording. (Because he's an idiot, he has printed the text in black against a black background. You have to highlight it -- Command-A on your keyboard, or "Select All" in the Edit menu -- to read it.)

This item has 42 comments

  1. Lane says:

    Wearing cowboy hats only after prayerful consideration.. fun mental image.

  2. Karmacoma says:

    "Kids on the outside started wearing their pants low in emulation, because as you know, there is nothing more awesome than going to prison. That's the perception they want people to have. They want people to think they're murderers, thieves, and bullies. They do NOT want people to think they're gay."

    However, if TV is to be believed, most men in prison ARE gay...

  3. Speeding Slowly says:

    Haha. This campaign must not be advertised very much, I live in Dallas and I've never even heard it mentioned. I was aware other cities were enacting policies like that, but I haven't seen the billboards here yet I suppose. I guess another reason could be I fervently believe in pants and their original purpose!

    And by the way, you rarely see cowboy hats up here in north Texas anymore, it's somewhat rare. You have a better chance to see them if you hang around in Fort Worth... Dallas's friendlier and more cowboy centric neighbor- which still only has cowboy culture centered around one small location in the form of museums and the seasonal rodeos and what not. If you wander around Dallas, most all you find will be high society snobs in the north part, thugs and ghettoness in the south part, and business people beating away the homeless with their suitcases in downtown.

  4. Lowdogg says:

    I thought this was just funny. Especially "People vs. Hammer."

  5. Tony says:

    Texas pride... ahh, the irony.

    Seriously, hilarious column, though.

    It really all depends on who is in charge. I'm sure if the mayor was gay, there'd be no white shoes after labor day, cowboy hats would only allowed in niche porn videos, and all men would carry *messenger* bags.

    But for some reason, it's the American way to keep the black man down... even if the man in charge is also black.

    Again... the irony is just beautiful.

  6. mommy says:

    I love the commentary about how rediculous it is to wear saggy pants...the I'm so tough I won't have to run away from you. I agree we have the right to be stupid...and this fashion trend is stupid.

  7. Jason L. Wright says:

    Command+A? It sounds like you are using one of those silly Macs again. For the other 98% of your users you use Control+A to select everything.

  8. Savvy Veteran says:

    It's never the ones you would hope, Karmacoma

  9. Commenty Commentenstein says:

    Dooney may be an idiot, but at least his billboard is grammatically sound.

  10. Leah Jane says:

    Well, whenever I saw that, I made a gay crack too. I told them the low pants had been started by gay fashion designers to promote "backwards entry". Funny, it worked! They hastily pulled their pants up and got a belt.

    Though that doesn't disturb me as much as emo fashion, in which the boys wear pants that look as though they've been vaccuum packed on. It's downright eerie, seeing all these effeminate, black eyeliner wearing boys walking around stiffly, showing off their "junk". Where's the billboard for that, eh?

  11. Ben C. says:

    You know, that's the only episode of Law and Order I've ever seen.

  12. Fritz S says:

    I'm surprised the real freaks haven't come out saying that it's totally ruining the "sport" of "pants-ing".

  13. Alaska Boy says:

    Man--somebody could write an entire PhD Anthropology thesis on the evolution of those bootleg "Calvin Peeing" window stickers!

    Definitely NOT people you want working for you...

    And speaking of work (and saggy pants), I once was employed by a very kind old woman at BYU (I'm talking 70+, returned missionary, widow, volunteered at the temple) who used to go out to the students playing pool in the dorm lobby and pull their saggy britches right off in front of everyone. It was hysterical. :)

  14. Erica says:

    Oh good! I kept checking this page to see when Eric would change "anything" to "nothing". . .

  15. brian says:

    " I'm sure if the mayor was gay, there'd be no white shoes after labor day, cowboy hats would only allowed in niche porn videos, and all men would carry *messenger* bags."

    Actually, the mayor of Dallas is gay.

  16. David Manning says:

    Darn it! I was just starting to write a humor piece on this issue, and now I'll feel upon completing it that it's borrowing and unoriginal.

    (But Eric does a humor column every week, and you're just doing a creative writing assignment.) (Shut up!)

    Seriously though, the "I'm so tough I won't have to run away from you" joke is one of the cleverest things I've seen written in a LONG time.

  17. JS says:

    Wow... until I got to the "Comments and Reaction" part, I was sure Eric made the whole thing up.

  18. William Goss says:

    Nice column, Eric.

    I must say, Dooney's efforts remind of a recently controversial animated segment on BET, in which some positive morals are thrust upon its urban demographic in a considerably cruder manner. (The YouTube page for which is linked at my name: NSFW, ladies and gents.)

    [MOD NOTE: NSFW means Not Safe For Work, and the link in question is not safe for work because it has lots and lots of foul language, and not just hells and damns. We have removed the link from William's name and will post it below in non-link form, so if you want to see it, you will have to paste the address in. We don't want anyone to accidentally click the link if they don't want to hear lots of F-words.]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN2VqFPNS8w

  19. Jane says:

    Oh, I love it that the MST3K Tribute to Pants song was the intro to the Snidecast this week! It brought back happy memories of Joel and the robots. :-)

  20. Momma Snider says:

    I don't know if I gave Eric the joke about the gangsta not having to run away or if we just think alike, but that's what I always say.

    My biggest fear, though, is not that a guy's pants will fall down...I'm afraid we'll see evidence that he didn't wipe well enough. Now THAT would be disgusting.

  21. Carl Francis says:

    I don't mind the saggy pants when I see them. Another fad that will pass. I have to exercise extreme self control, though, to keep from laughing out loud in the face of one of those guys. So profoundly stupid, it's hilarious! But easy to outrun.

    Carlos

    One more thought -- re your observation about Pullem' up! punctuation. Sure, it's absolutely wrong as you correctly observed, but how many of those saggy-drawers guys would know it? That punctuation was probably what the gangstas and thugs picked in their Focus Group.

  22. Nephele Ravenna says:

    Thanks so much for the mental picture, Momma Snider. Good thing the bathroom is nearby.

    Great point, Eric. I agree wholeheartedly.

  23. David Hurtado says:

    That's the stupidest way to get kids to stop sagging. (It's like the anti-tobacco commercials paid for by Philip Morris, where they tell parents to get in their kids' faces and forbid them to smoke.) That's a sure-fire way to get a teenager to do what you don't want them to do. Especially when you involve some b-list rap-nerd to give the campaign "street cred". Give me a break! Do they actually think this will work?

    If they really wanted to get kids to stop sagging, they'd have the cops and the mayor and the math teachers sag their pants and act like they were cool. The gangsters would be wearing chinos in no time.

  24. mommyof3 says:

    I totally agree with D. Hurtado! I taught at an inner city school where the rule was no sagging. I kept a ball of bright yellow yarn and had to constantly "threaten" the boys with a new "yarn belt", but I bet they would have stopped sagging if I had started-after a retina transplant and several years of hypno-therapy!

  25. Fritz S. says:

    I just noted the MST3K pants song...many props, my MST3K DVD collection thanks you...

  26. Clumpy says:

    And "Snide Remarks" joins the cutting-edge ranks of "Zits" and "They'll Do It Every Time" in tackling this social issue!

    The take on this column was unique, but I'll admit that my brain turns off at any mention of sudoku, baggy pants or game shows in the media.

  27. Christina D says:

    Good column... me likey.

    I have to say, I clicked on the myspace page for "Da Priest" and with hilarity noted that the background (at least on the lyrics) was of a bunch of guys with their pants mostly off, and their underwears showing. I don't know if the point is to show the saggy pants boys what they -really- look like, or what... but just like Eric said, how offensive is it to people, if they are depicting the act right there?

    It's like... if they had an anti-nudity billboard and then had a naked person on it. "This is offensive. SEE? SEEE?!?!"

    I think that I would only be offended if the saggy pants boys were wearing briefs. Or boxer-briefs. (Yuck!) Also, what about girls that wear boxers and sag their pants? That's some weird stuff too.

  28. Chad says:

    Actually, baggy pants started with the prison culture due to lack of properly fitting prison uniforms. For those of us that live in the Dallas area currently, it isn't just the fact that we can see their "drawers" but the fact that they don't wear clean undies.

    People is Texas don't all wear cowboys hats just like not all people in Alaska are stinking eskimos.

    #15 Brian is incorrect. The mayor of Dallas is not gay. He ran against a man who was.

  29. Momma Snider says:

    I just heard on the radio this morning about a kid who had been burglarizing homes, and when he was running away, his saggy pants fell down and tripped him, causing him to accidentally shoot himself in the leg.

  30. Sydney says:

    We had a speaker at our high school way back when (saggy pants have been around for at least a decade and they're not going away anytime soon) that said the fad started with the baggy pants in prison, as others remarked, but further implied that those who let them hang low were signaling other inmates that they were welcoming business through the rear entry. It got a lot of the boys in my school to pull their pants up. For a few weeks anyway.

  31. Ben says:

    Also about advertising questioning people's manliness...

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,286593,00.html

    Interesting. That's all.

  32. Teresa says:

    I agree with you that this whole campaign is ridiculous, but is it necessary to insult all Texans? I can only assume that you've never been here. If you had, you might realize that anyone seen wearing a cowboy hat over a mullet in his cut-off flannel shirt while entering a vehicle displaying a Calvin sticker would likely be ridiculed within an inch of his life here in Fort Worth or anywhere else in Texas. Any combination of those items would be cause for at least a confused look from even the most tolerant of us. I'm all for blind propagation of false stereotypes for the sake of a chuckle, but the remainder of your column suggests that your grasp of humor in general would be above one as tired as this in particular.

    Speaking of stereotypes, there's one thing about this whole situation that glares at me, but that no one seems to be mentioning. Has anyone else noticed that, in dealing with the horrifying saggy pants issue, homophobia has become stylish again? Yes, apparently the sag issue is such a heated one that in the midst of the melee we have turned on the very people who have done more than anyone else to beautify the fashion landscape lo these many years! Suddenly it's okay to call people "gay" to try to get them to stop wearing the forbidden saggy pants. Ads say things like "goin' around showin' your behind to other dudes." Well I'm glad some real problems are finally getting addressed here so we can stop dealing with pesky smokescreen issues like rampant homophobia.

    To me, the strangest part is that the gays have been completely silent on the issue! It is obvious that they are being used terribly in this situation but no one has spoken up! Well, I've developed a theory: I think the gays have all gotten together and decided to sacrifice themselves for fashion! Now I don't know what the gay men are holding over the heads of area lesbians to get them on board with this idea, but it is the only acceptable explanation. Let's face it... the gay angle is the only one with a snowball's chance of making any difference. Without it, we're just a bunch of dorky old folks trying to get hippies to cut their hair. So if and when this whole thing works, you know who to thank: your friendly neighborhood homo.

  33. CuteCitCat says:

    Speeding, "and business people beating away the homeless with their suitcases in downtown" that killed me!

    I live in the suburbs, but work in Dallas, I haven't seen any of these signs or campaigns either. BUT its still a funny article. Even if it does make us look like idiots. :) Speaking of...

    Um, Teresa he said "There are also a lot of people in this area who wear flannel shirts " here being where Eric lives, which is not Texas. Eric's whereabouts not withstanding, there are many MANY trucks here in the area which DO have that Calvin peeing on Ford, Chevy, or kneeling at the cross, though, thankfully, it's a trend which seems to be heading out.

    And I don't think anyone is being homophobic, I think they are judging that the people who wear the baggy pants are homophobic, and are chuckling at their expense.

    A good friend of mine is a teacher, and she carrier zip ties for just such a purpose. Pretty funny solution, I think!

  34. Amy says:

    I live in Dallas, and I've heard about these billboards, but I haven't seen one yet. You basically just said everything I was thinking when I found out about them.

    (Oh, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone around here wearing a cowboy hat.)

  35. Jess says:

    Eric, as always, I commend on your ability to make me laugh.

    "Pullem' up" indeed.

  36. Dave says:

    The City of Dallas is run, and has been run, by idiots with no sense of anything. Dallas used to have vision. Dallas used to get things done. Not anymore. Maybe Leppert (the new not-gay mayor) can spur some action, but based on this waste of time, I doubt it.

    Good Snide Remarks.

  37. JP says:

    Now Eric, what's your view of the legging epidemic?

  38. Derek Johnson says:

    “We used to wear long hair, but I don’t think our trends were ever as bad as sagging,” said Mayor Carol Broussard.

    Back then we didn't have as many companies suppling all types of clothes for us. I don't see anyone passing a law for bellbottom jeans witch are the most insane way for a man to wear his pants. I think we need to focus on what we need for our minds and souls instead of the way we look. The way we look will not help our world struggle it will seperate us when we as a world need each other. Grow up Get real saggy pants is not struggling it's the way you see it. Do you see what type of people do we put in office When we die all that nice stuff we are laid to rest in stays in the ground only our souls move figure that of it's real simple!!ONE LOVE!!GOD BLESS THE WORLD

  39. paco says:

    hilarious article! i was doing a report for scool on sagging, and this made me fall over laughing!

  40. Alice Cullen says:

    i was in school and we had a sub who got on this kid for sagging. He then made us read this article (which he conveniently happens to keep in his back pocket. Who knew?) which explains that sagging was started in prison. It also told us that they sagged in order to show that they belonged to another man. So, it was a way to show the other guys that you weren't... well... available, per say.

    well, you can imagine all the guys in my class jumping up to pull their pants up. one actually did, which was hilarious.

    Eric, you're amazing. Thanks for the laughs.

  41. derrick newell says:

    i like to see men with baggy jeans , i wear my jeans really baggy and will do as long as i live , if men want to wear saggy jeans i think they should as saggy jeans are very comfortable and looks great

  42. Robert Koehler says:

    It is pathetic that the government of Dallas is wasting their money on this ridiculous campaign when I am quite sure there are other programs it could be going to. Who gives a crap if kids want to sag their pants? Unless their butt crack is showing, seeing somebody's boxers is no more offensive then seeing them in a bathing suit. Like someone above said, I find the emo pants thing far more offensive - gothic white boys wearing jeans so tight that it looks like they were spray-painted on. This sounds like more of an attack on the urban culture than anything.

    Like everyone here has said - the older generations have always disapproved of the younger generations' culture. My grandmother makes fun of rap music - and I always remind her that HER mother was appalled at Elvis Presley. So the pants-sagging is another fad that will pass, but until then, the general public will just have to accept it.

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